Your eyes, the only pair you have…

I’ve been snooping around on a certain website and came across a thread called “Eye Health and Lampworking”. In it the thread starter states that she has been seeing “flashing lights” after finishing a lampworking session, and her eyecare professional has seen some minor changes in her eyes. Others commented on eye strain, halos of the torch image, etc.

The comments tell me that there are still a large number of people out there who are not using proper filter eyewear. A large percentage of these people are using Hot Head torches (”When I bought my hothead kit, it came with just general eye protection [most likely clear safety glasses] you would buy at the local hardware store, and the workshop teacher I went to, said that they were sufficient.”

Proper eye filter eyewear for soft glass IS NOT a pair of clear safety glasses, especially if you have sensitive eyes.

Let me step through the “levels” of eye filtration for glassworkers. Note: I will refer to the Aura filters unless there is a generic name, in which case I will use that as well.

Furnace/hot shop/traditional glassworkers: Use green welding shade 2.0 or darker (AUR-99 Shade 2.0). Your main source of problematic radiation is the furnace and glory hole. You are exposed to high amounts of IR (infra red) radiation (also called heat energy). Sunglasses do not block IR, and cause the pupil of the eye to open wide allowing even more hazardous IR to enter the eye.

Soft glass lampworkers: If you are using a hot head or other single gas torch, clear safety glasses are not proper filtration eyewear. Yes, they will protect you from flying glass, but they do not filter the sodium flare. Sodium flare, while not hazardous, is certainly an annoyance, and to those who are sensitive to bright light, it can cause lingering spots or halos in your vision field. At a very minimum, didymium filters should be worn by soft glass lampworkers.

The “next generation” filter is called ACE, or AUR-92. The filter is based on the original didymium filter, but adds additional filtration in the primary and secondary color bands, as well as a deeper and wider sodium flare cut off. These additional color band filters act to limit the amount of non-essential light entering your eye, and allow you to see your color temperatures more clearly.

For those who are sensitive to bright light when lampworking soft glass, adding a welding filter on top of the existing didymium or AUR-92 filter will, in most cases, clear up the problem.

Clear Borosilicate lampworking: The only commercially available filter for eye protection when working clear borosilicate is the AGW-300. This filter is based on the AUR-92 filter and adds a clear IR (infra red) filter as a lamination. This filter will block all hazardous IR from 900 nm on out.

Entry Level Color Borosilicate: For this, I recommend the AGW-203 filter. It is a full coverage filter (the entire lens is dark) with an equivalent welding shade number of 3.5. It has excellent IR filtration. This filter can also be used by those who work soft glass, but are sensitive to bright color flares. This filter is not dark enough for advanced techniques such as fuming, or with large amounts of certain color flaring colors, such as Turbo Cobalt, to name one.

Intermediate to advanced Borosilicate: AGW-325 hands down. This is the only filter on the market that will fully protect your eyes from all radiation hazards found when working borosilicate glass. It is available in a wide variety of shades and features a split lens, with part of the lens being an AGW-300 equivalent (high visible light transmission with low IR transmission), and the other part being a dark welding filter.

I’ve said many times that while there are no hazards to the eye when working soft glass, and that clear safety glasses can be worn, this does not mean that clear safety glasses are the proper filter for everyone.

OSHA will not even issue a report on this issue unless there are Occupational issues involved here, meaning that you have been “injured” in the workplace. OSHA’s madate is for a safe work place, and since most of us work at home, OSHA does not cover us.

The bottom line is this: if you are having problems with your vision after working for a time at the torch or at the furnace, your eyes are telling you that they are unhappy about something. Don’t ignore it. Do something about it. If you have clear safety glasses, upgrade to didymium or AUR-92.

If you have didymium or AUR-92, upgrade with either a welders clip on or move to the AGW-203 filter.

You only have one pair of eyes. While they are working on perfecting heart transplants, they haven’t even started yet on eyeballs. You have only one pair, and they have to last you a lifetime.

Good and proper eyewear is not inexpensive, but then, nothing about our little “hobby” or craft is inexpensive. I get real frustrated when I hear people complaining about the ‘high price of eyewear’ then hear them talking about how much they spend on colored glass or oxygen. Or “I won’t pay that for a pair of filters, but hey, a new torch? Let me at it!”.

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7 thoughts on “Your eyes, the only pair you have…

  1. hey mike,

    i like yr new blog. beats digging for info on LE & WC threads. Question tho: doesn’t yr eyewear advice for Hothead users here contradict what you wrote in yr pevious eyewear post?

  2. I’m assuming you are talking about the “Recommendations” article — and you’ve got a good point. That particular article was written about 4-5 years ago, and I neglected to update it as I brought it over here to be blogged. Thanks for pointing that out!

  3. I’ve updated the “Recommendations” document, which should resolve your questions. Thank you again for pointing out the issue!

  4. Mike, can you clarify the difference between the AGW-250 and the AGW-325 you just recommended? I just put an order in for a pair of perscription AGW-250 Shade 5’s in the Torque frame and am now worried that I should have gotten something else instead. I didn’t want to mess with a split lens setup, and I thought that that was the only difference in the -286 and -325 lenses.

    I am going to use these as my primary boro glasses for small to medium sculptures (3″ to 8″ tall). I may in the future get a darker pair or a style in #4 or #5 ones I can put an additional clip on shades over if I start doing much fuming.

    Thanks, Paul

  5. You are correct Paul. The only difference between the 250 and the other filters (286 and 325) is that the 250 is a single full coverage filter that is available in a variety of shades. If you don’t like split filters or don’t want to mess with moving your head up and down to switch between shades or filter types, then the single full coverage filter is the one you want.

    The AGW-250 provides exactly the same protection and filtration as all of our other filter products (with the same shade number).

  6. Hello,
    Mike, I currently have the agw-286 #4 50/50’s and was wondering if the agw-325’s would give better protection. What is the difference? I use a pretty big torch and pretty much every color you could imagine and I fume silver and gold daily. It feels too bright sometimes, even while looking through the #4 half. I’m thinking about buying an agw-325 #5, but they are spendy, so I don’t want to buy them unless they will make a difference. Would the single shade design of the agw-325 #5 (or whatever is the darkest shade) allow me to fume and use colors more comfortably?

    • The main difference between the AGW-286 and the AGW-325 is that the AGW-325 substitutes a “clear” infrared filter material for the shaded welding glass on the upper section. The AGW-325 was developed to allow artists to view their work in a non-darkened state while still filtering the hazardous heat energy (IR, infrared). You would view your work through the upper section until it starts to flare (the temperature of the glass reaches the point where the metals start to burn off), then switch to the darker filter.

      From the sound of things, your shade 4 should be upped to probably shade 5 or 6.

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