Sunday, May 1, 2011

Third hand - electronics tool

I have some work on the horizon where I may be away from my shed for periods of time. It's still up in the air, in the hands of Heavenly Father, managers, and others. In the meantime I'm getting things ready...

One of the things which I'm going to need is a portable electronics kit. My current setup is based on an old fishing box full of tools, and several tubs full of parts in various trays, etc. I've decided the best method to deal with the proposed situation will be a "field desk" with the minimum of what I require, and a contained work area.

The desk will be covered in another article series, but this article introduces the first tool made for the field desk... the third hand.

Figure 1 - third-hand in use - salvaged PCB from old fire-panel

For those who aren't familiar with the term, a "third hand" is simply a means of holding something whilst keeping your own two hand free. I used a third hand whilst at uni and found the design quite good and duplicated the essential features here.

There are other designs out there. most work on the principle of a heavy weighted base for stability, and then posable arms terminated with clamps. The one I used at uni (made by the lab techs there) used lightweight materials and a door hinge for the "pos-ability".

The only concession from their design to mine was that mine had to be collapsible so it took up less space in the field desk. The original unit did not come apart, and as such occupied a space of 200 x 125 x 150mm (8"x 5" x 6") - this design occupies the same space in use, but folds down to 180 x 125 x 35mm (7" x 5" x 1 1/2") for storage.

Figure 2 - flipped to other side for soldering work.

Since the unit can flip too far in one direction, a small piece of perspex can be inserted to limit the travel of the hinge as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3 - inserted piece of perspex limits hinge travel.

I used some of the perspex I salvaged from some shop shelving, and cut it to utilise the existing lip which was on it.
A pair of pieces were cut to match and support the hinge, and this pair were then drilled to sit between the two halves of the base.
Some bolts were modified to make them "tool-less" by soldering their heads into a brass piece which had a square washer affixed - I'd have preferred wing nuts and wing-bolts but didn't have any.

The clamp which supports the PCB is simply one leaf of the hinge, and a piece of aluminium which is made from a drawer divider. The cranked over fold is used to form one part of a toe-clamp, and to provide clearance over the nut which holds the bolt in place.
A stiffening plate is captured under these bolts to provide more gripping surface. Again due to my lack of wingnuts I made up some nuts using brass. The brass used for making the wing nuts (and bolts) is from discarded tap spindles, the sheet from an old door strip.

Figure 4 - cross- view of PCB clamp with perspex gripped for illustrative purposes

Figure 5 - View of base assembled showing component parts.

Figure 6 - dis-assembled third-hand showing all parts

Soldering is simply done with a propane torch, using "Baker's fluid" as the flux, with normal 60/40 soft solder. Only the minimal amount of solder is applied, and excess is trimmed away to prevent absorption through normal use.

Figure 7 - Third-hand collapsed ready to be stowed

The field desk will be built with PICAXE projects in mind. I have a few which I need to get completed, and since all I can have at the camp is books, and minor electronics (no Lathe or other powertools) I figure this will make good use of what spare time I have.
Even if this proposed change falls in a heap, the investment in making this desk, and associated tools will still benefit my electronics hobby.

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