It's time again... when I pick out the safety gear to keep my students alive and healthy. That means another round of testing, as I take the job seriously. The other day another instructor asked about safety glasses, and I explained the ones I had chosen for my kids. He asked how I knew they were good enough... and I replied they had been tested with a 12 gauge shotgun at 20 feet, and survived. That seemed to settle the discussion. (Smile).
Shooters can usually be found with ear protection and eye protection. Earpro and Eyepro by the slang words. Smart shooters.... are seldom without both.
This post is about eye protection, and what we can expect from it.
In choosing good eye protection, we are faced with an awful lot of choices. So many factors come into play. Price, style, price, quality, price, price, and price. This opinion is based on a decade of buying eye protection for my students. Yes, price has always been a factor, but not the most important. Keeping my students eyes in place and operating is the main goal. After that, price becomes the deciding factor.
In studying the available choices, the single biggest pointer towards protection is clearly the rating of the lens. There, we are faced with three levels. The first is no rating at all. Such 'safety glasses' are little more than cheap plastic glasses... possibly worse than having nothing at all. No-rating glasses offer little in the way of protection. Under impact, they tend to shatter into sharp chunks, rather than deflect and absorb the blow. The resulting fragments can be driven into the eyes, causing worse damage than an unprotected impact might have.
No-rating 'safety glasses' may be the lowest of the low, but that doesn't mean they are the cheapest of the cheap. In fact, price is really not a reflection on the safety rating of the lenses. The highest rated lens may be found in a $5 pair of glasses, and typically is. On the flip side, some quite expensive shooters glasses may not be all that highly rated, trading safety for style.
How does one check lens rating? With a sharp eye and good light... that's how. One must look for some specific figures on the lens itself, or if the lens is part of the glasses, the rating may by on the arm instead. What we want to see is the letter 'Z', followed by the number 87. Put a '+' sign after the Z87, and you have the highest rated regular safety glasses you will typically find.
Z-87+ is what Carteach0 buys for his students every year.... and he pays no more than $5 a pair for them, even in the stylish and effective wrap-around type.
Once we have a Z87 (or higher) rated lens, what kind of protection can we expect? Here, things get pretty impressive.
The no-rating glasses shown above, with the amber lenses, were the first victim of the Carteach0 testing apparatus.... otherwise known as a sheet of thick metal plate and a S&W K-22. The plate was set up and angled just so, and when fired on with the accurate .22 pistol a swath of bullet fragments would dependably spray to one side of the plate.
As the test board to the left shows, a round or two fired into the test plate would leave nothing alongside it unscathed.
The amber no-rating glasses didn't stand up to a single fragment storm, shattering on the first hit. Both lens and frame came apart, littering the area with testimony of the 'safety glasses' ineffectiveness.
Low budget Z-87 safety glasses bought from the hardware store fared much, much better. Hit with no less than four blasts of shrapnel from the .22 bullets hitting the aluminum plate, they showed not a scratch on either lens. In fact, a paper had to be placed behind the glasses to verify the spray pattern, as this tester couldn't believe they were being hit at all. The frame did show some impacts, but the lenses came away unscathed.
Having demonstrated the difference between Z-87 rated lenses and unrated lenses, Carteach decided to move right up to the big guns.... and testing that was much more fun. Full frontal with 12 gauge shotgun and #8 bird shot. A serious test of any lenses effectiveness.
Leaving the disgraced un-rated lenses behind, the shotgun tests were done with low budget Z-87 EOS safety glasses from the hardware store, and some lenses donated to the cause by a reader, made by ESS and Wiley-X. Surprisingly, all survived shotgun blasts that tore apart the Styrofoam mannequin heads used to support the lenses.
As the following images show, at distances as far as 50 feet, and as close as 15 feet the lenses easily survived multiple hits with #8 bird shot fired from a 12 gauge shotgun.
Clearly, typical Z87 and Z87+ rated lenses hold up to impressive damage. Direct impact from a 12 gauge shotgun at 15 feet... amazing. The lenses, at closer ranges, were driven deep into the foam target, but the lenses themselves were never penetrated by the #8 shot.
Testing was done at this point. A full load of bird shot at 15 feet... If anything more damaging than that happens to a shooter, all bets are off anyway.
The failure point was not the lenses, but the frames. No matter the brand tested for this post, they all gave up pretty quickly. Perhaps that would be a reason to spend significant cash on safety glasses... for frames that would hold up to the same as the lenses.
Carteach's choice? Inexpensive Z87+ wrap around glasses. The same one bought by the gross for his students. In fact, shaded versions of the same glasses can be found in every Carteach0 vehicle, used as driving sunglasses. This makes sense, as the dangers from flying glass and debris in a car accident easily rival that of the shooting range.
Now.... to finish off the test lenses in a way that leaves no doubt. OO buckshot at 15 feet, launched by a full choke 12 gauge tube.
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