Ultimate DeskSquid / Helping Hand




Need a Hand? This is a mashup of several very clever instructables and an Article from MAKE. While soldering and working on circuits I was having a lot of trouble holding wires/components for soldering and also seeing what was going on. I've used the helping hands tools before, and while helpful, they're extremely limited. After reading about rstaugh's Helping hands ++ I knew I had to make a set of these. Coincidentally I had also just read about the Panavise Arm on MAKE, and with a little more searching found CaladanJen's DeskSquid.

I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to build and it was just a matter of execution. Now, this certainly isn't the cheapest solution, a pair of the original helping hand can be purchased from Harbor Freight for as little as $3, but if you're looking for greatly enhanced function and usability I highly recommend building one of these, it's quickly becoming the handiest tool in my collection.

Before reading the rest of this instructable please note I completed this after building the DeskSquid so some of the pictures show completed, but not intermediate steps.


Step 1: Materials List

Here is the materials list, I estimate my total cost around $40 for the panavise and hose, fortunately I had some odds and ends around that saved me some time/money.

Loc-Line Hose Parts:
3/4" Hose 1' (61501)
3/4" Double Female Socket (61514)
3/4" Fixed Mount (60533)
1/4" Hose 1' (41401)
1/4" Y-fitting 2 (41408)
1/8" Round Nozzle (41403)
*This is the absolute minimum needed, you can get more creative with more parts, but the stuff isn't cheap. There are some other vendors but LocLine was the only one that would ship to my area. Others include
-Enco (which has SnapFlow)
-Cedarberg (which has SnapLoc)
-Jeton (no idea how to order)

1/2" PVC About 1" Long
6/32 Threaded Alligator Clips (From Mouser: 548-30-TBO)
3"-4" Magnifying Glass (Screw on handle)
Panavise 201

Metal Flex Arms:
USB Light (ebay)
2 Pieces of 1/4" Gooseneck

1/4 thread 1/2" Screw
6/32 Screws, assorted lengths + Nuts
5min Epoxy
Magnetic Base
Floor Flange

1/4 Tap
#7 Drill Bit
Hobby Saw
Phillips Screwdriver

Step 2: Panavise + Main Arm

1) First remove the connection piece from the panavise, I cut mine down to 1" before drilling but either way would work
2) Drill out a #7 hole in the aluminum piece and tap using a 1/4" tap (I recommend making the hole offcenter, you'll see why in step 4)
3) Using one of your 3/4" base mount pieces and a short 1/4" screw mount the panavise to the base piece.
4) Attach this piece to a double female piece, and that to the 1' of 3/4" hose, and all of that to the floor flange.

Viola! You already have a very handy panavise arm!

Step 3: Alligator Clip Arms

This step is largely determined by your materials, I had two USB LED lights that were identical that I got as promotional schwag, which worked out great for this project. I decided to go with gooseneck for a couple reasons:
1) it's cheaper
2) it's more flexible (this is a tradeoff on strength, but since I mostly use it to hold wires or components it was worthwhile)

So, for my DeskSquid all I did was take out the LED and mount a 1" 6/32 screw upside down in the hole with some epoxy, and I used a nut to help me get it center and make it look cleaner. You only need about 1/4" of exposed thread for the alligator clip or other accessory. Get creative with what you've got, some wire, more coolant hose, etc.

To attach these to my main arm I used my #7 bit again to drill holes in the double female connector, the gooseneck actually threads in after cutting off the USB connector, and then I used a small nylon spacer and more epoxy to hold everything in place. This is a little chinsy but it's not a high stress joint so it seems to work fine. I thought about cutting down the length of the arms but it's easy enough to move them, I think you could probably get by with 6" or so of flexible material.

*If you look at the mini-squid you'll notice it too has an alligator clip, I found that a 6/32 screw will actually thread through a 1/8" nozzle, so if you find the right length screw all that remains is to thread on the alligator clip.

Step 4: LED Light

What good is all this without some direct illumination?? Fortunately I had one last USB LED light. To mount it I stripped off the USB connection, careful to preserve the wires, and then drilled a #7 hole again in the surface mount where I bolted on the Panavise. If you get the angle right you can thread the gooseneck right into the 3/4" hose, and then simply run wires through the main arm to a battery (I have yet to wire this but it should be easy).

With a little creativity you might be able to install a switch near the base and have the batteries inside the main arm.

Step 5: Mangnifying Glass

The step is actually two seperate ones:
1) Attaching the Magnifying glass to the 1/8" nozzle
For this I simply unscrewed the handle of the magnifying glass, and heated the threaded connector with a pocket torch, and then screwed it into a cut 1/8" nozzle while it was hot, then to be extra secure added some goop to the inside, epoxy doesn't seem to stick to the Loc-Line.

2) Attaching a 1/4" coupler to the double female 3/4" coupler.
This is a bit more difficult, for this step I cut the male end of 1/4" loc-line off of an extra "Y" connector and found a 8/32 screw with a head big enough that it wouldn't pass through. Then I drilled a hold in the female coupler, and put a nut on the inside. This all seems to be holding together fine so far.

Step 6: Mini Squid

Since I had a few leftover parts and was having too much fun to stop I made a small magnetic "minisquid". This was just a 3" base from Ace Hardware, and I just put a bolt/nut through locline to make the base, you can also buy this part from Locline but they're a little pricey.

The one attachment I really wanted was a soldering iron holder, often when I'm soldering wires together it seems easier to manipulate the wires than the iron, which this is perfect for. I found a leftover piece of 1/2" PVC that worked great for holding my iron snuggly with the power cord. There's not much to explain for this step.

Step 7: Future Attachments

For my squid the future attachments involve using the remainder of my locline for some more arms. Ideas that I have so far include:

What are we doing tonight Brain?
"The same thing we do every night Pinky. Try to take over the world..... by giving the DeskSquid self awareness and A.I. so that it can learn to self replicated and take over the world. We'll start by interrogating a beautiful maiden!" (See picture)

Vacuum + Compressed Air
It would be easy to run some nylon hose up the main arm and out to a 1/4" arm, which could then be hooked up to an air compressor or spray can, or even a shopvac. I've also got a few of those small keyboard battery powered vacuums. This might be handy for cutting with the dremel or getting glue to set up faster. The small 5V fans would also be handy for soldering smoke. I'll post an update if I get around to doing this at some point.

LCD/iPod/PSP Holder
This is a bit of a knock of from rstraugh, it would be nice to have another tool arm that could hold either my parallax LCD or iTouch, or even the multimeter. This would be a luxury for sure but since I'm dreaming...why not?

Those are the big two (or three) on the wish list, since there's a 6/32 thread at the end of the arms there are lots of options (parts bin, more lights, etc.) The only concern is really weight, since it's easy enough to run power through the locline. Also if you use the USB LED lights, those already have cables through them.

Thanks to all the great ideas that came before this one, the comments and post by other users saved me a lot of trial and error!!



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    31 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    This is so brilliant and simple. Well done! As a keen hobbyist with VERY shaky hands, I have been looking for something like this for years. Applications for Parkinson's sufferers could be fantastic! Congrats!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I have no-name version of this beastie, but it isn't as fancy. I'll be doing the bit with the wiring as it makes a great third-hand when sewing. I appreciate the instructions here. Nehmah

    3 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Here is a photo showing how to use a Helping Hands set-up in sewing and embroidery. It can be very difficult to see where to remove one or two stitches when working on dark fabrics, especially wool and linen. Embroiderers who attach pearls to their projects might find the idea helpful. I also use two LED book-lights for extra light. It took me from March until now to find the camera, upload the photo, and find it (in the wrong folder) ;) I'm old; I'm slow; and I am not the least bit worried by anything! Cordially, Nehmah


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Interesting, I never thought of using it for sewing. Please post a picture when you get a chance, it's always nice to see other projects. Especially since it was other's work that gave me this idea =).


    9 years ago on Step 1

    The materials list says Panavise 201 but I think it should be a 203. The 201 does not have the connection piece - the base clamps directly onto the stand. The 203 (Panavise Jr Head) is the jaws assembly and the connection piece, but without the base.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I'm actually looking into making some or buying parts in bulk to sell as a kit. The loc-line is so expensive when you buy 1-2' at a time. This finished kit was $40-50 in parts, when you add in shipping, tax, etc, it's a little spendy. Ideally this would be a $20-30 project I think. If that ever comes to fruition I'll post a link.


    10 years ago on Step 1

    The original DeskSquid Instructable has a link to modularhose.com, which sells the Loc-Line.


    10 years ago on Step 1

    It looks like it will work perfectly. For us cheaper people, I soldered some alligator clips to some #8 wire and bent them to work how I wanted. I used rocks to hold them steady.

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    That works great too, for this project I wanted maximum function and paid a premium for it. As I mentioned before I'm looking into some new materials and buying in bulk, I'd like to build & sell these for ~$20

    BioZonechi chi chippy

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I got mine through loc-line (modularhose.com), I listed some other suppliers in my materials step. Good luck, post some pics when you've finished!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I got a Staples light that clamps to my desk. It's a circular "natural light" flourescent with a large magnifying lens in the center. THen I can look through the lens, with the light underneath it, and the flexneck keeps it very movable. I love it.

    3 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Just a name that another user (CaladanJen) came up with for this contraption. Since my instructable used her original for inspiration I included it in my title so other users could find it. It kinda looks like a squid with all the arms...anyway, hope that answers your question.