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Welding is the process of joining metals together using a heat source, shielding, and filler material. That sounds like it’s not a big deal, but burning electrodes generates temperatures around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, intense light that includes damaging levels of ultraviolet radiation, and toxic fumes (1). These things make welding one of the riskiest jobs.
Seasoned welders are aware of the common hazards involved in their job. These include electric shocks, noxious gases, explosions, electrocution, and burns. To reduce the risk of these accidents, occupational safety rules include wearing standard personal protective equipment, which includes welding jackets.
Read Also – Best Welding Jackets
A welding jacket protects your body and arms from hot metal debris or splinters that randomly shoot from the arc. The problem is, the importance of welding jackets is often overlooked. You can walk into a weld shop and find welders wearing only helmets and shirts. It’s not an uncommon scene despite regulations in place.
Can You Do Away With a Welding Jacket?
One reason some welders refuse to don a safety jacket is because it’s an additional burden. It makes them stiff. It weighs them down. But good quality jackets offer significant protection while minimizing these drawbacks.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the American Welding Society (AWS) recommend head-to-toe protection for welders. The two agencies don’t have stringent requirements, but the purpose of the recommendations is to mitigate occupational hazards.
For some light welding work in your garage, you probably just need a welding shirt. But for heavy-duty welding of any sort, a welding jacket is indispensable. This jacket doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. The key is to find the right one.
Standard Materials for Welding Jackets
Cotton used for making welding shirts and jackets is similar to the material your everyday shirts are made of. The only difference is the stitching at the seams and the chemical coatings. Flame-resistant cotton is a preferred fabric for welding jackets because it’s light and comfortable, but it still offers sufficient protection during your average welding operations. FR cotton doesn’t burn, shrink, or melt when exposed to hot metals or fire. The chemicals used to treat the fabric off-gas when you try to burn the fabric. Off-gassing removes oxygen around the area that’s supposed to burn the fabric, thereby halting the combustion process. There are different types of cotton welding jackets. Choose ones with thicker base, because these aren’t only comfy but also long-lasting.
This has been considered the best material for welding jackets for a long time. Leather is thick enough to block heat, spatter, and hot metal fragments when you’re welding. It doesn’t burn easily. It’s not easy to puncture. All these reasons make it a great material for welding PPE. Leather welding jackets come in different cuts and grades, which mean you have different choices. The toughest in the market is grain leather, which easily repels spatter and sparks without being too uncomfortable. Standard leather should suffice, but a lot of people think it’s too heavy and it wears them down too fast. One downside of leather is it becomes stiff after being exposed to heat for a long time.
Although synthetic materials aren’t recommended for making welding PPE, nylon qualifies as a good material. Nylon is lightweight and stretchable. Like cotton, it’s washable. And contrary to popular belief, nylon is durable. It’s not easy to tear. Although nylon isn’t as flammable as regular cotton, it melts and drips when ignited — causing more severe burns. This is why nylon, as well as other synthetic fabrics, isn’t as preferable as FR cotton or leather. However, when combined with Kevlar, nylon makes for fine welding jackets that withstand industrial welding hazards. Nylon-Kevlar jackets are as breathable and flexible as those made of cotton, but they don’t offer good protection against UV radiation.
Helmets, jackets, gloves, chaps, and boots offer full-body protection, but not all welders wear all of them. Even experienced welders don’t. All of that safety gear for welding is pricey. Welders on budget may do with helmets and jackets. Because you can’t do away with jackets, especially if you’re an industrial welder, you have to invest in a high quality jacket. It doesn’t matter whether you choose FR cotton or leather, you have to invest in a welding jacket that offers flexibility and comfort.
Most welding jackets are thick enough to keep you warm, so working outdoors in winter or in any cold environment isn’t a problem. Even Kevlar or Nomex welding jackets offer sufficient insulation against the cold.
It seems as though manufacturers have yet to come up with the perfect gear that combines all the features you prefer. There are always trade-offs. For instance, carbon fiber welding jackets are great for heavy-duty operations where hot metal splatters everywhere. These jackets are not as flexible as FR cotton jackets, though. Occasional backyard welders should find denim welding jackets suitable. In low-spatter situations, you don’t need the extra protection from more robust jackets. Once your hobby evolves, you’ll realize your denim jacket will not withstand more intensive operations.
It’s worth noting, however, that many welders just wear flame-resistant cotton jackets even for heavy-duty welding. It doesn’t matter whether leather offers more protection. For many welders, comfort is the most important factor that determines whether they get the job done or not. After all, what purpose does the toughest welding jacket serve if you will just keep it hanging on the wall because it’s too stiff, heavy, or inconvenient?
Welding jackets provide protection from sparks, spatter, and flame while you’re welding. They’re usually made of flame-resistant cotton, leather, or nylon. Although leather is the material that offers the best protection against spatter and heat, FR cotton offers comfort and convenience. Welders sometimes have to choose between optimal protection and comfort, and when they do, they usually prefer the latter.