Files, E-files and Buffers

Understanding Nail File Grits: The higher the grit, the softer the file. 80-100 is coarse.

Drill or Hand File?

A nail drill has become a common implement for most nail technicians. But with misuse and lack of education, drills also can become a menace to your business.

In the late 60's, product used to make dentures was discovered and used as the first acrylic. It was difficult to hand file so the natural choice was a dental drill. Dental drills are used to shape and smooth dental work just as nail technicians need to shape and smooth a nail enhancement. As product development advanced, acrylic products changed. Acrylic products became easier to apply and to hand file.

During the nail boom of the 80's and 90's many nail companies jumped on the anti-drill band wagon for liability purposes. Because of the lack of education available, many self-taught technicians misused nail drills and damaged clients' nail beds. Law suits resulting from wearing nail enhancements concerned manufacturers and salon owners resulting in a no drill policy.

Now with solid educational programs in place for drills or electric files (e-files) have become a useful tool to many professional nail technicians.

The Drill or E File

A drill is made up of two parts. First, the base, which houses the motor, will generally have several knobs or switches. Most nail drills will have a reverse switch which allows you to change the spin direction of the drill bit. This is often used by left handed technicians because they would naturally work against the grit of the drill bit if the drill's direction is not reversed. A speed dial is used to increase and reduce the speed of the spin of the drill bit.

The hand piece has a cord that extends from the base to the hand piece. The hand piece should be held like a pencil and should feel balanced and comfortable in your hand. The hand piece should not feel awkward and impair your ability to move it smoothly.

The Drill Bit

Drill bits are made out of several types of materials. Choosing the material that fits your needs and work best for is personal preference.

Sanding Band

Sanding bands are made of the same material as an acrylic nail file. They are available in different grits and are used to reduce product or for use when doing pedicures. Sanding bands are a little awkward to use but are inexpensive and can be discarded after each client.


A diamond bit is made of material a lot like the old metal file found at your local drug store. Diamond bits come in different shapes which makes them versatile and can be used in many applications. Diamond bits do wear out and lose their coarseness which can make them not a good value to a busy nail tech.


A carbide bit is made of metal with grooves cut into it. The groove works like tiny saws that cut off product as the bit spins. Carbides come in different grits and shapes and seems to have the longest life.

Drill bits should always be disinfected between clients. Make sure that enhancement product is not stuck in the groove, which will affect the bit performance, then soak off in a hospital grade EPA approved sanitizing product.

When installing your bit into the hand piece do not push it all the way in. Leave a small space (you should see a small amount of the shank). If it is forced down too far into the hand piece it could rub against the hand piece and cause a drag on the bit.

If you have long hair always keep your hair pulled back when using a drill. If your hair gets caught in the drill it spins so fast that it could pull your hair out of your scalp or become so tangled that it will need to be cut out.

Drill bits are available in many different shapes. Each shape has been designed for a particular use. For example ,you can use a barrel bit to smooth and bevel and shorten the nail, a cone bit to do cuticle work, and a backfill bit to cut a groove and remove product. But once you gain confidence you may find yourself doing everything with one bit but using it differently for each area.

How to Use a Drill

If your using a drill for the first time, practice first on a plastic practice finger until you feel confident and then try it on yourself so you can experience what it feels like. There are 2 simple rules to follow when using a drill successfully:

  • Keep the drill moving. NEVER let the drill sit in one spot. The drill could cut through the product and damage the natural nail or it will create friction and the client nail will feel heat and be very uncomfortable. THE CLIENT SHOULD NEVER FEEL HEAT FROM THE DRILL. If a client has to pull her hand away or expresses discomfort you are using the drill wrong! Having your nails done should be a enjoyable experience and should NEVER be painful. With nail salons on every corner you risk losing a client and receiving a bad reputation when you do not respect the comfort of your clients.
  • You need to see where the enhancement product is on the nail and where the natural nail is exposed. If you can't really tell what you should be drilling and hit the natural nail you can damage the nail. If you just skim the natural nail it can cause what is often called a “ring of fire” which can be seen as red rings and grooves on the natural nail. Worse case scenario you can file through the natural nail and a infection can form and cause permanent nail damage.
Hand filing is the preferred technique by many veteran technicians. Because of their perfected technique from years of practice they do not need to use a drill. Many clients seek technicians that do not use drills because of past negative experiences at the hands of an uneducated technician or the sound and vibration make them uncomfortable.

To be efficient in hand filing, it takes experience and discipline.

Rule #1: practice applying the acrylic smoothly and as perfect as possible using the technique found on this website. When you are ready to file follow this step-by-step guide to hand filing. The secret to hand filing is to do it the exact same way every single time. This will increase speed and produce a consistently shaped nail, and never go onto the next area until the area you are working on is finished. This will discourage the endless filing and the time consuming habit of bouncing from imperfection to imperfection.

After the Acrylic is Applied

  1. Carefully break away acrylic from the sidewalls.
  2. Consult with the client on nail length and shorten nail if needed.
  3. Consult with client on her preferred nail shape. Shape the nail, then hold up the nail for the client to see, ask her if you have the shape correct.
  4. File starting at the right sidewall around the cuticle and followed by the left sidewall.
  5. Blend and smooth product on the right side.
  6. Blend and smooth product on the left side.
  7. Taper free edge using straight strokes towards you or by filing left to right across the nail.
  8. Buff all file marks out using a block buffer or buffing file. Buffing should be done with the motion as if you were polishing a shoe. ALL visible file marks should be filed away.