Helping Hands, Reinvented

[Nixie] was tired of using whatever happens to be around to hold things in place while soldering and testing. It was high time to obtain a helping hands of some kind, but [Nixie] was dismayed by commercial offerings — the plain old alligator clips and cast metal type leave a lot to be desired, and the cooling tube cephalopod type usually have the alligator clips just jammed into the standard tube ends with no thought given to fine control or the possibility of reducing cable count.

[Nixie] happened to have some unneeded cooling tube lying around and started designing a new type of helping hands from the ground plane up. Taking advantage of the fact that cooling tubes are hollow,  [Nixie] routed silicone-jacketed wires through them for power and low speed signals. These are soldered to five banana jacks that are evenly spaced around an alligator clip.

Even if you don’t need power, all those extra alligators would come in quite handy for circuit sculpture or anything else that requires a lot of hands. [Nixie] put the files up on Thingiverse if you want to make your own.

We’ve seen plenty of helping hands over the years, but this concrete-based helper ought to cement your decision to make your own.

9 thoughts on “Helping Hands, Reinvented

  1. My co-pilot, Captain Cheapskate, asked me to tell you about the dollar store possibilities. There are these re-usable foam ties, position-able metal in a foam sleeve. They may be as general purpose ties in the hardware, cable ties in the tech, or plant ties in the gardening areas. Using those as your arms, you may have several choices for clips, good old croc or alligator clips, which do turn up there, hardware, electrical or even crafts area. Or you might want small stall clips, which turn up in hardware, crafts, about 3x width of croc clips. I have seen some similar sold as picnic tablecloth clamps, though those can also tend towards too large. Failing either of those, you can try the household/laundry area and get some wooden, sprung, clothes pegs/pins. They will char a bit if you’re getting the iron on them, but not real likely to actually smoulder unless you’re way up above 230C. Fixing them to the foam ties can be accomplished by ziptie-ing them tightly, or binding them on with hardware wire. You can gloop over with the 5 min epoxy you’ll also find there if you want to keep it from unravelling. Though if you’re doing that, you don’t really need the wire, any string or cord will work. Then to hold them, you can either find a 3 hole brick, and force several into the middle hole, or shim with cardboard wrapped around them and do one or two per hole. Again you can gloop the cheap epoxy in there to keep it all in, or flood with hot glue. Alternatively, you can use hydrocal, patching plaster, patching cement, anything like that you’ve got spare of or can beg off relatives, and pot them like a plant in a margarine tub or other container, using card to hold them in place until it’s set up.

    Also turning up in dollar stores from time to time, are phone holder arms that come with a table clip and phone holder clip, that have a nearly 2ft flexible arm. These may be useful as is, bearing in mind plastic melts way more easily than wood scorches. Or you may like to bend them to your will in other ways. Another possibility is a flexible drive for 1/4 hex drivers which is much the same sort of arm as shown in the article, these turn up as extension sets, or cheap bits sets, or full sets with the driver. However for either of these the prices are tending to be more than the notional “dollar”.

    Extreme cheapskates can scrounge clothespegs from household supplies, and use metal coat hanger wire for position-able arms (Which is probably going to take a bit more work positioning) In that case, one can glue and bind, cut a trench in the peg, glue and bind, or drill holes for a nut and bolt to hold the wire with an eye bent into the end of it or similar.

  2. This is a great idea! It reminds me a lot of those handsfree-probes (both scope and DMM) PCBite iirc that Dave Jones received/presented in his last mailbag. It’s not the same thing (also about price…) but there is room for hacking here. Good job!

  3. Does anyone have a lead on a better version of that common bendy blue arm that every set of non-rigid helping hands uses?

    I have a couple sets of nice helping hands (milled heavy base, quality clips, etc) but they all suffer from the same issue – bend the arm at the exact angle I need to line up 2 wires, let go and the darn thing bounces back in the other direction a millimeter or two. This usually results in trying to overcompensate the angle at just the right amount to account for the bounceback once tension is released. And lots of frustration.

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