I have been using files without handles for 27 years because I can
better "feel" the metal when filing. This technique has produced
no strain on my hands. The only time I'll use handled files is when
I need extra leverage hogging out material set-up in a vise.
File handles are absolutely essential for obtaining good results. It
is so important, that I recommend drilling holes for the tangs using
lathe setup. And if one does not have a lathe, it pays to send the
work to a machine shop.
Handle serves 3 primary purposes. For the level filing, it let’s you
know if you filing true, but it only works if tang is dead center. If
file engages surface more on one side than the other, you could feel
it on opposite side of the handle. Handle is an amplifier of any
irregularity that file encounter. The larger the diameter, the more
pronounced the effect. I recommend to use the largest diameter, that
one can manage comfortably.
The same holds true when filing curved surfaces with curvature
direction perpendicular to the file long axis. Handles amplifies
minute rotations of the wrist which are translated to pronounced
movements of the file, and it does minimizes strain. One can easily
convinced oneself of that by trying to drive the same size screw with
large handle screwdriver and a small handle screwdriver for
The “better feel” is achieved not by using files without handles,
but by making sure that files have perfectly straight tangs; handles
drilled dead center and diameter of the hole selected in such a way
that tang is in full contact with the handle. This is more difficult
than may appear, but the closer to ideal, the better the outcome.
Issue of safety is also important. If one loses concentration while
filing, it is conceivably possible to run pointed tang through one’s
forearm. This is not a theory. It does happen.