It goes without saying that things get hot while welding. But what you don’t think about is that not only is the material hot, but also the electrode and the sparks flying through the air at high speeds. These are the primary safety concern when arc welding. This guide is specifically for arc welding, though almost everything here carries over to any other types of welding
First things first – The gloves. Any welding glove will do. I can’t tell any difference between the various gloves at the time of purchase, but have noticed that the bottom of the line welding gloves wear out quickly. I find that while they are fine originally and can be used if you only weld on a rare occasion, they tend to fall apart too quickly to be worth the cost savings. TSC and Northern Tool both sell welding supplies, and a decent pair for the occasional welder can usually be had for around $15. The gloves do a good job of protecting your hands from flying sparks or from accidentally brushing against hot metal, but you can still be burned through them if you try to pick up something very hot (Or hold parts together while you weld!).
Next thing, and probably the first thing someone would think about when welding is mentioned, is the helmet. Again, nothing special here. The cheapest helmet you can get will shield your face as well as a higher end one, but will wear out and break faster. For most people, an automatic welding helmet similar to the one Harbor Freight carries is the best value. They are priced reasonably, usually fit well, and will last the average user 1-3 years (depending on how often you weld). I have had a professional welder recommend the Kobalt brand automatic helmet, but that one tends to be more expensive and is usually not necessary. Often times I find used manual helmets, which still work quite well but add an extra step when you’re welding. They are great to have during welding lessons, because several people can learn at the same time.
If you use any type of automatic helmet, it’s a good idea to test each time you use it. It’s easy to check by either looking straight at the sun, or flicking a lighter in front of it. If is dims quickly, it works.
Note: I once had someone tell me to wear a hat that I don’t mind ruining while welding. Put one on backwards under your helmet, anything hat that won’t melt will work. It keeps the red hot metal out of your hair and off your head, as it always seems to find its way there.
Boots: I also, after multiple experiments, have concluded that there is no safe way to weld without boots. Nearly any boot will work, but tennis shoes are not a suitable substitute. Once again, the concern here are the flying bits of red hot metal that I was talking about earlier. It is nearly impossible to weld anything without them hitting your shoes, and if your shoes have any sort of vent, the sparks will find their way in and burn the tops of your feet. There doesn’t need to be anything special about the boots, and if you don’t weld often you can almost always find a pair of nearly worn out boots at a thrift store. Those will work nicely, because they’re cheap and at that point essentially disposable. Only wear them when you’re welding, and throw them out when they get too worn to use.
1) Never wear a white (or very light colored) shirt while welding. Believe it or not, the light can and will reflect off it and burn your face and neck.
2) Wear long sleeves whenever possible. Your arms should be protected somehow, though it seems to me that you’re much less likely to burn your arms than your hands, feet, head, neck, and eyes.
3) Do NOT wear anything that can melt. Burning yourself isn’t pleasant, but really isn’t that bad. Burning yourself and then having your clothes melt to your skin, however, is a whole different story.
4) Consider getting a light weight jacket to use only while welding to help protect your arms. Leather is ideal, but anything that doesn’t melt will work. I typically only use an apron, but the jacket would be a must if working in tight areas or welding very frequently.
5) If you must weld close to the ground, wear a heavy apron (again, leather preferred) and kneel so that your legs are covered.
This makes welding sound rather confusing and dangerous. It can be, but a welder is just a tool. Used properly and with the correct safety equipment, you have very little chance of hurting yourself. In my opinion, one of the most difficult parts of welding is getting the safety down. Once you know, remember, and practice all of this safety advice, actually learning to lay a bead and weld on regular steel isn’t that hard but requires a lot of practice.