For years I’ve been “helping hand”-less. Since I was a kid, the design of the classic helping hands has not really changed - it has stood the test of time, but just for lightweight tasks. For anything large/heavy, it all goes wrong.
Here’s one attempt at solving the problem.. it relies on cheap camera ball-heads and clamps, and a steel base. It can all be built in an hour or two, depending on how fancy a base is desired. Otherwise, it is all plug-and-play to assemble, like Lego.
This eight-minute video explains the project, and has some demo examples of it in action.
This is the type of Helping Hands I was familiar with:
Instead, I’ve been using a low-cost aluminium vice such as the one in the photo below to meet most of my needs, but occasionally I’d still like a helping-hands style tool, but a lot stronger, and customisable.
The bill-of-materials for this project is probably $40-50 in total, but there is the opportunity to reduce costs. It hinges on the fact that camera users often have very fancy equipment at their disposal! Searching on Amazon/Aliexpress revealed systems such as 'SmallRig’ which have components like 15mm diameter rods, and clamps. I purchased some to see if they could be useful. Any camera user will eventually have a ball head spare, so costs can be saved there too. There are very basic ones from Aliexpress for less than $5 but they are not very good : ( I used an old CB2.7 ball head, and a £12 SIOTI ball head from Amazon. Both are great.
For the base, I purchased an oval 15mm thick steel offcut for £3.99. Somewhere in the UK a large steel plate needed a shape cut out, and the factory sold the cut-outs on ebay.
It is low cost, has a reasonable footprint (168x99mm), and is very heavy (perhaps a kilogram) – perfect! I imagine factories in other countries will also sell offcuts for next to nothing. One person's scrap is another person's treasure..
There is a notch in the offcut where the cutting tool started, but that can be filled (Polyfilla, or even ) if desired, or left as-is. Next, a ¼ inch UNC hole was tapped – this is the typical standard thread for consumer cameras. It is not essential, if the hole is untapped then epoxy glue could be used too.
I filed off the sharp edges and lightly hand-sanded it to get rid of the rust. It looked nice and industrial! Still, to go with the rest of the décor, I did paint it afterwards but that was unnecessary. Some rubber feet should be attached on the underside too.
There’s not much to say, it is trivial to connect it all together.
These were the main parts that I used, but there is plenty of scope for variation.
|1||Steel base from ebay seller bitsandbobs332014|
|3||1/4" to 1/4" Adaptor|
|5||15mm Rod 150mm length|
|7||M12 to 1/4" Adaptor|
|8||SmallRig Super Clamp|
The possibilities are endless.. Another clamp arm could be attached if required. An LED light could be added. Custom grips could be 3D-printed to clip onto the current clamp jaws.
Check out the earlier video to see it in action – it’s surprising how many uses it has.
It can act as a PCB holder, although I still prefer using the aluminium flat vice for that.
It is extremely rigid, so things can be held at a distance, wherever it is easier to work.
It can hold heavy-ish antennas too!
I found that very large PCBs can be propped up.
Since the clamp has rubber grips, it is also very handy for holding oscilloscope probes in place. Also, it can help with holding large heavy cables close to connectors. I found it useful for soldering audio jacks!
I’m really happy how this simple project turned out. The entire unit is strong, and doesn’t easily tip while using it. In future I may try adding an LED light.
If you build any type of helping hands/clamp system, or have ideas for adaptations or attachments for it, it would be great to hear about them.
Thanks for reading!