TLDR; The PanaVise 350 Multi-Purpose Work Center is a great step up the standard helping hands for soldering circuit boards and will hold PCB of most sizes. On the other hand, if you want a tool that can also handle other tasks like holding two wires close together, the QuadHands WorkBench Helping Hands is the best option.
Soldering circuits boards is often literally a balancing act. You’ll want to work at various angles to reach parts, and at some point you’ll feel like you don’t have enough hands to hold a small part, a soldering iron, solder and a PCB. That’s where a helping hand comes in to hold a few things for you.
There are many designs for helping hands, usually involving alligator clips. Circuits boards are also a good alternative to hold the circuit at a good angle to solder, and can be used alone or in combination with a helping hand. Helping hands or holders are also useful to hold the circuit in place while doing some diagnostic on it.
Here are the best soldering helping hands and board holders to help you:
- Pro’sKit 900-015 Helping Hands
- QuadHands WorkBench Helping Hands
- WEmake Soldering Station with LED Illuminated Magnifying Lens and 3rd Helping Hand
- QuadHands Flip Circuit Board Holder
- PanaVise Model 201 “Junior” Miniature Vise
- PanaVise 350 Multi-Purpose Work Center
You’ll probably accumulate many of those tools over time, but even the cheapest one beats having to balance the board on your work table and try to quickly make things stick.
Classic helping hands: Pro’sKit 900-015 Helping Hands
The original helping hands with standard alligator clips, which can be adjusted to hold on at various angles. There are some models of this that comes with a tiny magnifier, but they’re too small to be useful and often end up being in the way instead. You’re better off with a dedicated magnifier, or with a soldering station with a nice, big magnifier.
They’re not perfect: it’s mostly useful for small boards, since the base can easily tip when the board is too heavy. You also have to be careful so you don’t dent the PCB with the alligator clips. Given the low cost, it’s still a good tool to have in your toolbox in case when you need a little extra help.
Best soldering helping hands: QuadHands WorkBench Helping Hands
Lots and lots of hands here, and some of the bigger models have even more of them. The base doesn’t look like it, but it’s pretty heavy at 4 pounds: with the rubber feet, it nice and sturdy and won’t move while you work.
Depending on the size of your project, you’ll also have an extra arm or two that’s not holding the PCB that you can use for other jobs compared to the cheap helping hands with only two clips. The arms themselves can be adjusted to hold the circuit at various angles and can be moved on the base. The clips rotate, and they also come with a silicon cover to protect your PCB while still holding on tight.
Like other helping hands, they’re also useful for working on other jobs, not only holding circuits.
Best soldering station with helping hands: WEmake Soldering Station with LED Illuminated Magnifying Lens and 3rd Helping Hand
This is an all in one solution for soldering with a usable magnifier, a lamp and helping hands. It also includes holders for your soldering iron, solder spool, brass tip cleaner and cleaning sponge: you only need a soldering iron and some solder and you’re ready to go.
The base has a nice weight so it won’t tip over, and all the tools are of a good quality. The only shame is that the LED lamp doesn’t come with the adapter in the box, but you can also power it with batteries.
I prefer individual tools over an all in one solution because I don’t only solder PCB with them (and I already have those tools separately), but if you’re just getting started or want a soldering station that’s compact but functional it’s a good purchase.
Best flip circuit holder: QuadHands Flip Circuit Board Holder
It’s not a helping hand, but a circuit holder is a good alternative to free you up by holding up the circuit for you. This is the simplest kind of circuit board holder: it simply holds down the board (up to 12 inches wide, or 10 inch if you want to be able to flip it without taking it off) and swivels 360 degrees.
It’s not as versatile as the other tools here since this is only useful for soldering circuit boards, but it’s good at what it does. There are some cheaper flip holders than this one, but the QuandHands is a lot more stable and easier to adjust.
Best budget circuit holder: PanaVise Model 201 “Junior” Miniature Vise
This small vise is what I use on my bench right now for small soldering projects (it opens up to 2.875 inches) and I’m pretty satisfied with it. The grooves in the jaws will hold a board just fine and the head can be positioned precisely. It’s just a shame that one of the claws has only one groove, so you have to turn the board and the jaws instead of just the board.
It’s pretty stable since base is heavy, more so than a standard helping hand. You can also mount the base to something if it’s a problem for you. It can also be expanded and improved on with other accessories such as neoprene jaw pads, a speed adjust handle and tray mount to build the perfect vise for your needs.
For me, this is the best budget circuit holder if the size is not a problem for you, since you can reuse if for many other projects, not only soldering boards. It’s worth paying a bit more, even on a budget, for a tool that you’ll use all the time for precision work.
Best large circuit holder: PanaVise 350 Multi-Purpose Work Center
The PavaVise 350 comes with all you need to work on any kind of board: it opens a full 9 inches wide, and comes with the base and tray already.
It’s not that heavy, but it’s pretty stable given that the circuit is centered over the base. The base tray itself is drilled so it can also be mounted like the PanaVise Junior.
On the other hand, there are many more options you can purchase for this base such as the PanaVise 371 Solder Station to turn it into a complete soldering station.There are also third-party accessories such as the QuadHands Flex Plus to add helping hands to the base and make it even more versatile.
All of those tools can have their place on your workbench depending how you like to work, and all of them will be a great step up from the standard helping hands when soldering boards.
In my opinion, the PanaVise 350 Multi-Purpose Work Center or the smaller model PanaVise Model 201 “Junior” Miniature Vise are a good option to hold the board for you and free you up to work on it. It’s easy to rotate and adjust to work at different angles.
For a tool that can handle other tasks like holding two wires close together, the QuadHands WorkBench Helping Hands is also a great choice. You can also purchase the QuadHands Flex Plus with the Panavise work center and have both!