Choosing Hand Tools

How Do I Use My Hand Size When Buying Hand Tools?

The most important thing to keep in mind when buying hand tools is to find a tool that feels comfortable in your hand and is right for the work you are doing.[1]

Using a hand tool with a grip size that is too big or too small for your hand will increase the force you need to apply when using the tool, the amount of work your hand has to do, and the risk for injury.

A hand tool with a grip size that is the same or close to your hand's grip size will allow you to work with the maximum grip strength, result in less fatigue when you use the tool for long periods, with a lot of repetition or with weight added, and reduce your risk for injury.


Handle Size (Grip)

Look for hand tools that have a grip size than matches or is close to your grip size. There are two main types of grips:

  • A power grip, such as that used to hold a mallet or trowel, uses the muscles in the forearm and your hand is wrapped around the handle (photo 1).
  • A precision grip (or a pinch grip), such as that often used to hold jointers or plaster cutting & shaping tools, relies more on smaller and weaker finger muscles (photo 2).

Photo 1 – Power Grip Photo 2 – Precision Grip







To figure out a hand tool's grip size you can:

  • Measure the diameter of the handle (the distance through the center) and do the calculation (handle diameter x 3.14 = grip size). In photo 3, for example, the diameter is about 1-1/4" ( or 1.25"), which equals a grip size of just under 4" (1.25" x 3.14 = 3.9"). This approach will work if the top of the tool is flat and if the handle is all one size. This will not work if the handle is tapered, wider in the middle and narrower at the top and end, or oval shaped.
  • Measure the widest point of the handle or the area that you will be gripping most of the time during your work. In photo 4, for example, the grip size is about 4-1/2".

Photo 3 – Handle Diameter

Photo 4 – Handle Grip







If a tool's handle is too big or too small the following are options for modifying it to fit your grip.

  • Use a replacement handle, if available.
  • If the handle is too small, add a sleeve or cushion (or duct tape) to the handle to increase its size.
  • If a handle is too large, you might be able to sand it down to a smaller diameter if it is made out of wood. But be careful, sanding too much off could affect the strength of the handle and increase the chance of the handle breaking.

Don't assume tool handles with indentations or finger ridges are better. If your fingers do not align with the indentations you will end up putting excess pressure on your hand that could cause discomfort and increase the risk for injury.

Handle Length

Photo 5 – Handle Length

The length of the handle can make a difference in balance and in pressure against your hand (photo 5).

If possible, select a hand tool with a handle length that is longer than your palm size. A short handle may cut into the base of your hand and cause discomfort and possible injury.

Hand Tool Weight

Choosing the lightest weight version of a tool may reduce the amount of effort and force needed to perform a task and reduce hand and wrist fatigue. This means that you will be able to work at a steadier pace for a longer period of time with a lower risk of injury.

The notion that a bigger, heavier tool will get the work done faster is not always right – in fact, fatigue can slow down and negatively impact your work over even a fairly short period of time. Note: the weight listed for a tool may exclude the weight of the handle. For example, one "16 oz brick hammer" actually weighed 1 lb 6.4 oz when the handle was included.


Gloves may be recommended or required to protect your hands from skin disorders, such as burns and dermatitis, and other injuries. Gloves can also protect your hands from the cold. It is important to take the thickness of the glove into consideration when selecting hand tools. Since wearing gloves may reduce your grip size, you might be able to use a tool with a smaller handle grip size. Note: some workers have reported a reduced sense of touch and needing a stronger grip when wearing gloves. Using a tool with a non-slip grip area or adding anti-slip materials may help.

Anti-Slip Materials

Some workers prefer a tool handle with a smooth surface that allows them to easily 'spin' the tool. A slippery handle can require a stronger grip, increasing fatigue and the risk for injury. If you need a steady grip when using a tool, a handle with an anti- or non-slip material can help, and some (but not all) anti-slip materials have the additional advantage of reducing vibration and/or exposure to cold (this is an issue when the handle or handle area is made out of metal).

Shock and Vibration

Shock and vibration from using certain hand tools such as hammers and chisels can increase your risk for "vibration white finger," and other injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. A loose or more relaxed grip on a tool can help reduce the vibration that reaches your hand. A proper grip size on a tool combined with an anti-slip material that makes a light grip easier can be helpful. Some tools are designed with grips to help absorb shock and vibration.

Handle Angles

The angle of a tool's handle can help keep your wrist straight, particularly when using force, and reduce the risk of hand and wrist problems. You should observe the angle of your hand as you work to see if you need a tool with a different handle angle than the one you are using.(Having someone take some photos or videos of you working will make it easier to see how you hold your tools.)

Some hand tools come with different handle angles or adjustable handles. You may want to consider swapping out hand tools with different handle angles when working on the top and bottom of a wall. Working on adjustable or mast climbing scaffolds that frequently change the staging height of your work can help by keeping work at fairly even angles.

You may also want to consider hand tools that have an optional pole attachment so that you can work in an upright position. This will reduce the need to bend and reach and, as a result, the risk for hand, arm, and back injuries.