When the only thing protecting your hands from a 6,332-degree flame is a pair of welding gloves, you’ve got to trust them to do their job right. A good pair of gloves doesn’t only keep out the heat, it also resists infrared and ultraviolet radiation, as well as electrical shock. Through it all, the gloves need to allow your fingers to move freely while helping to maintain a solid grip on your welding torch. It’s a lot to demand from safety equipment, but you can’t ask for anything less when your life is literally on the line.
There are a number of important features to look for when shopping for a pair of welding gloves. First, of course, is protection. Gloves must insulate against the heat, sparks, radiation, and electricity from welding. Sparks and molten metal can land on a welder’s hands resulting in instant and catastrophic burns. Gloves need to resist cuts, tears, and punctures, too, which can otherwise result from handling pieces of metal.
Don’t forget comfort. You’ll be wearing your gloves for long stretches while doing demanding work, so they shouldn’t restrict blood-flow to the fingers. They also need to allow enough flexibility for you to solidly grip your welding torch.
There are three main types of welding: Stick, MIG, and TIG. The type you do will have the most influence on the kind of gloves you buy.
Stick is the most common form of welding, and you see it whenever there’s steel construction. Electricity is used to create an arc that fuses metal together. MIG (metal inert gas) welding also uses electricity to join metal by forming an arc between an electrode and the metal. These two forms of welding require gloves that are thick enough to withstand the extreme temperatures, and can be bulkier since precision and dexterity isn’t as important.
On the other hand, TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding requires much more accuracy than MIG and Stick, and doesn’t spatter as much. Gloves for this process provide a greater range of movement—but they’re not going to work with the heat generated by MIG and Stick welding.
The right equipment for the type of job you’re doing is critical for safety.
Gloves are made from a variety of leathers, each suited to a different type of welding. So think about the work you do when considering your purchase. MIG and Stick welding requires less precision, so sturdy, but stiffer, gloves are fine. TIG welding, on the other hand, is all about accuracy, and the dexterity provided by more supple gloves will serve you well.
Welding gloves are most often made from animal hide thanks to its ability to dissipate heat. Cowhide is the most common due to its mix of durability and comfort, though because it’s thicker, it’s better for MIG or Stick welding. Pigskin is great for oily or wet situations, and elkskin is even better at resisting high temperatures than cow leather. They’re also most suited toward MIG and Stick welding.
If you’re doing TIG welding, consider deerskin, which is soft and supple and allows for more dexterity. Goatskin’s abrasion resistance and high tensile strength, coupled with its softness, makes it another excellent choice.
Don’t forget the stitching! Most gloves rely on kevlar thread, which is resistant to heat and will help keep them from falling apart.