3D Printed Parts Let You Hold Work The Way You Want

Fixturing and work holding can be huge problems for hackers. Let’s face it – that $5, alligator clip-festooned “Helping Hand” is good for only the smallest of workpieces, and the problem only gets worse as the size scales up. One can jury rig fixtures for things like microscopes and lights, but a systematic approach like this 3D-Printed work fixturing Erector Set really appeals to our need for organization.

As [Tinkers Projects] explains it, the genesis of this project came from a need to mount a microscope firmly over a PCB. Rather than build a one-off fixture, the idea of a complete system of clamps and connectors seemed to make more sense. Based on 10-mm aluminum rods and a bewildering number of 3D-printed pieces, the set has just about everything needed to fixture pretty much anything. There’s a vertical element that acts as the central support, connectors for putting another rod perpendicular to that, plus neat attachments like a three-fingered clamp for small cylindrical objects and a couple of blocks that act like a stick-vise for PCBs and similar workpieces. And yes, there’s even a fixture with alligator clips. The whole thing seems very well thought out and has a little mad scientist vibe to it, but while some fixtures look as if they came right from the chemistry lab, we’d be cautious about chemical compatibility and use near heat sources.

[Elliot Williams] did a rundown of what people are using for helping hands a couple of years ago which made us covet articulating dial indicator arms for our bench. Still, [Tinkers Projects]’ approach has a lot of appeal and is probably cheaper and more versatile to boot.

Dollar Store Helping Hands For Soldering

Although [I Love To Make] appears to have text in Chinese, their recent video (see below) is like a wordless workshop so it won’t matter if you are up on your Mandarin or not. The soldering vise looks like it mostly came from a dollar store (or perhaps a yaun store).

As far as we can tell, the assembly is two utility clips like you might use on a cork board or to seal up chips, a Micro SIM cutter, and TV rabbit ears. Oh, and a syringe. The rabbit ears get mostly destroyed in the build process. You have to do some cutting and plastic melting, too (we might have used a drill), but nothing you couldn’t do with some simple hand tools. They don’t show it, but apparently, they drilled a hole in the SIM cutter, so you’ll need a drill anyway.

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Printed It: Do More With Lockable Ball And Socket Helping Hands

In one hand you hold the soldering iron, in the other the solder, and in two more hands the parts you’re trying to solder together. Clearly this is a case where helping hands could be useful.

Magnifying glass with helping hands
Magnifying glass with helping hands

Luckily helping hands are easy to make, coolant hoses will do the job at under $10. Attach alligator clips to one end, mount them on some sort of base, and you’re done. Alternatively, you can steal the legs from an “octopus” tripod normally used for cell phones. So why would you 3D print them?

One reason is to take advantage of standardized, open source creativity. Anyone can share a model of their design for all to use as is, or to modify for their needs. A case in point is the ball and socket model which I downloaded for a helping hand. I then drew up and printed a magnifying glass holder with a matching socket, made a variation of the ball and socket joint, and came up with a magnetic holder with matching ball. Let’s takea  look at what worked well and what didn’t.

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Give Your Bench Power Supply A Helping Hand

[Sverd Industries] have created a pretty cool bench power supply integrating soldering helping hands into the build. This helps free up some much-needed bench space along with adding that wow factor and having something that looks unique.

The build is made from a custom 3D printed enclosure (Thingiverse files here), however if you have no access to a 3D printer  you could always just re-purpose or roll your own instrument enclosure. Once the enclosure is taken care of, they go on to install the electronics. These are pretty basic, using a laptop PSU with its output attached to the input of a boost/buck module. They did have to change the potentiometers from those small PCB mounted pots to full size ones of the same value though. From there they attach 4 mm banana sockets to the output along with a cheap voltmeter/ammeter LCD module. Another buck converter is attached to the laptop PSU’s output to provide 5 V for a USB socket, along with a power switch for the whole system.

Where this project really shines is the integrated helping hands. These are made from CNC cooling tubes with alligator clips super glued to the end, then heat shrink tubing is placed over the jaws to stop any accidental short circuiting while using them.

This isn’t a life changing hack but it is quite a clever idea if space is a hot commodity where you do your tinkering, plus a DIY bench power supply is almost a rite of passage for the budding hacker.

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Another Helping Hands Build

[Punamenon2] wanted a soldering station with integrated helping hands. He couldn’t find one, but he decided it would be a good 3D printed project. In all fairness, this is really 3D printing integrating several off-the-shelf components including a magnifier, a soldering iron holder, a soldering iron cleaner, a couple of “octopus” tripods, and some alligator clips. Total cost? Less than $30.

In addition to holding the Frankenstein monster together, the 3D printed structure also provides a storage tray with special sloped edges to make removing small screws easier.

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Cheap Helping Hands: Just Add Time

We think of helping hands as those little alligator clips on a metal stand. They are cheap and fall over, so we tend to buy them and don’t use them. However, if you are willing to put $35 or $40 into it, you can get the newer kind that have–well–tentacles–on a heavy base.  [Archie_slap] didn’t want that kind of investment, so he made his own for about $10. We think that’s Australian dollars, so that’s even less in the United States.

What’s better is he documented every step in meticulous detail and with great pictures. You probably won’t directly duplicate his project because you will probably pick up a slightly different base, but that’s not hard to figure out. The arms are actually coolant hose, [Archie_slap] picked up almost everything but the base plate on eBay.

It’s obvious [Archie] is a frugal guy, based on his drill press. It gets the job done, though. The build is attractive and looks like a much more expensive commercial product. Some of us around the Hackaday lab are old enough to wish there was a magnifying glass attached, but maybe that’s version two.

We’ve looked at a lot of different helpers recently. We couldn’t help but think about a somewhat similar Gorillapod holder we covered last year.

Ask Hackaday: Helping Hands

[ProtoG] sent us in this video (also below) where he demonstrates the use of machinist’s dial-gauge indicator arms as helping hands. I’ll admit that I got so jealous that I ordered a pair. I wouldn’t say that I need more tools to hold things in place, but I certainly want them. The rapid coarse placement combined with fine adjustment looks so sweet. Using them as scope-probe holders is brilliant.

Our own helping hands, purchased for $5 from a surplus shop, have seen nearly twenty years of use now. About ten years ago, I heat-shrinked and plasti-dipped the jaws, and since then they do less damage to cable insulation. The clips kept coming loose, but that was fixed with a little epoxy. I never used the magnifying glass, and by removing it I bought some more sliding room for the jaws, which was an easy win. The base has a “non-slip” coating of Shoe-Goo that keeps it in place on the desk. Cork might be classier.

For bigger holding, there’s always the desk vise, though I’ll admit that I mostly use it for holding PCBs while soldering, and that a better solution for that particular task wouldn’t hurt. [Mike Szczys] tells me that the Stickvise seen here is a handy thing to have on the bench. It started on Hackaday.io and we still carry it in the store.

For grabbing the fiddly little things, nothing beats a pair of hemostats and a range of tweezers. Hemostats in the desk vise make a great ad hoc holder. Good sharp tweezers pay for themselves with the first removed splinter, or placing SMT parts.

So, Hackaday, what do you use for holding things? What do you hold your PCBs with while soldering? What do you use to hold down SMD parts? What’s your third hand, or twenty-third? Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Helping Hands”