Choosing Hand Tools


Trowels vary in length, width, shape and size (photos 1, 2 and 3 are examples). Selecting the right trowel depends on the type of work being performed as well as your hand measurements. Handles on these trowels extend from a shank (or stem) that is slightly angled away from the blade. In contrast, the handle of a flat trowel sits on top of the blade, with less of an angle. (See Flat Trowels and Floats.)

Photo 1 – 13" Narrow London Trowel w/ Wood Handle Photo 2 - 6" x 2" Margin Trowel w/ Wood Handle

Photo 3 – 3/8" Caulking/Tuckpointing Trowel w/ Wood Handle

Tips for what to look for

Grip size. The trowel handle's grip size should match or be close to your grip size.

Length. A handle that extends beyond the end of your palm will reduce injuries and discomfort caused by the handle cutting into the base of your palm.

Handle shape. Tapered handles, such as those commonly found on brick trowels, have a varied grip size, which may increase comfort and allow for a pinch grip for doing more exact work.

Trowel size & weight. A trowel's size makes a big difference in working weight. Larger sizes are heavier because of their size and the fact that they can hold more mortar and other materials. But a larger size does not always mean greater productivity. Some craft workers may be able to work more productively with a larger trowel, while others may be more productive with a smaller trowel since a smaller length and width reduces the amount of effort over time. Less hand and wrist fatigue means you can work at a steadier pace, for a longer period of time, and with a lower risk for injury. So even with larger hands, the biggest size trowel may not be the best choice.

Handle/work angle. A handle angle that keeps your wrist straight for the job you are working on will reduce hand and wrist fatigue and risk of injury. Changing the staging height of your work to keep it at an optimal height – between knees and shoulders– can help to keep work at a fairly even angle and help prevent hand as well as back and shoulder injuries. If that is not an option, you may want to change to a different angle tool for work at higher levels.

Material. Trowel handles are available in different materials, such as wood, leather, and synthetic non-slip and cushion grips. Softer handle materials, such as leather, take less work to hold and can help to reduce vibration and cold. But leather may absorb sweat, which can make the trowel heavier and more difficult to manipulate or 'spin.' Select a material that matches how you use the handle when performing your work. If a steady grip is needed, using a handle with a non-slip grip or adding anti-slip materials may help.

Applying the tips

If there are two handle grip sizes available and your grip is in between, consider replacing the handle or modifying it to fit.

  • If the trowel handle grip size is too small for your hand, you can apply a tool sleeve or use a padding kit such as the ViscolasOrthex™ Grip Kit* to increase the grip size. Wearing gloves may also help since they typically reduce your effective grip size. Depending on the materials and products you are working with a specific type of glove may be recommended or required to protect your hands from skin disorders such as burns and dermatitis or other injuries. Note: some workers have reported a reduced sense of touch and needing a stronger grip when wearing gloves. Using a hand tool with a non-slip grip area or adding an anti-slip material may help.
  • If the trowel handle is too large for your hand, you might be able to replace the handle or sand down a wood handle to a smaller grip size. But be careful, sanding too much off could affect the strength of the handle and increase the chance of the handle breaking.

If you already have a hand/arm injury or condition such as tendonitis, arthritis, or carpal tunnel syndrome, the smallest, lightest weight trowel for the job would be the best choice.


Worker Hand Measurements = hand size (length) of about 7-1/4" (or 7.25"), with a grip diameter of about 1-2/5" (or 1.4"), a grip size of about 4-3/5" (or 4.6"), and a palm size of 3".


11" brick trowel with a tapered wood handle, 4-3/4" (or 4.75") grip at its widest point, a 6" handle length, and a total weight of roughly 1 lb 3 oz (or 19 oz).


10" brick trowel with a tapered wood hand, 4-3/8" (or 4.375") grip at its widest point, a 6" handle length, and total weight of roughly 1 lb (15.6 oz).

What the worker in this example should consider:

  • The 11" trowel weighs more and is too large for the worker's grip size. Using this size handle will add to the worker’s fatigue and risk of injury. If this size trowel is considered the best for the job or the only option, the worker could replace the handle with one that is closer to his/her grip size, or modify the handle to narrow the grip as described earlier.
  • The 10" trowel weighs less and reduces the risk of hand fatigue and injury. The handle size is smaller than the worker's grip size, so the worker could replace it with a handle closer to his/her grip size or modify the grip size as described earlier. Wearing gloves may also make the grip size fit better, as well as (depending on the materials being worked with and type of glove) protect the worker’s skin from chemicals and cold.

*CPWR does not endorse any specific products, brands or tools.

Photos:  Tools supplied for photos courtesy of the Masonry r2p Partnership (BAC, ICE and IMI).