Helping hands, sometimes also called “3rd hands,” do pretty much what their name implies, they help you hold things so you can free your hands for other tasks — most commonly soldering. With the maker movement, there has been an explosion of different companies selling new twists on this old tool to attract new hobbyists and tech workers alike.
The Hobby Creek Pana Hand is a set of helping hands that you can use as a standalone tool, or install on your PanaVise work clamp to give it extra versatility. There are two versions of the Pana Hand, version 1, the one I tested and is pictured on the Hobby Creek Website, and version 2, which is sold on Amazon. I’ll go through the relevant specs of each version and purchasing information, then I’ll follow up with the review version 1 after the purchase links.
The Pana Hand version 1 combines 4 flex-arms with an anodized aluminum base that can either be used alone, or be attached to a PanaVise. The base has an anti-slip pad (which wasn’t included with our early production sample) and three parts trays in the middle. It also has 12 different threaded holes so you can position the arms in the most convenient location, or even add extra arms.
The arms are made of flexible modular piping, similar to the kind that’s used to position oil or water cooling jets in industrial machinery. The arms are 12″ long and have 24 segments each. Full-sized alligator clips adorn the ends of the arms. The alligator clips can rotate 360° and have silicon jaw covers that can withstand the heat of soldering.
The Pana Hand helping hands work with several models of PanaVise, including the 350, 301, and 201.
More Info (via Hobby Creek)
Version 2 is slightly different; it uses a different style of flexible modular piping which they call Snapline and they are 15″ long rather than 12″. The other big difference is that the alligator clips are removable and swappable.
Version 2 is available for $45 at Amazon, with Hobby Creek as the fulfilled-by-Amazon seller.
Buy Now (via Amazon)
There’s the possibility that all Pana Hands available for sale today have been upgraded to “version 2.”
Installing the Pana Hand
Luckily I picked up the base plate for my Panavise on my last ToolGuyd Shopping Spree, so I had the right platform to test the Pana Hand.
The Pana Hand base attaches to the PanaVise tray using the same three 1/4″-20 screws that you’d use to attach their vise bases.
Then the PanaVise base attaches with three more 1/4″-20 screws to the Pana Hand base. Of course now you’ve lost the use of the three trays in the center of the Pana Hand base.
Above you can see my new tricked out PanaVise — with the addition of my 3D printed LED light.
Using the Pana Hand
I’ve had the Pana Hand since Spring, so of course I’ve had plenty of opportunities to take photos of me using it. Okay, maybe I forgot to take photos until Stuart asked me for a review last week. So I scrambled to come up with a few examples of how it can be used.
I’ve been using one of Milwaukee Tool’s power sources to measure the current flow from the battery when the Heated Hoodie is on. This involved removing the ground wire on the power source and re-attaching it when I was done. I used one of the Pana Hand arms to hold the wire in place while the PanaVise PCB holder is holding the circuit board securely. This left me free to solder the connection.
In the same Heated Hoodie testing project, I desoldered the female barrel connector from one of the power sources to make a current monitoring cable. Above you can see me using the helping hands to solder a wire onto the connector.
One of the classic uses for helping hands is to assist in soldering wires together. One thing I did notice about the silicone covers for the alligator clips is that they didn’t bite into the wire like bare alligator clips usually do.
This is one of those samples that Stuart passed onto me because he didn’t have the time to test it out. What’s interesting is that I had previously 3D printed something very similar months before for my PanaVise, not knowing that this Hobby Creek product existed. You can see that one of the flex arms from the Pana Hand screws right in.
I had adapted some other 3D printed flex arms to the design, but discovered later that it’s really not worth it, as the Pana Hand ones are far superior. If you look around you can find similar ones priced less than $10 for a set of 5.
There are definitely cheaper helping hand options on the market, but there aren’t many different options that work in conjunction with a PanaVise. The QuadHands Flex Plus ($45 via Amazon) and larger X-base ($45 via Amazon) helping hands are the only other ones we could find.
I like the functionality the Pana Hand gives the PanaVise. Sometimes you need several different ways of holding objects while you are working on them, and between the PanaVise and the Pana Hand, most of the bases seem to be covered. I also thought the rotating alligator clips and the silicone clip covers were a nice touch that you don’t see on some of the cheaper helping hands.
Here’s the bottom line, would I buy the Pana Hand with my own money? Probably not, I’d make my own, as I have the means and I enjoy projects like that. But after using the Pana Hand it is something I want to have in some form or another.
Buy Now (via Amazon)
Thank you to Hobby Creek for providing this Pana Hand review sample.