Helping Hands

No, I donít mean these hands. Although they do help with good works in their community, Iím not sure they can help me with the various projects I am working on.

I am referring to the ubiquitous $5 helping hands, those stupid cheaply made POS.

They are the bane of (one's) existence. The source or cause of one's misfortune, unhappiness, frustration, or anxiety,  I swear, this thing is the bane of many of us who have to use them.

Over the many years of my electronics avocation, Iíve had a number of these. I only had one pair (above) that were so-so. Others have been tossed across the room in frustration.

These include those who lost a hand. Often times parts would just fall off.


My soldering Station

I have another helper in the lab. Itís a circuit board holding clamp. I repurposed parts from an old Craftsman router edge guide, an old style adjustable 1980s beefy car phone gimbal, a heavy steel plate from a 70s mod lamp, and a fume extractor which I modified quite a bit.

The fume extractor has been reworked a number of times such that I installed LEDs in the hood part. I also exchange the loud bladed muffin fan for a quieter squirrel cage fan and added a hose to allow the intake to be close to the work such that all the fumes could easily and totally be extracted and trapped in the carbon filter. The whole thing altogether has a small 5 x 8 inch footprint on the bench-top.
But, as for the stupid helping hands Ö I saw a YouTube video where someone made a set of helping hands using flexible jointed air/oil/coolant sprayer lines. I ordered a bunch from eBay. I set-about to retrieve from the scrapyard a round half-inch laser-cut steel disk. I drilled and tapped six holes. I glued on the alligator clips and Ö

It looks cool. All six snakes ready to do battle. However Ö


Assessment of the Only Two Available Helping Hand Types

Ubiquitous Cheep

Pros: Inexpensive Ė about $3.50 flea market/trade show price; very small about three inches across; not that much spring; can add more varied attachments.
Cons: lousy alligator clips Ė every one of them; difficult to adjust; easily falls over; It still does have some spring.

Purple Snakes

Pros: Itís large and can hold larger items; it has many hands; not easily toppled over; good quality alligator clips; easier to adjust Ė flexible arms.
Cons: It is expensive Ė from 50 to $80; thereís a lot of spring making it nearly impossible to align a wire to a connector; the arms are not all that durable.

These two helping hand things are the only two types Iíve seen that are available. Ever since I got my first pair at the 1995 Hamvention, Iíve been on the lookout for a better solution. Now here it is, way, way past Y2K and I have yet to find a viable solution Ė until now.

It was while working on my lathe when I thought of a possibility.

Arm holding a dial indicator

In the world of the machinist, the idea of free-handing anything is not an acceptable practice. Every function requires, so-to-say, a strong stiff helping holding hand Ė meaning every cut is sternly steadily guided. The object is to strive for zero spring. One of these functions is the holding of measurement indicators. One type of "helping hand" is the Noga Arm.

Noga Cine Arm LC Hold-It Articulating Arm - Cost $115.00

The Noga Arm from Noga Engineering & Technology located in Israel is a 3-joint mounting arm that allows you to attach a variety of devices such as a dial indicator, a monitor, a light, a camera or whatever and easily adjust its position. After the arm is tightened, it is then very rigid and steady.

While using the arm on the lathe, I realized that this might make some kind of helping hands. However, a basic strip-down Noga arm is very expensive. I went on eBay and I found some tiny Chinese knockoffs for about $6 each.

Small adjustable arms for dial indicators with a total length of about 5 inches.

For about $13, I purchased two of these arms. I then returned to the scrap yard and fished out a 3 inch disk about ĺ inch thick. I drilled and tapped two holes the size of the threaded studs at the bottom of the arms. I went to my parts bin and found two high quality alligator clips. I then turned on the lathe two adapters to go between the arm clamps and the alligator clips. I soldered the clips to the adapters and inserted the clips into each arm.


This thing has zero spring, is easily adjustable and it holds the work very well.  Finally!


Now itís a joy to make-up audio/guitar cables. Within two or three seconds, I quickly and easily setup for soldering the above cable and connector.

Feel free to copy my design.


September 10, 2019