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The Complete Guide to Handle Types

The Complete Guide to Handle Types

Handle choice can be an important design consideration when engineers are developing various products. Engineers need to consider everything from material to handle width. There are a variety of handles that engineers can utilize in their application. This can be overwhelming when engineers are developing a complex product. Handle choice should be incorporated early in the design process.

Before jumping into design considerations, a baseline understanding of handle function may help engineers decide which handle is best for their application.

What is a Handle?

A handle is an object that is attached to a door or panel. Users can use the handle to open a panel or door or carry around an object. Handles provide comfortable, ergonomic grip points for users when opening, closing, and lifting.

Types of Handles

Grab Handle

Grab handles provide comfortable ergonomic grip points that allow users to easily and quickly open enclosures, doors, or drawers. Operators are able to easily install this type of handle. The two most common types of grab handles are surface mount handles and folding handles. Southco customers can choose from a variety of color choices for grab handles.

Surface Mount Handle

This type of handle provides users with an ergonomic grip for opening doors and drawers, as well as removing mounted panels. The latch handle is mounted to the exterior surface of the door or panel. The installation is generally concealed within the enclosure.

Folding Handle

A folding handle has a low profile folding style where the installation area is concealed. These handles will fold out of the way when they are not in use. Folding handles can also be used as a carrying handle if a box or drawer is removed. This type of handle also has an anti-rattle friction feature.

Engineers can maintain convenient user access to enclosures in limited-space environments with Southco's P9 Class 90° Folding Handles. These handles provide access for opening doors, drawers, and compartments, yet fold down to a compact profile when not in use.

Flush Mount Pulls

This type of handle gives users an ergonomic grip without protruding hardware that disrupts door, drawer, or panel surfaces.

Flush Pulls

Southco offers different flush pulls to meet any engineering requirements. Engineers can use this type of pull to keep the surface smooth. Doors, drawers, and panels can slide in front of one another without getting hung up on the door hardware. Users will have an ergonomic grip without protruding hardware that disrupts the surface of a door, drawer, or panel.

Our P1 flush pulls are durable and stylish. These pulls provide users a convenient grip to dress up any heavier door or drawer application. A two-piece recessed cup design sandwiches the door panel to provide ample space for a full-handed, two-knuckle-deep grip, with minimal protrusion from the front of the panel.

The P2 flush pull minimizes protrusion on the face of a door or panel. The offset recess provides sufficient grip space for simple panel lifting and removal. Users will have an easy time installing this type of flush pull. Single-hole panel preparation and built-in tabs that snap into position behind the panel to hold the pull in place without added tools ensure users can easily install the pull.

Concealed Pulls

Concealed pulls eliminates catch points and improves industrial design in applications where styling and aesthetics are important. The handles are located inside of the handle housing when the handle is not in use. The handle can then be released when the user needs to access the enclosure.

What Handle Should I Choose?

Engineers need to carefully consider a number of factors to ensure they pick the right handle for their application. Here are a few factors that you should keep in mind when choosing a handle in the design process.


The use of the handle will be a primary consideration when choosing the type of handle For many engineers, surface mount grab handles are ideal because they are inexpensive and easy to install. However, customers may require handles that are flush to the surface. In these applications, there are space limitations or appearance requirements.

Engineers may also have to consider the maximum load of pulling or lifting force of the handle. This maximum force largely depends on the type of handle and mounting method. Southco handles range from 600 N to 1500 N. This is more than enough for most general applications, such as door or drawer opening.


Handles are often prominent on a product since they need to be available to lift or move a panel.  Therefore the design of the handle should complement the overall product design. 

Surface mount handles can provide the feeling of ruggedness and ease of use.  Flush mount pulls can blend into the panel for clean design aesthetics.  Their flush, rectangular design can provide a feeling of order and simple functionality to the design.

Handle materials and colors are also important to overall aesthetics.  Aluminum or stainless steel handles fit modern, rugged designs.  Plastic handles, usually in black, can complement the primary color scheme.

Material Considerations

Common handle materials are plastic, aluminum, zinc, and stainless steel. Typically, handles are made of plastic or aluminum since customers are often concerned about the weight. For example, in the aerospace industry, minimizing weight is a key design consideration.

Weight is not the only factor when it comes to material considerations. Engineers should consider the operating environment. In manufacturing and industrial applications, certain materials, such as plastic, may not hold up in the long term. Stainless steel can handle harsher environments where there are high temperatures and humidity present.


Handle width and depth are important ergonomic design considerations. There is no standard handle width or depth for handles, but engineers should consider user comfort when operating a handle or pull. A handle that is too narrow can cause compression in the middle of the palm and cause user discomfort.  As such, handle width should not be too small.   

For the best ergonomic grip, engineers should allot enough handle width to accommodate a standard “four fingers.” This allows for the most comfortable operation of the handle. Some customers may choose a narrower handle due to space or budget constraints. Engineers should generally choose handles that make users comfortable.

Some engineers may need a custom width dimension for their application. Southco can tailor the width of their P8 handles. Customers are able to customize the width of their handles, between 30 to 200 millimeters.

In most cases handle depth is not an issue for surface mount handles.  However if the application will be accessed with gloved hands, the depth (height) of the handle should be reviewed to ensure proper clearance.  Flush handle depth should definitely be evaluated for the application.  Most flush pulls are only for fingertip engagement, so there is a limit to how much load the user can apply.  When heavier loads require more significant finger engagement, Southco’s flush P2 pulls are a good option. Southco’s hidden 67 pulls provide a flip-out handle that can accommodate one to four fingers.

Installation Method

How the handle or pull is installed could be another design consideration. For grab handles, the most popular installation is the surface mount. For pulls, the most popular installation method is snap-in. Installation method largely depends on your application and type of handle.


For most applications, the lifespan of the handle is not a design consideration. Standard use of handles will likely not lead to failure due to repeated use. Cosmetic damage could be a consideration, depending on the market that the product is being developed for. Specialized handle finishes can be utilized to ensure the cosmetic aspect of the handles do not wear down over time.

Your application may require the development of a customized handle. Reach out to Southco today to learn more about all of the different types of handles available. Our team is more than happy to answer any questions you may have about handles and how they fit into your application.

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