Introduction: Desk Squid - "Helping Hands" Improved.

When tinkering with electronics, and especially while soldering, most of us find ourselves running out of hands. The answer is usually a basic "Helping Hands" or "Third Hand" - a contraption on a base that allows the user to position gator clips in the air to hold things.

The problem, though, is the cheap set-screw boom design of most is cumbersome, hard to use, and error prone.

Instructables user rstraugh came up with Third Hand++, a much improved version using Snap Flow.

I took the same design, and went a step further. The result is the Desk Squid.

Step 1: Construction

I started by buying a bunch of Loc-Line brand modular coolant hose from It was available in more shapes, colors, and sizes than the Snap Flow that rstraugh used, although it was about 50% more expensive. I also picked up the assembly pliers, which helped immensely.

I used both 1/4" and 1/2" Loc-Line in the design. The Loc-Line magnetic base, while expensive, eliminated all the complexity of drilling and tapping base plate holes, while adding a lot of versatility. The magnetic bases have rather rough under-surfaces, which when combined with the tremendous magnetic force they exert, can easily scratch most finishes. I found that a bit of fabric and some cyanoacrylate solved the problem nicely.

The magnetic bases are available only in 1/2" and 3/4" sizes, so I got the 1/2" versions, and added 1/2" to 1/4" Y connectors. At the end of each arm, I added a 1/8" right-angle nozzle.

The clip heads were done in exactly the same way as in rstraugh's design. I simply tapped each 1/8" nozzle with a 6-32 tap, and screwed the Radio Shack banana plug into the nozzle. The clips fit over them nicely.

The base is enameled plate steel, to give the magnets something to grip on. I glued a large sheet of black felt (as you would find in any hobby store) to the underside of the steel plate, to protect my desk and provide a nice firm grip.

Before I finished the base, I attached the magnets to the metal frame of my workbench. The magnetic bases are very versatile, and I expect to use them in many unexpected ways.

Step 2: The Future

There are plenty of future improvements possible.

I rigged up an LED light, but I found it too dim to matter much under the bright fluorescent fixtures in my workbench, so I removed it. I may add one back with a higher performance die eventually. After seeing another Instructable which added LED lamps, I decided to post a picture of it anyway, even though I don't actually use it.

The addition that interests me the most is adding a circuit-board holder of some sort. The jaws of a PanaVise board holder appear to be able to plug into a nozzle on the 3/4" Loc-Line.

At some point, I will probably add a magnifier.

For other ideas, check out rstraugh's original Instructable.


gtedrick made it! (author)2016-07-29

You could use pvc or acrylic sheets for the base. Both are available on ebay.

Plastics are easy to drill through. It is just not that heavy.

gtedrick made it! (author)2016-07-29

Steel plates are available on ebay. There are lots of suppliers.

The magnets are available on ebay as well.

Has anyone found any cheaper versions of Loc-line?

sdsteve made it! (author)2013-08-29

Where did you buy the enameled steep plate?

MrCruz made it! (author)2009-07-27

Where did you find the plate steel? I've been looking for something simmilar ofr a couple of projects of mine.

edfel01 made it! (author)2008-03-01

what did this guy just say? so many big words. \ / \ / \ / \/

MrCruz made it! (author)MrCruz2009-07-27

It's too long/tall. Too much flexability and not enough stability. Maybe limit bendable options? Very nice project tho. That's the general translation ;)

TheOneAndOnlyMrP made it! (author)2009-07-15

Great Instructable! I was wondering if you've received any coupons or discounts from I was going through the check out and saw that it had a "Coupon Code" section. I've looked online and couldn't find any. - Thanks

CaladanJen made it! (author)CaladanJen2009-07-15

No, I didn't.

TheOneAndOnlyMrP made it! (author)TheOneAndOnlyMrP2009-07-15

Ok. Thanks!

BioZone made it! (author)2009-03-16

Awesome instructable, I just completed a mashup of your idea along with the helping hands ++ and a MAKE article. Great idea!!

Check it out here: Ultimate DeskSquid / Helping Hands

CaladanJen made it! (author)CaladanJen2009-03-18

I posted a picture of how I went about adding an LED to mine.

CaladanJen made it! (author)CaladanJen2009-03-16

Very cool! You added the PanaVise! :)

Teira made it! (author)2008-06-29

Do you know what temperature those can stand? There isn't any information on the modularhose website and they're closed till monday. I'm going to be using a torch for soldering rather than an iron and am afraid of melting the living bajeezus out of the hoses

CaladanJen made it! (author)CaladanJen2008-06-29

They're made of acetal, which is a thermoplastic. I've had no trouble with soldering guns and hot air gun tools, but I can't say I expect it to be too compatible with torch use. Still, all you really need is a refractory layer in the claw end, and you'll probably be okay.

Teira made it! (author)Teira2008-06-29

Is there maybe an instructable for that out there? I'm not fully exactly sure what a refractory layer is in this sense. All I know is how to torch the hell out of things.

CaladanJen made it! (author)CaladanJen2008-06-30

I highly doubt it. Anyway, what you really need is some way of stopping the heat from traveling back up the arm into the plastic. You could always just use one of the old fashioned designs with wire arms instead. That would be considerably more tolerant to torch abuse.

CementTruck made it! (author)CementTruck2008-12-17

Lo-tech approach to alleviate the heat would be to use a wooden dowel in between the alligator clamps and the plastic. The wood can take a lot more heat than the plastic, but this would only be good to a certain temp though. You could also use a coiled metal rod instead of the wooden dowel. The coil dissipates heat, just look at soldering iron "holsters" for inspiration.

CaladanJen made it! (author)CaladanJen2008-12-17

Those are pretty decent ideas, actually. I would personally try tube-shaped ceramic or glass beads (which should be available from a store that sells beads and findings) as a refractory. That should work. I don't personally plan on using this structure for actual torching, though.

mcconnellj made it! (author)2008-09-01

i got a new camera mount
but if u flip it it would be great

CaladanJen made it! (author)CaladanJen2008-09-02

Wow, I bet those would convert pretty easily.

aloishis89 made it! (author)2008-06-26

What is a 6-32 tap? I didn't see that on, is that something that is at home depot? Or did you just slide the banana connector on the end of the 90 degree nozzle?

CaladanJen made it! (author)CaladanJen2008-06-26

A "Tap" is a tool for adding internal screw threads inside a bore hole. 6-32 is a standard bolt size. The banana connector has that particular threading on the end of it.

casey321b made it! (author)2008-04-25

can you cut the hose with a hacksaw or something and still use it?

CaladanJen made it! (author)CaladanJen2008-04-26

You can do a lot better than that actually. You can simply pop apart the individual links and reassemble them in any length and order you wish. This is why it is called "modular" hose.

jhorton made it! (author)2008-04-25

Silly question, but what lengths did you order? Looks like 6 inches of 1/2" per base, 1 foot of 1/4" per arm?

CaladanJen made it! (author)CaladanJen2008-04-25

That sounds about right. My advise is to get a little extra, and play with it until you like it. The nice thing about Loc-Line is that it is infinitely reconfigurable.

madmouser made it! (author)2008-03-22

I spent hours on the internet looking for something like this for soldering stained glass jewelry and some other projects. This is exactly what I need. Thank you so much, and also rstraugh.

Toomanyinterests made it! (author)2007-12-10

The extra length and articulation seems a bit much, i'd be worried about there being too much flex and not enough stability. Maybe have the portion between the base and y-connectors more rigid, with maybe only one or two points of articulation? Technical worries aside, it's a very aesthetic project, good work!

CaladanJen made it! (author)CaladanJen2007-12-10

That's why I used the 1/2" Loc-Line for the part between the base and the Y-connectors. It's considerably more rigid than the 1/4", although even the 1/4" stuff is pretty stiff. This contraption can hold a lot of weight before buckling; bending it is usually a two-handed job. The only caveat is that the longer the distance between the grasping claw and the base, the more it can vibrate. If you notice, despite the considerable length of articulated hose, I keep the claws close to the base. This minimizes the distance that it can vibrate. And besides, if I ever find that I'm not happy with the configuration of the limbs, it can be rearranged like a set of hose-shaped LEGO blocks.

burningrome made it! (author)2007-12-07

Instead of those expensive Locline magnetic base, what about something cheaper and rare-earth?,42363

or a stack of rings with a 1/4" interior diameter,42363,42348&ap=1

CaladanJen made it! (author)CaladanJen2007-12-07

The ring magnets would probably work, but the Loc-Line bases were easy prefabs. They already have a Loc-Line connector on them, just snap and go. If I was trying to economize, the ring magnets like you list would probably be the way to go, though.

stranoster made it! (author)2007-12-07

Super. My helping hands are so lame... +1 for you!

GorillazMiko made it! (author)2007-12-06

dang, this is freaking awesome! (favorited)

About This Instructable




Bio: Geek of all trades. I love building stuff. Electronics is my passion. Software is my trade. I dabble in several forms of art.
More by CaladanJen:Old-World Light Bulb Load$3 High Heat Work SurfaceDesk Squid - "Helping Hands" improved.
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