The aim of this study was to test the effect of an intensive hand exercise programme in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Designed as a clinical controlled trial, the first 30 participants received a conservative exercise programme (CEP), while the next 30 received an intensive exercise programme (IEP). Outcomes were assessed at baseline, and after 2 and 14 weeks. Hand strength, measured as grip strength and pinch strength, was the primary outcome variable. Secondary outcomes were joint mobility, hand pain, and functional ability. After two weeks, there were significant differences between the groups in favour of the IEP in pinch strength in the dominant hand (p = 0.01), as well as grip and pinch strength in the non-dominant hand (p = 0.04 and 0.05, respectively). After 14 weeks, there was a significant difference between the two groups in grip strength in the non-dominant hand (p = 0.04), again in favour of the IEP. There was a trend towards increased pain in the CEP group and towards decreased pain in the IEP group, with significant differences between the groups in several measures of pain after 2 and 14 weeks. However, there were few significant differences between the two groups regarding joint mobility and functional ability. The results indicate that, compared with a traditional programme, an intensive hand exercise programme is well tolerated and more effective in improving hand function in patients with RA.