An exact non-linear formulation of the equilibrium of elastic prismatic rods subjected to compression and planar bending is presented, electing as primary displacement variable the cross-section rotations and taking into account the axis extensibility. Such a formulation proves to be sufficiently general to encompass any boundary condition. The evaluation of critical loads for the five classical Euler buckling cases is pursued, allowing for the assessment of the axis extensibility effect. From the quantitative viewpoint, it is seen that such an influence is negligible for very slender bars, but it dramatically increases as the slenderness ratio decreases. From the qualitative viewpoint, its effect is that there are not infinite critical loads, as foreseen by the classical inextensible theory. The method of multiple (spatial) scales is used to survey the post-buckling regime for the five classical Euler buckling cases, with remarkable success, since very small deviations were observed with respect to results obtained via numerical integration of the exact equation of equilibrium, even when loads much higher than the critical ones were considered. Although known beforehand that such classical Euler buckling cases are imperfection insensitive, the effect of load offsets were also looked at, thus showing that the formulation is sufficiently general to accommodate this sort of analysis. (c) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.