A solar eclipse is a rare, exciting event and spectacular to watch.
However, it is also dangerous to stare at the sun – even for a brief moment.
Without eye protection, it can lead to permanent eye damage and blindness.
But how do we best protect our eyes, and can a welding mask be used to watch a total solar eclipse?
Can You Look at a Solar Eclipse with a Welding Helmet?
The answer is yes you can, but it is not ideal. In short, you can enjoy a solar eclipse if you protect your eyes with a level 14 shade welding lens. This is based on a study by NASA that recommends proper eye protection specially made for watching a solar eclipse and lists possible alternatives.
You can read the complete study here, but in short, a high 14 shade welding lens will protect your eyes enough for solar viewing.
Level 14 is the highest rating for welding glasses and is generally used for specialty welding environments with extreme conditions and requirements. This means most hardware stores will not carry this type of lens.
The highest level that is commonly available off the shelf is level 12 or 13. These shade levels may work for a short period, but it is not recommended.
Luckily, level 14 replacement glasses can be bought online inexpensively, so you can make your favorite set of welding mask suitable for the next solar eclipse!
Why is a solar eclipse bad for your eyes?
Staring right at the sun is always dangerous and can lead to either temporary or permanent eye damage – it can even blind you completely!
The main problem is that the effects of prolonged sun exposure to the eyes only go into full effect some twelve hours later when it is already too late to do anything about it.
Ultraviolet and infrared lights from bright light sources like sun rays (or welding for that matter) can burn your retina tissue and lead to permanent damage.
Since our eyesight is one of the most critical parts of our health, it is necessary to take proper safety precautions and take care of them – we only get one set of eyes after all!
How do welding helmet shades work?
There are two main types of welding helmets you can buy:
- Auto-darkening lenses that have photoreceptors and darken (almost) immediately when bright lights are detected.
- Fixed shade lenses that are permanently dark like a pair of sunglasses would be.
Welding lenses have multiple filters that block out infrared and ultraviolet rays, which are the types that cause damage to your eyes if you do not protect yourself from them.
Welding lenses will only let the visible light through so the welder can still see the welding flame and the workpiece without harming their eyes.
Since this light is still quite bright, welding glasses have a highly darkened shade than regular sunglasses or other visors.
Auto-darkening glass often comes with variable settings for the shade level, which is useful especially when grinding or other non-welding tasks that still profit from having your eyes and face protected.
What type of welding helmets can be used to watch a solar eclipse?
Auto-darkening helmets like the Lincoln Viking 3350, is one of the best choices for welding because it keeps both of your hands free while working.
Auto-darkening helmets will also react to regular sunlight. However, you might want to consider a fixed shade glass regardless because during a solar eclipse, the sensors might temporarily react to the sun disappearing, and your lens would clear up.
In general, the sensors react quickly to a change in lighting conditions, though, as is needed for welding tasks. Always set your sensitivity to the highest settings during a solar eclipse.
Since permanent or fixed lenses do not need batteries, a handheld face shield or a flip-down visor are the hassle-free choices you might want to use. Hand-held face shields are usually the cheaper option.
If you have a welding helmet lying around, it is possible to use it to view a solar eclipse. Just make sure a high-level 14 shade is used to avoid uv rays causing damage to your eyes.
And who knows, you may just find a new passion for welding and be thankful that you already have part of the safety equipment that you need.
If you do not have the appropriate shade level, then it is recommended you wear solar eclipse glasses to prevent any eye damage.
If you want to find the best welding helmet for your needs, check the buyer’s guide that will give you a detailed comparison of some of the top picks.