A handy (and cheap) gadget for holding small PCBs

For the hundredth time I found myself trying to solder some small circuit board and annoyed by the way it skittered across my desk. I had tried ‘helping hands‘ but these are fiddly and annoying to set up, the screws keep coming loose, and they hold the boards at wonky angles. I had just about given up, so I looked on the web for some sort of PCB clamp or vice.

Circuit Board Holder

Web sites typically seem to recommend ‘panavise‘ brand but these seem pretty expensive and hard to get outside the USA. In a previous job we used a very clever system which clamped the PCB for component placement and also allowed it to be flipped over for through hole soldering, but this sort of thing is even more expensive. However, I looked a bit further and found an interesting little gadget for under £3 including delivery on ebay. I ordered one from a printed circuit board shipping company and it arrived the next day.

Circuit Board Holder with FRDM KE04Z board

The device is all metal, and reassuringly heavy with rubber feet and even screw holes to fix it. There’s no way it will move, even under the most forceful electronics work. placing and removing boards for work is simple, just pull back the spring-loaded clip. It seems fairly adjustable for a variety of board shapes, but is obviously limited to boards small enough to fit. I have tried it with a selection of Freescale FRDM boards, Arduinos of various sizes as well as Raspberry Pi main boards, expansions and HATs and it comfortably held all of them. Something like a Gertboard would be too big, though. The device is designed for phone repair where everything is low-profile, so there’s also a chance that some boards with lots of tall components might not fit properly because they bump into the central metal support bar.

I’m hoping that the metal bottom plate will also help spread waste heat from hot-air reflow soldering and unsoldering of surface-mount parts, but I haven’t tried that yet.

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