I was demonstrating our tools at Woodworking in America one year, and several people picked up several of our Gramercy Tools saws and suggested that the handles were too small. While I am sure there are people for which our handles ARE too small, in just about every case at the show the problem was the grip the person was using on the tool.
The correct grip for handsaws, planes, and most tools is a three-fingered grip with the index finger pointing straight out in the direction of the cut.
There are two reasons for this:
1) If you use a saw or a plane with all four fingers wrapped around the handle, the tendency will be to grip tighter and tighter. Tools don't need to be held so tight. The stronger the grip, the less control you will have, and more importantly, your hand will tire faster and possibly cramp up. With the index finger extended, you can't shift into a death grip, so you get greater comfort, greater control and less fatigue.
2) By pointing your index finger while holding the tool, you get a certain consistency in the direction you are working—which makes it easier to cut accurately, and the tool can't rotate in your hand. (It can rotate if you're holding it with a four fingered grip, which then makes you want to hold it even tighter, compounding the problem.)
Consequently, handles are traditionally sized so that a three-fingered grip feels comfortable and a four-fingered grip feels crowded.
When you extend your index finger on a metal bevel-down handplane, resting your finger along the side of the frog, this allows you to relax. One of my biggest complaints about bevel-up planes is they have no frog, there is no comfortable place to rest your index finger, and consequently all four fingers hold the handle in a tiring death grip.
Try the three-fingered grip. You'll like it.
This "Tools & Craft" section is provided courtesy of Joel Moskowitz, founder of Tools for Working Wood, the Brooklyn-based catalog retailer of everything from hand tools to Festool; check out their online shop here. Joel also founded Gramercy Tools, the award-winning boutique manufacturer of hand tools made the old-fashioned way: Built to work and built to last.