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A good pair of safety glasses is one of the most important pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) that you can wear when working with tools. They protect your eyes from flying debris and chemicals, which can both cause serious injury.
While protection is the first priority, safety glasses should also be comfortable—I wear mine almost the whole time I’m in the shop, which can be hours. They need to fit well, stay firmly in place as you move, and not fog up when you put on a mask.
There’s a huge range of styles and prices for safety glasses, and it’s hard to know how much to spend for a quality pair. Do you need to drop over $100 on a pair of Oakleys? Or, does a pair of basic 3M safety glasses for less than $10 offer enough protection and comfort?
We bought a pair of each and pitted them against one another in my woodshop to find out.
Oakley Industrial M Frame 3.0 PPE safety glasses, cost: $116
The Oakley Industrial M Frame 3.0 PPE safety glasses feature a scratch-and-chemical-resistant coating, as well as an anti-fog treatment. They are clear, with what Oakley claims is 89% light transmittance. In my somewhat dim basement shop, it was very easy to see everything I was doing.
The Oakley safety glasses’ nose bridge is soft and comfortable, and the arms fit the side of my head snugly but without squeezing or bothering my ears. For safety glasses, they are pretty comfortable.
I wore them during several different projects and found no major concerns from a safety perspective. The most strenuous test I did was using a router to cut along a line. Routers spit out a lot of wood chips, which inevitably hit you in the face when you’re watching the bit. Not one of those chips made it past the glasses. Likewise, no chips from chiseling or debris from mowing the lawn and weed whacking hit behind the glasses. They fit tight to your face, so there’s not a lot of room for anything to slip by.
The anti-fog coating performs well, though not perfectly. I did add a second coat of the included anti-fogging OP Drops by Gear Aid to the Oakley safety glasses, which made a significant improvement.
Likewise, the anti-scratch coating did fine. I dragged a screwdriver numerous times around the edges of the lens, and only got a couple of small scratches. And, there is no sign of damage from any of the debris that hit the lenses.
This doesn’t mean the Oakley’s are the perfect pair. I encountered a few problems with these glasses, though none of them are deal breakers.
The first and most noticeable is that the lenses sit very close to your face. I’m sure this is to reduce the space for a piece of debris to slip in behind them, but Oakley goes overboard. When I blink, my eyelashes actually touch the lenses, which is extremely distracting, so much so that I actually pulled the safety glasses down my nose slightly to stop it.
The bigger problem I encountered was when working with tools that actually blow out exhaust—specifically my sander and jigsaw. I could feel the air wrapping around the edges of the glasses and into my eye. This air carries miniscule flecks of sawdust in it, which then started to irritate my eyes. This happens with any pair of safety glasses that isn’t sealed to your face, of course, but it was worse with the Oakleys than with the 3M safety glasses.
3M SecureFit 400 Series safety glasses, cost $4.69
Like the Oakley safety glasses, the 3M safety glasses feature both an anti-fog and anti-scratch coating on the clear lenses. Both worked reasonably well in protecting the lenses from debris damage and fogging while I was wearing my mask, though the anti-fog was even better when I applied a second coat of the OP anti-fog drops, which these glasses did not come with.
In my short scratch testing, the 3M glasses performed about as well as the Oakleys. My screwdriver scratched a couple of times, but there was nothing noticeable from any debris strikes.
The nose bridge is comfortable and somewhat adjustable, and the arms held the glasses tight to my head. The lenses wrap around the face, staying close to my skin without being close enough for my eyelashes to actually touch them.
In terms of protection, the 3M safety glasses excelled. In all of my tests, no debris came anywhere near my eyes or even my face behind the lenses. This is where the 3M glasses set themselves apart from the Oakleys. While some air was still able to wrap around the glasses, it was noticeably less than the Oakley safety glasses, and never carried enough sawdust to irritate my eyes. Because of this, they were much more comfortable to use while sanding and cutting with my jigsaw.
The only small drawback of the 3M safety glasses is in its arms. They’re flexible, which is great, but that flexibility takes away some of the grip and support. The safety glasses stay on, but they don’t feel solid on your head.
What’s more, they aren’t nearly as padded as the Oakley safety glasses, so they irritated my ears a bit faster, though not nearly enough to make me want to take them off.
So, should you buy the Oakley safety glasses, or the 3M pair?
After using both the Oakley safety glasses and the 3M safety glasses, my recommendation is to save your money and sport for the far less-expensive, better performing 3M pair.
The Oakley safety glasses were slightly more comfortable overall. However, from a safety perspective, they weren’t quite as good as the 3M glasses—and the 3M safety glasses were still quite comfortable and included all of the same anti-fog and anti-scratch coatings as the Oakleys.
In fact, the 3Ms are the pair that I kept wearing when I was done officially testing. There simply doesn’t seem to be any benefit to spending $90 to $100 more on a pair of Oakley safety glasses, which, if you’re anything like me, you may well lose or step on at some point anyway.
This is a category where price doesn’t seem to correlate with quality. Pick up the 3M safety glasses with confidence.
- Get the 3M SecureFit 400 Series at Amazon for $4.69
- Get the Oakley Industrial M Frame 3.0 PPE at Oakley for $116
- Get the OP Drops by Gear Aid at Amazon for $7.95
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.