With August drawing to a close, the great 2017 Total Solar Eclipse has officially gone down in history as the most-watched solar event of all time. And in the days leading up the big event, thousands of would-be astronomers were left scrambling to find ways to watch it without burning their eyes. The most popular solution was specialty eye-wear that had been produced just for the occasion, and stores all over the country sold special “eclipse glasses.”
Many individuals even turned to welding glasses as a safe alternative, as the stocks of eclipse glasses depleted rapidly. However, these secondary choices could be unsafe for unwitting users who failed to pick the right classification.
NASA, who monitored the event carefully, stated on their website that Welding Shade 14 is the recommended level of eye protection that is acceptable for welding lenses during an eclipse.
According to the official NASA website for the 2017 eclipse:
“The only ones that are safe for direct viewing of the Sun with your eyes are those of Shade 12 or higher. These are much darker than the filters used for most kinds of welding. If you have an old welder’s helmet around the house and are thinking of using it to view the Sun, make sure you know the filter’s shade number. If it’s less than 12 (and it probably is), don’t even think about using it to look at the Sun. Many people find the Sun too bright even in a Shade 12 filter, and some find the Sun too dim in a Shade 14 filter — but Shade 13 filters are uncommon and can be hard to find.”
And just like the NASA statement suggests, shades that are above 12 or higher are not the easiest to find. And this statement is echoed by many welders and those in the welding equipment selling industry.
One such seller is Phil Kirby, Vice President at Holston Gasses, who said that the most common lenses that are sold are 10 or 11s. And, even if more than 50% of American made products require welding, it is very unlikely that typical welding shops would have had much in stock for Shade 14.
“We stock from a 9 to a 13 lens (and) usually don’t stock a 14 unless ordered,” Kirby said.
As the standard eclipse viewing glasses sold out and the eclipse drew closer and closer, many welding companies completely sold out on these higher shade level lenses. There was never an extremely high demand for the products, and there probably won’t be again until the next total solar eclipse crosses the United States.