Menu Search

Handwheels: A Quick Guide

Handwheels are useful tools for a variety of applications across industries. Though they are widely used, various applications may require very different handwheels.  For example, a handwheel used for a heavy piece of machinery in a harsh environment may not be the same handwheel used for a small sewing machine in a normal environment. In other words, it’s important to choose the right tool for the right job.

Handwheel Definition - Simply put, handwheels are control components made up of a wheel that is controlled by a hand. Machine handwheels are designed for adjusting and clamping via a rotating mechanism and are frequently used to adjust valves, presses, and machine components.

Machine designers, mechanical engineers, maintenance workers, and numerous other technical professionals recognize the importance of heavy-duty industrial handwheels for many applications. Not only is it important to recognize when a handwheel is needed, but what type of handwheel will best suit the application. Selecting the correct handwheel is crucial as the component will have a direct effect on accuracy, operational performance, and overall safety.

Handwheel Functions, Sizes, Materials & Styles

The purpose of a handwheel is to complete a desired function or task, and these functions vary based on each application. The two most common functions of a machine handwheel include adjusting valves and adjusting machinery. Valve adjustment involves handwheel movement to either open or close a valve, which controls flow of substance (fluid or air). Machinery adjustments involve handwheel movement to make precise changes or adjustments.

With this variation in desired function, there are many different sizes, materials, and styles of handwheels to fit each application.

Handwheel Sizes

Small Diameter Handwheels: Used in applications that require very little force and can usually be controlled with fingers or one hand. Small diameter handwheels are commonly made of lighter weight material such as plastic.

Large Diameter Handwheels: Used in applications that require heavier force. Large diameter handwheels are commonly made of a stronger material such as cast iron.

Handwheel Materials 

Cast Iron handwheels are a good choice for functions requiring high strength and durability. They are resistant to deformation and are available in chrome and other finishes, but are heavy if weight is a factor.

Aluminum handwheels are lighter than their cast-iron counterparts and more resistant to oxidation (rust). Should electrical or thermal conductivity be needed, aluminum can be a good option.

Plastic handwheels are durable and can resist solvents, oils, grease, and other chemicals. Molding options can include grips and ridges that improve operator leverage and efficiency even when wearing gloves. Plastics generally have more color and texture choices compared to metals.

Duroplastic handwheels include glass- or nylon-fiber reinforcement to improve strength and durability.

Stainless Steel handwheels can be effective for applications requiring alkali and other chemical resistance. Casting modifications can include revolving handles, grips, and other design options.

Steel handwheels, while less corrosion-resistant than stainless steels, can be good high-strength and high-pressure choices.

Handwheel Materials

Handwheel Styles

Many considerations are relevant when comparing the various types of handwheel styles. These considerations include, but are not limited to; size of the job, applied forces, angle of approach, sanitation needs, aesthetic appearance, etc. Below we discuss the types of handwheel styles and offer practical considerations of each:

Spoked handwheels are often lighter than solid, flat-disk handwheels and can handle high-torque requirements particularly in larger sizes. As spokes are open designs, they may be considered potential pinch points if safety requirements are strict.

Flat handwheels are solid structures that can work as a knob or crank in addition to a wheel.

Solid vs Spoked Handwheel

Solid (Disk or Flat) vs Spoked: Solid handwheels (also known as disk handwheels) have a closed rim rather than open spokes. Solid (disk) handwheels are ideal for preventing axial access which can lead to injury. Spoked handwheels do not have a closed rim and most commonly have 2 to 3 spokes, though options with more spokes are available. Spoked handwheels are ideal for applications that require axial access. In comparison, solid (disk) handwheels are often heavier and are not ideal for applications requiring a large wheel.

Dished handwheels are so called because the outer diameter is offset for functional or aesthetic purposes. They can be spoked or solid.

Safety clutch handwheels include a clutch mechanism that prevents the handwheel from rotating with the mandrel while the machine is working, protecting the operator. Depending on the design, pushing the handwheel to the mandrel (or pulling the handwheel) frees the clutch for making adjustments.

EMW and IR monospoked handwheels feature a U-shaped opening for access to the axial and to prevent fingers from slipping.

Handle vs No Handle Handwheels

Some applications require a handwheel without a handle when more of a steering wheel motion is needed, while higher-torque situations may require a handle for easier operation. Handles can be metal or plastic, revolving or non-revolving, machine-threaded or press-fit, and can be designed for comfortable gripping with bare hands or gloves. An ergonomic consideration to keep in mind is that the handle by nature is a protrusion and can be defined as a safety hazard in some environments. One option for addressing this is the foldaway or “safety” handle, which folds into the handwheel body after use. Below we discuss the types of handle styles available and offer practical considerations of each:

No-Handle Handwheels: Ideal for applications requiring a motion similar to a steering wheel.

Fold-Away Handwheels: There are two main types of fold-away handles, automatic and manual.

Automatic fold-away handles are locked into place when the operator pulls it up and pushes axially toward handwheel. When operator is done with use, the handle unlocks and will return to cavity.

Manual fold-away handles are used by pulling up on the handle to lock it into place and pushing handle back into the cavity when completed.

Revolving Handle Handwheels: Ideal for small handwheels where control is required and torque requirement is low.

Finger Grip Handwheels: These handwheels have grooved edges on the outer or inner wheel perimeter and are used for extra control and grip. Are often available with and without a handle.

Hub Styles

Since handwheels usually turn in both directions, proper balancing dictates that they are mounted to the shaft and they turn by their central hub. When selecting a handwheel it is important to keep in mind that handwheels may need to be removed and re-installed when servicing machines. Some hubs are pressed into place on shaft splines, some are threaded to be screwed into place, and some can be welded. The hub of the selected handwheel is a very important variable when choosing a handwheel to compliment various machinery. Hub styles include:

  • Square Hub Handwheel
  • Hex Hub Handwheel
  • Half-circle Hub Handwheel
  • Screw Set Hub Handwheel

Handwheel Preparation: Bores, Keyways and Broaching


A bore is the hole found in the center of the handwheel. Traditionally bores are a simple hole that goes straight through the handwheel. Bore holes are designed in many ways in order to allow handwheels to be taken off, and put on, as needed for varying applications. Handwheels need to be able to be taken off, but they also need to be locked on in order to turn successfully. We have included the common bore designs below:

  • Hexagonal bore with set screw
  • Half square shaft with set screw
  • Tapered shaft with locking bolt
  • Threaded shaft with locking bolt
  • Press fit shaft
  • Splined shaft
  • Keyway fit shaft


Machining a keyway, or having keyways included on your handwheels, can be a useful feature. In mechanical engineering, a key connects a rotating machine element to a shaft. The key prevents relative rotation between the two parts and enables torque transmission. For a key to function, the shaft and rotating machine element must have a keyway and a keyseat, which is a slot and pocket in which the key fits. Simply put, the handwheel is placed on the shaft, and the key is pushed into its slot it order to lock it in place. We have included the common keyway types below:

  • Bored hole
  • Bored hole with keyway
  • Bored hole with setscrew hole over keyway
  • Bored hole with setscrew hole
  • Bored hole with 2 setscrew holes at 90 degrees


Handwheel broaching is primarily used to cut square-cornered internal keyways. A specific broach, bushing and guide is used for each given keyway cross-section, which makes this process more expensive than most alternatives, such as milling. However, it can produce the most accurate keyway out of all the processes.

NOTE: You will find many handwheel providers ship their products unfinished for customers to machine themselves or find other ways to modify, which can affect quality and performance and add cost.

Reid Supply will work with you to ensure the best product for your application, this includes providing additional machining, drilling, tapping, molding, and finishing options.

For more information contact our customer service team at

Related Products & Accessories

Often, additional components are needed to increase safety, efficiency and ease of use.

  • Bearings between the handwheel and its shaft can supply a smoother motion and provide additional stability and control.
  • Position Indicators have gear sets driven by the shaft that can regulate distance between rollers, open and close valves and otherwise count and monitor rotary-motion applications.
  • Graduation rings can be fitted to handwheels for precise position indicating. Other position-indicating handwheels have dials or other faces to accurately display the position of a control shaft and enable the operator to return to these exact settings without guesswork.
  • Crank Handles added to a handwheel allows for the wheel to be spun at a more rapid rate. This is due to the increase in force exerted.
  • Grips
  • Parallel Shaft Keys

Handwheel Standards and Manufacturers

Depending on your application (and your location), industry standards exist relative to design and operation of handwheels and can provide much useful information:

  • The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) establishes and provides standards for industry in the US. Many of these are safety-related, especially where labels and signs are concerned relative to manual controls and machinery.
  • MIL H-9859 is a military specification that covers commercial handwheels three inches in diameter or larger, designed to transmit manual power to a shaft. It is applicable to contracting for the Department of Defense (DOD) and all its departments and agencies.
  • GOST refers to a set of technical standards maintained by the Euro-Asian Council for Standardization, Metrology and Certification (EASC), a regional standards organization operating under the auspices of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). GOST 31.0101.01 includes general specifications for handwheels as well as levers and handles. GOST 21752 describes general ergonomic requirements for handwheels.
  • MSS SP-91-2009 is a standard issued by the Manufacturers Standardization Society of the Valves and Fittings Industry located in Vienna, Virginia, pertaining to guidelines for the manual operation of valves. It is useful for sizing handwheels for valve operation.
  • The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) ( is a rich resource of ergonomics and human factors concepts such as human strength considerations, angle of approach, applied forces, and other issues related to human and even automated operation of equipment.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a branch of the United States Department of Labor. Much information relative to safe industrial machine design can be obtained from this organization.

Leading domestic and international handwheel manufacturers include Elesa, Flair Industries, J.W. Winco, Jergens, Kipp, and Valtra.

Handwheel Applications

Handwheel Applications

Handwheels are utilized in many applications across various industries. Machine handwheels are often used to manually drive presses and adjust machinery. They are also fitted to be used for valve control, lathes, and more. In the printing industry, handwheels are used to control roller tension as well as feed materials, such as paper, to printers. In sewing machines, handwheels are used to manually advance the machine.

Whether your application requires a handwheel for CNC and machining lathes, valve control, gate handwheel, printing, sewing, machinery control, medical devices or any other application – Reid Supply can help!


Why Reid Supply?

Established in 1948, Reid Supply, a division of Essentra, also known as Reid Tool Supply back in the day, is a premier provider of over 40,000 industrial components to the North American and global manufacturing market. We are a preferred, full-line industrial distributor for Destaco, Vlier, Mitutoyo, Garr Tool and more than 200 leading brands you know and trust. Customers can expect hassle-free service, along with FREE CAD drawings, product expertise, quotes in four hours or less, and same-day shipping.

For more information on handwheels, shop our handwheel collection, or contact our customer service team at