<Test equipment

A better "helping hand" for soldering etc.

Here's an idea I once picked up from an old Radioamatööri magazine. Regrettably, I don't have that issue anymore, and I don't have a clue who originally invented this idea, so I cannot give credit where it is due. But this is a really useful suggestion which I make constant use of! I don't want to take credit for this idea (I did not invent it!), I just want to share it with others.

If you tinker with stuff and solder small things, you probably have a "helping hand". I do. And I've never liked it much. It's fine to use as a magnifier, but the alligator clips just aren't convenient for holding stuff—they're impossible to position correctly, and they're always either too close together or too far apart.

Actually, I hate that thing.

Someone (and I wish I knew the author so I could give credit) wrote in the Finnish Radioamatööri ham radio magazine about using big nuts to hold down bits and pieces while working on them. He called them "askartelumutterit" in Finnish. In English that might be "handicraft nuts".

Two really big nuts work as a clamp, two differently sized nuts can be stacked for more versatility, the central hole can be put to good use, and they'll even work as heat sinks while soldering! The nuts behave really well on any smooth, not too slippery surface, such as an antistatic mat or a thin sheet of rubber. Get a couple of the biggest you can find, plus an assortment of sizes downwards from there. I have five different sizes from M36 (which would take a 54 mm wrench) down to M16 (24 mm wrench).

Most hardware stores and many warehouses sell these nuts by weight, so you can buy just two or three of each, and they'll cost only a few euros in total. (Of course, any old blocks of steel would do as well, but are they as readily available?)

For even more versatility, use a couple of miniature magnetic clamps. They're stable in any position or orientation on any surface of the nuts, and they're very easy to adjust precisely. They're smoother to move around and have more degrees of freedom than the alligator clips on that awful "helping hand". And the hexagonal shape of the nuts is just perfect for this!

In Finland, those cheap magnetic clamps are sold by Motohelvete under the brand name Wolfcraft Microfix XS. Probably many other sources also exist.

My brush bottle of liquid flux no longer tips over!

Yes, the bottle is a nail polish bottle. You can buy unused empty ones on eBay.

Antti J. Niskanen <uuki@iki.fi>