Finding the right welding protection
A critical step in staying safe while welding is choosing the proper safety apparel for the job. Using welding protective clothing such as gloves, a jacket, a helmet and other items help protect welders from potential injury.
When it comes to welding apparel, there are many choices. And because not all welding applications are the same, it’s important to consider the different options and select the right welding protection for your specific needs.
Learn more about the various types of welding safety apparel and what factors to consider in making your choice.
Choosing a welding jacket
Protective jackets help shield welders and their clothing from the sparks generated during welding. Jackets should be made with flame-resistant (FR) fabrics that maintain their protective characteristics through repeated daily exposure to intense sparks, high heat and molten metal.
Jackets come in various styles and materials for different welding applications. Some of the most common material types are flame-resistant cotton, leather and WeldX™ fabric, which combines the benefits of cotton and leather.
- Flame-resistant cotton: This material is popular because it is relatively inexpensive, lightweight and breathable. FR fabrics are treated with a chemical that “off-gasses” when it comes in contact with flames or other intense heat sources, which deprives the area of the oxygen required to cause combustion. While most FR cotton fabrics won’t start on fire, they can be charred when exposed to sparks, spatter or molten metal. Be aware that a higher quality, thicker base cotton will provide better comfort and durability over the life of the jacket. A FR cotton jacket can provide a good combination of protection, cost and welder comfort in applications where sparks and spatter are relatively mild, and washability is important. However, this type of jacket won’t provide enough protection for all welding applications. Some require more durable garments that hold up to intense heat, sparks and spatter.
- Leather: Because of its density, leather has long been considered the best protective material for welding. The relative thickness of leather prevents heat from penetrating the garment and also provides excellent abrasion and puncture resistance. There are many different types, cuts and grades of leather, all of which can impact the product’s quality and cost, as well as welder comfort and mobility. The top layer of an animal’s hide is the strongest and is referred to as grain leather. Grain leather can be made much thinner than the under portions of the hide, which in turn allows it to be lighter and more comfortable. Grain leather garments repel sparks and spatter, making them ideal for welding. Another leather used in welding jackets is split leather, made from the under portions of the hide. Split leather has a fuzzy look and feel. While less expensive, this type of leather is also heavier, thicker and more susceptible to absorb dirt and oil. A typical, full leather welding jacket can weigh upwards of 8 pounds, which can increase welder fatigue. In environments where the ambient temperature poses heat stress dangers, a leather jacket’s lack of breathability can compound those dangers. Leather also becomes stiffer and less pliable over time.
- WeldX: Recognizing the weight and heat stress drawbacks of leather, as well as the protective and durability limitations of FR cotton, WeldX provides the benefits of both materials without their disadvantages. Based on the CarbonX® brand of fabrics, WeldX was initially developed for military applications. CarbonX is comprised of a patented blend of oxidized acrylic fibers and modern strengthening fibers. A proprietary compound was added to the CarbonX base to increase its ability to shed sparks, spatter and other flaming or molten materials. The coating is embedded into the individual CarbonX fibers instead of applied to the fabric topically, which enhances the material’s flexibility. Laundering will not degrade its performance over time. WeldX is about 60% lighter in weight than most leathers and has micropores in the fabric that increase breathability and comfort for the welder, while reducing the potential for heat stress-related injuries.
Choosing welding gloves
It’s easy to view welding gloves as a commodity item that should be purchased solely based on cost. But ongoing innovations continue to separate welding gloves. Many types are available based on intended application, material composition and design.
As welding gloves have evolved, users now benefit from specialized designs, increased comfort and longer-lasting products. Welding glove manufacturers are taking design cues from welders, fashion trends, and sporting industries to re-engineer the traditional welding glove designs — and moving away from a one-size-fits-all mentality. Welding glove design features and options include:
- A three-dimensional pattern designed to fit the natural contours of the human hand.
- Multiple types and grades of leather strategically selected and placed to maximize the benefits of each material.
- Many types of leathers available, each providing different levels of protection and comfort.
- A variety of glove linings — such as moisture wicking fabrics, channeled foam and aluminized materials — provide heightened protection and enhance user comfort.
Together the design, materials, and lining allow the glove to conform to the natural shape of the hand resulting in a more favorable fit. Durability is still a very important component of welding gloves, but the focus has expanded to include comfort, fit and style.
Given the many options and styles, choosing the right welding gloves can be overwhelming. First, consider the application or set of work tasks that need to be completed. Many new glove styles can provide protection for welding applications but also have features making them suitable for other material handling or metal fabrication tasks. After a glove style is chosen, put the finalists to a test regarding comfort, fit, performance and durability.
Additional safety apparel for welding
There are more options beyond jackets and gloves that can help keep you safe during welding.
- Welding sleeves: Partial welding sleeves can be used in place of a full jacket in some applications. Similar to jackets, welding sleeves are available in a variety of materials including FR cotton and combination, which uses a hybrid of materials to achieve the protection of leather with the lightweight breathability of cloth.
- Welding caps/bandanas: These items can be worn underneath a welding helmet for additional protection and comfort. Caps and bandanas are available in a variety of materials and designs.
Of course, a welding helmet is another important piece of safety equipment. Read this article to learn more about selecting the right welding helmet for your application.
Welding protective clothing
Welding applications can vary greatly in the levels of protection required, so it’s important to consider the type of work to be done most often, the welding environment and to conduct a hazard assessment when selecting the right protective clothing. Sacrificing safety for the sake of cheaper products can result in poor quality, less protection, decreased productivity and increased downtime for welders due to injury.