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October 10, 2017 0 Comments

A life in welding

Welding isn’t just how Ray Hill makes his living. It’s his whole way of life.


Ray Hill was hooked on welding from the very first moment he was introduced to the trade. At the age of 20, he was working with his stepfather, using precast concrete to build bridges, when a welder on the job showed him a few basic skills. “It fascinated me,” Hill recalls.

In 2002, Hill went to the Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville in the US state of Florida. One of his instructors had a 3M(tm) Speedglas™  9000X Auto-Darkening Helmet. “He let me use his and I liked it a lot, so I bought one for myself,” Hill says. Hill has since owned several Speedglas helmets and now even has an image of one tattooed on his arm.

After graduating with a welding degree, Hill spent several years alternating between welding and plumbing. A few years back, he came across a union that was recruiting welders, and in 2010 he decided to enter into its five-year apprenticeship programme. Hill is now a journeyman – or fully accredited – welder with the union.

“I’ve always used Speedglas helmets,” Hill says. “I’ve never used anything else.” He has had a 9000X, a 9002X and a 9100X, and he recently got a 9100XXI with true-colour view. “I’ve always liked them, and I’ve never ventured off to another brand,” he says.

3mspeedglas_099A natural view

So, what does Hill like about them? “Everything,” he says. “The aerodynamics, the light weight, they have a great view, and they have different shades that you can switch to, depending on the job.” He especially likes his new 9100XXI helmet for its visual qualities. “It’s got true colour and a more natural view when you look through it,” he says.


“A lot of the older ones have a green lens that gives everything a green tint. I’ve got buddies who have had different hoods and I’ve tried them out, but I’ve always just liked Speedglas.”

Hill, who turned 39 in December, lives in Tampa, Florida, but we caught up with him in the US state of Maryland, where he was working on a gas plant. “I work at power plants, chemical plants, refineries, mines, nuclear power plants ­– all kinds of industrial work,” he says. “I travel all across the United States, working for different contractors.”

The Speedglas Tattoo

Hill’s dedication to Speedglas is so complete that he has a tattoo on his upper left arm that features a Speedglas helmet. The tattoo reflects Hill’s belief that welding is more than an occupation ­– it’s a way of life. “You live and eat welding,” he says. “You wake up welding and go to sleep welding.”


Safety first

Hill adds, “It’s not something that just anybody can do. It is a skill. Welding can be hard, and it can be dangerous. You can go on a job at these refineries or chemical plants, and if you don’t know what you’re doing you could end up killing somebody. There are a lot of safety procedures you have to go through before you just go out there and cut a piece of pipe out. If it’s not shut down, there might be some chemical or gas going through it and you could blow the whole plant up. It has happened. That’s why safety is a really big thing in our profession.”

Hill says he loves what he does. “I love welding and I love Speedglas hoods,” he says. “I live by them; I advertise the product. I have the hood tattooed on my arm. When people come into this profession I tell them to buy Speedglas. I’ve let people use mine, and some have gone out and bought their own. I won’t use anything else. I’ll use Speedglas for the rest of my life.”

Four things to consider when buying welding safety equipment

Welding can be a dangerous business, but the right safety equipment can help to minimize the risk. Here are some things to keep in mind when selecting a welding helmet.

  • Ray Hill likes the side windows on his Speedglas helmet. “When you’re welding and have your hood down, you can’t see around you,” he says. “The side windows give you a peripheral view, so if there’s a safety issue around you’re aware of it.”
  • As Hill says, “You can buy a cheap welding hood for (USD) $20 or $30. It might last two days or it might last three months. If you drop it, it might break.”
  • A lightweight helmet will help make the job a lot more comfortable. If you work as a welder, you’re going to spend a lot of time in your helmet. You need to make sure it sits on you as comfortably as possible.
  • Protection. This is the most important consideration. Welders need to guard against burns, fumes, noise, infrared and ultraviolet radiation, electric shock and other hazards. Having the right PPE can go a long way toward keeping you safe.

Text: Michael Miller Photos: Jock Fistick

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