It's official you signed up for welding class and are beginning the first steps to investing in your future. Good choice! Now let's help you get the most out of that education by giving you a handful of tips, tricks, and advice for this journey to a rewarding welding career. You probably think that with all the money you just dropped on this education that you should be good to go, and you won’t have to spend any more cash until next semester or your next class. Well, unfortunately, that's not -always going to be the case, as getting welding training is quite a bit different than any other traditional study or program.
Your welding class is most likely going to require essential hand tools for daily tasks and course activities and the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) to perform the course objectives safely. You're also probably going to have to purchase a few books for class along the way. The good news here- all the tools, books, and PPE you buy for school will be a major asset and used again when you graduate and start that first job as a welder.
What will I need for class?
The first thing we need to understand when figuring out tools and PPE for class, is "What I will need for this class?” Most training programs or instructors will provide students a list of essential tools and PPE that will be needed, and depending on the course, the required items may vary in some capacity. For first time students, let's cover a basic set of personal protective equipment that will get you through a class that includes training on the four major welding processes: SMAW, GMAW, GTAW, & OFC/OFW. Please keep in mind, if you have received a list of items from the institution or instructor that is needed for class, be sure to reference and acquire the necessary items.
If you haven't received any information about tools or personal protective equipment (PPE) required for your course(s), don't worry. Most likely, all that information will be shared on the first day of class or during orientation. Sometimes contacting the instructor before the course begins to ask what items will be needed is a great way to start. Of course, it's best to do your research before making any purchases, especially if cash is tight or you are unsure what’s required for the course.
Part One: The Personal Protective Equipment- PPE
Alright, rookie, let's touch on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for welding and welders. There are many approaches you can take when acquiring PPE, so feel free to make any changes along the way, as this list is meant to be a good starting point for first time welding students:
- The welding helmet is undoubtedly the most important piece of PPE for welding. For someone new to welding, selecting the right unit can be challenging- as helmets come in a variety of options, styles, and features. Over time, you will most likely become partial to certain features and styles. As a novice starter, I'd recommend an auto-darkening welding helmet that offers a cut/grind mode and has replacement lenses readily available. Be sure the helmet provides adequate protection, and I suggest it darkens to a minimum of shade 10. It's great to do some research on available styles and what popular features, and I'd also recommend checking out a local welding supplier to see the helmet in person, as this can be helpful. As a rule of thumb, a brand name helmet in the 150-dollar range usually provides great usability and features for most new welding students.
- Many welding programs require students to wear the common all leather- above ankle-safety toe boot when in the shop. Some may disagree, but a good pair of leather-safety toe boots should not be overlooked for the first-time student. Of course, you can go down to "wally world" and pick up a cheap pair of boots for $30, but most likely, you will be regretting that decision after standing in them for the first hour or two. At a minimum, I prefer an 8" safety toe all leather boot. Lace-ups are fine, but I favor the slip-on style myself. With the harsh welding environment, leather boots hold up great, and if you're wearing a slip-on style boot, there is no worry of laces being burned up from sparks. I've had great experience with many different styles and brands of boots, but usually around the 200-dollar mark provides the best results and comfort. Be sure to follow your school's safety requirements, as some restrictions may apply to the style of boot you will need.
Flame Resistant (FR) Welding Jacket
- The welding jacket provides essential upper body protection you'll need from the heat, sparks, and ultraviolet light generated in most welding/cutting processes you will be learning in class. Of course, there are many varieties and styles of FR (flame-resistant) welding jackets available, but I'd recommend a jacket that has a combination of FR material and leather sleeves. When learning to weld, body position will take time to perfect- and, commonly, your forearms are going to take a beating from sparks and heat. Leather sleeves on a welding jacket can be very valuable- as they will provide added protection on your arms. This should not be looked over for novice welders learning the craft.
- Protecting the lower half of the body is straightforward and can be achieved by obtaining a good pair of 100% denim jeans. Be sure to stay away from any frayed areas on your pants, as this can easily catch fire. Also, watch out for pants made of materials other than denim, as they can be flammable and dangerous in the welding environment. I tend to favor the double-knee logger style denim pants. I’ve been wearing them for years and have no complaints. But if you have a good pair of jeans, they'll work just fine.
- Safety glasses can be argued as the single most important piece of PPE. Please always keep your eyes safe and wear safety glasses- even under the helmet while welding! There are many options and styles available, but make sure whichever ones you select are ANSI Z87.1 rated. I'd recommend buying two pairs of glasses. Having a backup pair of safety glasses comes in handy if you lose one or if a set gets damaged or wore out.
- There are many choices available when it comes to selecting a pair of welding gloves, especially since most are designed with features that work best when used with specific welding processes. As a new welding student, I'd suggest getting two pairs of gloves to start- a pair of SMAW welding gloves and a pair of GMAW or GTAW gloves. Having two different pairs of gloves will allow you to see the benefits of both and get a feel and understanding of how to position your hands when welding and avoiding the heat. Additionally, being able to compare two different styles of gloves can help learn the amount of dexterity needed for some processes. Most likely, the first pair of gloves you own will be scorched and charred in no time, so I would be cautious buying an expensive pair out the gate. Ultimately, finding the right pair for your welding gloves will be more of a time/trial approach. As you learn different welding processes, you'll begin to favor a certain style of glove that fits the needs of how you weld.
- Not always a high priority on the list of required PPE, but a welding/welder's beanie is always a must! The welding beanie does a great job of keeping those rogue sparks from burning the top of your head. If you decide on a beanie that has a soft/hard bill, it can be used as added protection for your ear. Welder’s typically wear their beanie sideways, so the bill of the beanie covers the ear to prevent sparks from entering.
Shade 5 Glasses
- Most likely, your welding course will encompass the oxy-fuel cutting and welding processes in some capacity. Unlike electric arc welding, oxy-fuel processes do not emit bright UV light and require a lower lens shade for comfort and visibility. Many styles of glasses/goggles are available for oxy-fuel and work great. I prefer the full-face shield style as it provides protection and coverage for the entire face. The glasses, goggles, and face shields are great, but if your welding helmet has the cut/grind mode, you may be able to use that when using the oxy-fuel processes. Always be sure to check the helmet manufactures recommendations beforehand and see if it will work.
- Ear protection is often overlooked and underused. Please take the time to protect your hearing and use ear protection when necessary. Foam earplugs are great and convenient for welding activities that are in a noisy environment. Many styles are available and do a great job of keeping sparks out of the ear canal and protect your hearing from excessive noise from grinding, gouging and more.
Remember that these items showcased are commonly required and used and within many welding programs, but specific PPE needs for class may vary. Always be sure to reference any information about PPE supplied by your instructor or school first. Good luck on your journey to a welding career and stay tuned for the next part of our series that will be covering tools for the first-time welding student. To learn more about welding PPE, check out this AWS ARCademy video!