What Shade Lens for MIG Welding? The Easy Way to Be Safe

Hands-down, my auto-darkening helmet is my favorite piece of welding safety equipment. I appreciate technology that not only makes a product safer but more comfortable and enjoyable to use.

Adjustable auto-darkening welding helmets protect your eyes from radiation and bright welding arcs with lens coatings and electronic shades from DIN 3 to a super dark DIN 14.

A light shade setting of number 3 or 4 provides enough visibility to position your MIG gun without having to lift your mask, but what shade lens for MIG welding?

What shade lens for MIG welding?

“As a rule of thumb, start with a shade that is too dark to see the weld zone. Then, go to a lighter shade which gives a sufficient view of the weld zone without going below the minimum.”

OSHA Fact Sheet No. 3499

Recommended Filter Lenses for Protection during Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW) and Flux Cored Arc Welding (FCAW)

Arc Current

OSHA Shade Number Minimum

ANSI & AWS Shade Number*

UNDER 60A

7

60-160A

10

11

160-250A

10

12

250-500A

10

14

According to OSHA’s Fact Sheet, MIG welding (GMAW) or flux-cored welding (FCAW) using currents of 60 to 500 amps requires a minimum lens shade level of a DIN number 10.

Both ANSI and AWS are more cautious, recommending a shade number 11 for welding at 60-160 amps, a number 12 for 160-250 amps, and a number 14 for 250-500 amps.

Welding helmet lens shade ANSI Z87.1 certification.
Verify that both the welding helmet and lens shade meet ANSI Z87.1 certification.

You may not know that most welding helmets with auto-darkening filters (ADF) provide full, or close to full, protection from eye-damaging ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) radiation at all times, even while in the passive light state.

I found this in my helmet manual:

Auto-darkening shade lens technical specifications
Source: www.northerntool.com

…and this from another helmet manufacturer:

“Has permanent protection (Shade 12 equivalent) against harmful UV- and IR- radiation, regardless of whether the filter is in the light or dark state or whether the auto-darkening function is operational.”   

—3M Speedglas 100 Datasheet

Instead of relying on dark state shade settings to block eye-damaging radiation, auto-darkening helmet manufacturers use special lens coatings to filter out the rays.

So, if the helmet battery dies, you leave the mask in grind mode (so easy to do!), or the ADF fails to darken for any reason, the lens still protects your eyes from damaging UV or IR rays.

You may experience temporary spots in your vision from the brightness, but you won’t suffer permanent eye damage or painful conjunctivitis known as “welders’ eye” or “arc flash.”

To protect your eyes, look for helmets meeting ANSI Z87.1 standards and review the manufacturer’s technical data sheets for a helmet’s permanent shade protection level.

Auto-darkening welding lens shade adjustment control.

What does the welding lens shade number mean?

The DIN rating is a German industrial standard used to classify light filtering levels. As the DIN number increases, the lenses become darker and block more light.

Most auto-darkening lenses have a passive base level of DIN 3 or 4. This light state is bright enough so you can see to set up your work without having to lift your hood.

And it allows you to see well enough to operate your grinder—provided your helmet has a grind mode to prevent grinding sparks from triggering the darkened state.

A DIN shade 3 level allows around 14% of visible light through the lens, while DIN 4 is three times darker, allowing only 5% light transmission. A significant difference that you should consider if you don’t always work in a brightly-lit area.

My helmet has a base shade of DIN 3.5 (10%). As a hobbyist welder most often working in the corner of my garage, I think anything darker would be too dark for my comfortable use.

By comparison, blocking the brighter-than-the-sun welding arc, shade 9 allows just 0.037% light transmission and shade 13 only 0.00072% (blocking 99.99928% of light!).

Here’s a brief video showing what you can see in the light state compared to the darkened mode:

How to adjust your auto-darkening shade lens?

If you use an ADF helmet having a permanent shade rating higher than the capacity of your welder—meaning the lens coatings will block all the UV and IR your welder generates—you’re free to choose a setting based on your comfort.

An ideal setting is just light enough so you can see what you need to see but dark enough to prevent eye fatigue. If you see spots in your vision after a weld, it’s time to choose a darker shade setting.

My personal preference runs closer to the darker shade settings in the ANSI and AWS recommendations. The reason is likely my light-colored eyes. As everyone is different, your actual setting will depend on your working environment and personal preferences for comfort and visibility.

Welding helmet lens shade test button.
Welding helmet lens shade test button.

How to test your auto-darkening shade lens

Many better auto-darkening welding shade elements have a self-test button to show you that the ADF in your helmet is working. But remember, this test only determines that there is battery power and the ADF can work, it doesn’t prove that it will work when you strike an arc.

There is another quick and easy method to test your lens operation, including the sensors, for troubleshooting purposes or your piece of mind. The helmet sensors trigger off IR from the welding arc. An ordinary television remote control emits an IR signal that will also trigger the helmet’s sensors.

This handy trick can also test how well the sensors pick up signals from side-to-side, or above and below your mask. Good information to know when working around other welders.

What are symptoms of “Arc Eye”?

“Certain types of UV radiation can produce an injury to the surface and mucous membrane (conjunctiva) of the eye called “arc eye,” “welders’ eye” or “arc flash.” These names are common names for “conjunctivitis” – an inflammation of the mucous membrane of the front of the eye. The symptoms include:

  • pain – ranging from a mild feeling of pressure in the eyes to intense pain in severe instances 
  • tearing and reddening of the eye and membranes around the eye (bloodshot)
  • sensation of “sand in the eye”
  • abnormal sensitivity to light
  • inability to look at light sources (photophobia) 

The amount of time required to cause these effects depends on several factors such as the intensity of the radiation, the distance from the welding arc, the angle at which the radiation enters the eye, and type of eye protection that the welder or bystander is using. However, exposure to just a few seconds of intense UV light can cause arc eye. These symptoms may not be felt until several hours after exposure.”

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety
Northern Tool Model 19056 auto-darkening welding helmet.
Northern Tool Model 19056 auto-darkening welding helmet.

Need a good, reliable helmet for hobby MIG welding?

I still use my first auto-darkening helmet bought from Northern Tool in 2010. Before the Klutch branding of Northern’s welding gear, it’s a Northern Industrial Welding Model 19056. I think it was $60 at the time.

I consider this one of the best welding purchases I’ve made. As a MIG welding beginner, upgrading from a no-frills, fixed-shade mask to a much more convenient to use auto-darkening helmet was a real treat for me. I felt safer, more comfortable, and much more able to focus on learning to weld.

Northern now calls this helmet the Klutch 700 Series Auto-Darkening Welding Helmet with Grind Mode. It sells for $80 but goes on sale for $60.

What I like about my helmet:

  • Easy to use and reliable
  • Solar and AAA battery powered (original batteries lasted seven years).
  • Light-weight (under a pound) and comfortable to wear—easy to forget I’m wearing it.
  • Room to wear safety glasses under the mask for even more protection.
  • Grind mode so sparks won’t darken the shade.
  • Reasonable price

There is one problem I have with my helmet

I often use my helmet’s grind function. But the switch is located inside the helmet, making it difficult to operate without removing the mask or taking off a glove.

If I were to replace this helmet, I’d look for one with an external grind mode switch—like on this helmet—that I could operate wearing gloves without disturbing other nearby settings.

Before you go

Sure, welding as a hobby has some risks. There’s live electricity, red-hot pieces of metal—sometimes flying through the air towards your face—and brighter-than-the-sun arcs. What could go wrong?

But in truth, we have excellent welding safety features, procedures, and personal protective equipment available to reduce risks so we can safely enjoy our hobby.

A must-have for the hobbyist welder, an affordable auto-darkening welding helmet provides excellent eye protection and peace of mind.

The technology in our helmets lets us safely choose a comfortable darkness level without worry about what shade lens to use for MIG welding.

How to MIG Weld Aluminum Without a Spool Gun

You’ve heard the horror stories about MIG welding aluminum without a spool gun—but you’re still thinking of giving it a try.

I get it. Spool guns are expensive and have drawbacks.

Sure, aluminum welding is tricky even if you’re using a $250 spool gun. But if you’re up for the challenge—and have a little patience—I’ll show you techniques and tips to use your welder to MIG weld aluminum without a spool gun.

And you’ll see how one of the most popular 120-volt hobby welding machine does on aluminum straight out of the boxwithout a spool gun.

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Lincoln 140 MIG Welder Reviews: The Models Explained

Read any Lincoln 140 MIG welder reviews and you'll see how popular they are with hobbyist and DIY'er welders. 

But are you clear about the differences between the Lincoln 140 vs 140HD vs 140C MIG welders?

How about Weld-Pak®, MIG-Pak®, Easy-MIG® and PRO MIG® branding?

Most Lincoln 140 MIG welder reviews don't address model differences.


WelditU
REVIEW
LINCOLN 140HD
(RETAIL)

QUALITY


EASE OF USE


FEATURES


VERSATILITY


VALUE


SUMMARY
SCORE

Quality transformer-build makes it on the heavy side. Easy to use and dependable for the hobbyist. Aluminum capable. Somewhat pricey. 

OVERALL SCORE

3.9

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Best Welder for Beginners? 19 Smart Reasons for MIG

The best welder for beginners, if chosen wisely, could be the last you’ll ever need. As a bonus, you won’t weld like a beginner for long.

Ease of use and versatility combine to make a welder the best for beginners.

Simple enough to use that a beginner can quickly start making useful welds without frustration, and versatile enough to weld popular metals of different thicknesses under a variety of conditions.

And, the best of these machines will continue to meet your needs well beyond the beginner’s stage.

I like how this forum member summed it up:

“… MIG is like a pickup truck, always useful. A TIG is like a skid steer. It’s the right tool for the right job, but the wrong tool for most jobs. I know a lot of guys that have pickup trucks but no bobcat, but I don’t know a single guy with a bobcat that doesn’t have [a] pickup truck.”

“REDONE” on GarageJournal.com

Pickup trucks are the right tool for most jobs. If needed, accessories can be installed to ensure that. A modern pickup is reliable, powerful, and versatile while remaining comfortable and easy to use for the operator.

Just like our modern MIG welders.

To be clear, the best welder for beginners is a true MIG welder capable of gas metal arc welding (GMAW). Using gas shielding for the best weld protection, a MIG welder can also weld without gas using flux-core wire.

Some gasless-only welders are promoted as MIG. But these only run flux-core wire and lack the versatility and ease of use features found in a full MIG machine.

A MIG welder will help to get a beginner making solid, effective welds fast—much sooner and easier than with any other type of welding machine.

A GOOD BEGINNER’S WELDER IS EASY TO USE

1. Fast and easy welder assembly

You’ll have your new MIG welder ready to weld within minutes of unboxing.

  • Connect gun (torch) and cable (quick euro-type connectors make this even easier)
  • Connect work cable/clamp
  • Verify or install a wire drive roller matching the wire size
  • Load wire spool
  • Connect the power cord to an outlet
  • Feed wire into cable liner out to the gun
  • Attach contact tip and gun nozzle
  • Connect gas if using solid wire

It’s that easy.

See for yourself in this basic MIG welder setup video from Lincoln Electric.

2. Learn to MIG weld on your own

With just a little practice, you’ll start making simple repairs and projects.

Industrial manufacturers value MIG welding for it’s adaptability to automated processes.  The makers of MIG welders use this same adaptability to design consumer machines packed full of features that assist beginners learning to weld.

Spend a little time with a good welding book and watch a few how-to weld videos like the one above. Then, gather some scrap metal pieces, set up your new welder, and start welding. After some trial and error, you will get the hang of it.

Continue reading to see how many features of MIG welders and the MIG welding process come together making MIG the best welder for beginners learning to weld.

3. Simple to set controls

Weld settings chart found on the side panel of a Lincoln 140T MIG welder (click to enlarge).
Weld settings chart found for the Lincoln 140T MIG welder (click to enlarge).

You’ll find a settings chart on the side panel of basic welders. Find your material thickness and scan across the table to see the options for gas or no-gas settings with different wire sizes. Use the front panel controls to set initial values for voltage (heat) and wire speed (amperage).

Easier yet, advanced MIG welders let you input the material information, and the machine makes the voltage and wire speed adjustments for you. Welding beginners, as well as more advanced enthusiasts, will appreciate this feature.

See a demonstration of the Miller Auto-Set interface in this video.

4. Fine-tune settings for the best weld

If the initial settings are not quite right, you can make small adjustments to the wire feed control to fine-tune amperage. Use the voltage control to make more significant changes. With a little practice, this procedure will become second nature.

Advanced synergic welders enable simultaneous tuning of amperage and voltage settings through just one control knob. The Forney 140 MP is an affordable synergic welder helping beginners focus on their welding techniques.

5. Easier weld starts

Some types of welding require scratch or lift start techniques to initiate the arc that begins a weld. Some skill is needed to get the arc to fire, and fire in the right place.

With MIG, you’ll position the torch over the workpiece. Pulling the trigger sends the energized wire electrode into contact with the material. As the circuit completes, the welding arc is established.

6. Smart MIG welders require less skill from the operator

The best welder is easy for a beginner to use. With MIG, unlike other welding methods, you don’t need to control the filler material, or the power output while welding. The welding machine handles these responsibilities so that the beginner can work on their skills.

Advanced inverter-based MIG welders use microcontrollers to monitor arc performance as you weld. The welding arc is continually fine-tuned to obtain the best weld results. They can even compensate for a fair amount of operator error, such as unsteady travel speed and distance from work.

You’re free to focus your attention on learning to control the weld pool. You’ll do this by regulating the gun orientation and travel speed. In other words: you’ll watch the weld pool and control what’s molten when, and for how long. This ability is vital to making a sound, uniform weld.

No one is born with this skill, but anyone can pick it up through practice. Most MIG beginners make quick progress because they can focus on a single task, making the learning process more enjoyable.

7. See the weld pool as you work

Since a beginner must learn to control the weld pool, it’s necessary that you can see it. MIG welding with gas produces an arc with few sparks and little smoke — much less than stick welding — giving you an excellent view of the weld.

The better you can see the weld pool and observe the effects of any adjustments or technique changes you make, the sooner you’ll learn to make better welds.

8. Even ugly beginner welds can be strong

MIG welders release a protective gas over the weld preventing contamination that would otherwise cause porosity (air pockets) and weaken the weld.

So the MIG process can help make even your less-than-pretty beginner welds stronger. At least strong enough for the type of light projects and repairs most beginner welders take on in the learning stage.

The best welder for beginners can make sturdy welds even when operator skill is lacking. 

The best welder for beginners can make sturdy welds even when operator skill is lacking. (WelditU)

As you continue to work on projects and practice, you’ll soon notice your welds begin to look better. With more uniform beads and penetration, your welds will hold up to more substantial projects.

9. Less clean-up leaves more time for welding

Welding with gas results in very little spatter, and no slag, for easy cleanup. But if spatter becomes a problem, here are some tips to reduce MIG spatter. With more time spent welding, a beginner’s skills will improve more quickly. 

10. Features for a better welding experience

Burn back timers, 2T/4T switches, and memory presets, are only a few of the handy options making the best welders for beginners easy to learn, productive and enjoyable to use.

THE BEST WELDER FOR BEGINNERS CAN HANDLE MANY SITUATIONS

11. Weld the metals most beginners use in projects

  • Mild (low-carbon) steel
  • Stainless steel
  • Aluminum

12. Effective on a wide range of metal thicknesses

Providing excellent results on very thin (18-gauge) auto body panels, home-use MIG welders are also effective on moderately thick materials, with some machines capable of welding metal plate up to ½-inch in one pass. 

13. Weld indoors or out

Get your best welds while indoors, using gas, or even outdoors in a light breeze. Use a screen to prevent the shielding gas from blowing away, leaving your weld unprotected.

If conditions are too windy for gas welding, or you’d just prefer to leave the bottle in the shop, a quick switch to flux-cored wire gives you a very mobile outdoor welding setup.

14. Easy transport to work sites

Many of the best MIG welders weigh under 40 pounds, with some even less than 30 pounds. Lightweight and compact, 110V MIG welders are easy to move to a work area or lift to a storage shelf.

15. Slightly dirty materials are not a problem

While MIG welding with gas requires very clean materials, a switch to flux-core wire lets you make strong welds on metals with light rust, paint or grease. Just what you’re likely to find on outdoor equipment and fences.

16. Weld in all positions

Once a beginner can control the weld pool on horizontal surfaces, vertical and even overhead welding becomes possible with a MIG welder.

A welder uses a MIG welder on an overhead pipe, demonstrating the all-position versatility of MIG welding. (Miller Electric Mfg. Co.)

The versatility of MIG welding allows work in any position. (Miller Electric Mfg. Co.)

THE BEST WELDER IS ONE A BEGINNER WON’T OUTGROW

17. A beginner doesn’t need to choose a welder based on their current shop power

Many affordable multi-voltage MIG welders are now available. So, if you don’t have access to 230V power, you can learn to weld using your existing 115V outlets. When the time is right to upgrade your shop’s power, your multi-voltage welder will be ready for 230V.

18. Add a spool gun for aluminum welding

Most of the better MIG welders are spool gun ready, providing an easy upgrade option for trouble-free welding of your aluminum projects. For a top-quality beginner MIG welder with spool gun capability, see our Lincoln 140 review.

19. A multi-process MIG welder could be the best (and maybe the last) welder for a beginner

Advancements in inverter technology allowed the development of simple to use, and portable, three-process welders. You can choose one welder capable of MIG, stick and TIG welding. Upgrade by adding process-specific accessories as needed. Or, for the best value, pick an all-inclusive kit like the PowerMTS 251si TIG Package from Everlast

For the ultimate in welding versatility, many multi-process welders such as the Multimatic 215 Multiprocess Welder are also multi-voltage capable.

Conclusion

Because most buyers have just one or two projects in mind as they purchase a first welder, many underestimate how useful these handy machines can be. Some choose an inexpensive gasless or stick welder, only to later regret the limitations or difficulty of use.

For the type of work hobby and DIY beginners will encounter, the easy to learn, versatile, and upgradeable MIG machine is the best welder for beginners. Choose the right welder now, and it could be the last you’ll ever need to buy.

Best MIG Welders For The Money: The Hobbyist’s Guide

Whether you're a welding beginner or a more advanced enthusiast this guide will help you focus your buying choices on the best MIG welders for the money.

Discover what features to expect in price ranges of interest to most hobby welders, and see the best MIG welder values for each group.

Learn which options are "nice-to-have-just-in-case," and which can make you a better welder every time you pick up the torch. 

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