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.

Concrete Solder Squid Is A Solid Solution

Although it’s possible to buy a soldering setup out of the box, the one that works for you will likely develop over time. Honestly, it may never stop evolving. Sure, you can start with el-cheapo helping hands or a nice hobby vise, but it probably won’t end there. Why? Because no one of these tools will be right for all applications, unless you plan to solder the same thing over and over again. Sometimes it’s just easier to alligator clip a board in place than to slowly manipulate the jaws of a vise, but those helping hands have such a limited range of motion.

Have you been meaning to build a soldering squid out of coolant hose because that stuff just looks so dang cool and bendy? Well, then let Hackaday alum [JeremySCook] show you how it can be done. A few years ago he built a similar squid with a wooden base, but it just isn’t heavy enough, so he redesigned it with a concrete base. He took the opportunity to make some nice tweaks, like zip-tying a small PC fan and 9 V to make an endlessly repositionable ventilation system, and adding a big clip in the back for extra stability while soldering. And of course, threading the solder spool on to one of the hoses is genius.

If you follow [Jeremy] at all, you know he’s been playing around with concrete for a while now, and it’s neat to see him cement his devotion to the stuff by using it in the pursuit of better tools. He’s got the files for the printed mold up on GitHub, and the build video after the break should be all set up by now.

Not custom enough for you? Fire up that printer and make your own ball and socket arms.
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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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