This review discusses selected classical works and contemporary research on recovery of contralesional fine hand motor function following lesions to motor areas of the cerebral cortex in non-human primates. Findings from both the classical literature and contemporary studies show that lesions of cortical motor areas induce paresis initially, but are followed by remarkable recovery of fine hand/digit motor function that depends on lesion size and post-lesion training. Indeed, in recent work where considerable quantification of fine digit function associated with grasping and manipulating small objects has been observed, very favorable recovery is possible with minimal forced use of the contralesional limb. Studies of the mechanisms underlying recovery have shown that following small lesions of the digit areas of primary motor cortex (M1), there is expansion of the digit motor representations into areas of M1 that did not produce digit movements prior to the lesion. However, after larger lesions involving the elbow, wrist and digit areas of M1, no such expansion of the motor representation was observed, suggesting that recovery was due to other cortical or subcortical areas taking over control of hand/digit movements. Recently, we showed that one possible mechanism of recovery after lesion to the arm areas of M1 and lateral premotor cortex is enhancement of corticospinal projections from the medially located supplementary motor area (M2) to spinal cord laminae containing neurons which have lost substantial input from the lateral motor areas and play a critical role in reaching and digit movements. Because human stroke and brain injury patients show variable, and usually poorer, recovery of hand motor function than that of nonhuman primates after motor cortex damage, we conclude with a discussion of implications of this work for further experimentation to improve recovery of hand function in human stroke patients.