Hands on and hands-on are probably in the middle of this process. The eventual progression to a closed compound, however, will probably be blocked by the clumsiness of handson, which looks like it could just as easily be a compound of hand and son, or some alternate spelling of the name Hansen. As it stands today, which one should you use? If you have done a fair amount of reading, you will probably have seen both forms of this word in written English. They are both legitimate English constructions, but not in the same contexts.
Hands-on as adjective:
Hands-on is an adjective that describes the physical nature of some work, like hands-on experience in an oil field. It could also describe a person who has a very active disposition toward something, like a hands-on management style.
That’s not to say the words hands and on would never appear next to each other in a piece of writing. One could have one’s hands physically touching something; the documentary Hands on a Hard Body follows an endurance competition to see who can remain physically touching a pickup truck for the longest amount of time.
The event is run under the auspices of the New Zealand Secondary Schools Athletics Association (NSSAA) although it is tradition that the host city provide the hands-on volunteers. [Wanganui Chronicle]
Hands-on or hands on:
Hands-on is an adjective that describes a type of labor or an active predisposition toward something. Hands on is sometimes a verb phrase, sometimes a noun phrase, but never an adjective phrase. Since hands-on is in the company of several other hyphenated adjectives, including well-equipped, you should be able to group these words together in your mind.