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The description for Mage Hand lists a casting time of 1 action. The spell's description elaborates on its function as:

You can use your action to control the hand.

I would personally interpret this such that you could only start using your Mage Hand the turn after you cast it. However, this makes it pretty unusable in combat or situations where immediate action is required.

Is my assumption correct that the casting time of one action makes the Mage Hand only controllable the turn after it was cast?

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Your assumption is correct. Unlike, for example, Spiritual Weapon, Mage Hand doesn't say anything about a free use on the turn you cast it, so it requires your action to cast it followed by your action on a subsequent turn to use it.

Minor caveat: An Arcane Trickster can control a Mage Hand with a bonus action, so they could create with their action then use it with their bonus action. Also, a Fighter could use Action Surge to gain an extra action and use it on the same turn.

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I think your interpretation is correct RAW.

However, in practice my group allows use of the effect on the same turn as cast. We found that clever uses of the spell in combat are most often useful for ad-hoc quick solutions to problems (e.g. get a healing potion to someone otherwise out of reach at a critical moment, grab something that was dropped in the middle of a melee), and the impact is usually just the difference between needing an attribute check (e.g. Athletics to climb up and get something) or not. Or maybe it removes risk of opportunity attacks because the mage does not need to move past any enemies. For the cost of an Action, only occurring in uncommon circumstances, it doesn't seem over-powered to allow the spell these immediate uses.

If someone were to discover a game mechanic exploit around Mage Hand working on same turn as cast, then my group would probably drop the house rule. As far as I know, there are no exploits.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately I can only accept one answer. Yours provides a perfect example of why a DM would set a house rule. Thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – Eric Apr 28 '15 at 4:48
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I'd like to offer an alternate view.

The wording of the rule is "You can use your action to control the hand", rather than something like "As an action..." - this suggests to me that the intent is that it requires the same level of action as doing whatever you intend to do with your real hands, so things that can be done "in tandem with your movement and action" or "normally interact with an object while doing something else" if you were physically doing them, can likewise be done with a mage hand.

Moving an object as you cast the spell would then be as natural as drawing your sword as you attack. But using the mage hand to, e.g., turn the crank to lower a drawbridge, would require a full action just as doing so with your real hands (assuming the crank can be turned with less than 10 pounds of force.)

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