Hand files are suitable for shaping material, finishing surfaces, and sharpening objects. They vary in shape, style, coarseness rating, cut type, item length, item width, item thickness, and grit material type. When selecting a hand file, consider the application, including the material being filed, the size and shape of the object, and the required finish.

Styles include toothed hand files, abrasive grit, riffler, and (needle) files. Shapes differ depending on the size and type of application. Shapes include half-round, joint, knife, oval, rectangular, round, slitting, square, trapezoidal, and triangular files.

Cut type reflects the grit type on abrasive grit files, and the shape of the cut on toothed and riffler files. Cut types include chip breaking, curved cut, diamond grit, double cut, rasp cut, and single cut.

Hand files are available with various patterns and coarseness ratings. There are two types of patterns for hand files: American pattern and Swiss pattern (for precision files). American pattern files have three levels of coarseness: coarse (also called bastard), medium (also called second), and fine (also called smooth). Swiss pattern files have a coarseness rating that starts at #00 (coarsest) on a scale, and goes up to #6 (finest).

Abrasive hand files are available with different grit types, including diamond and carbide grit. Diamond grit files are suitable for use on non-ferrous materials, such as ceramic, glass, wood, and plastic, while carbide grit files are suitable for ferrous materials, such as iron and steel.

Hand files are available in a variety of lengths, widths, and thicknesses. The length of the tool is the length of the actual blade, not including the tang, which is the pointed end fitted for a handle. The width is the measurement from one edge to the other of a side with a cut surface, and thickness is the measurement between the sides of the file with cut surfaces.