How To File Nails

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There’s a right and wrong way to cut your hair, just as there is also a right and wrong way to use a makeup brush, right? Believe it or not, filing your nails isn’t any different. Yes, there is actually a wrong way to file your nails.

Although filing and shaping nails might be a secondary activity, such as one we do while waiting for the bus or watching TV, it is one that should require precision and care. Despite popular belief, filing and shaping nails involves a simple process.

acrylic nail brush

First, filing nails should never be done aggressively. If you have neglected your nails for some time or if you are one that throws on a coat of nail polish before rushing out the door, all that is about to change…

Read on for a quick guide on how to file nails to ensure they stay healthy, protected, and looking beautiful, manicure after manicure.

What You Need to File Nails

  • A soft nail file – This is best to use on natural nails to prevent nail tearing, damage or further breakage. You can easily find a soft nail file at any department store or online. Soft nail files are measured in “grit” numbers. The higher the number, the softer the file. For example, a 240-grit nail file is a good option to use.
  • Nail Clippers – Before you file your nails or paint your nails, be sure that you have a pair of nail clippers nearby. Avoid using toenail clippers on your nails. What is the difference? Toenail clippers are often bigger as they are designed to cut thicker nails. If you use toenail clippers on your fingernails, then you could risk cutting nails too short or weaken the nails.Nail clippers should be used to clip hangnails or to trim down significantly long nails. And remember: NEVER clip your cuticles!
  • A nail buffer – Although a nail buffer can be optional, it can help with filing nails and smoothing out rugged edges or bumpy areas. Nail buffers can come in all different sizes and with different surface areas. Most nail buffers have four edges with different surfaces and grit levels for filing. Using a nail buffer can help give the nail a smooth and shiny surface, which is an ideal step prior to applying a base coat and painting. 

Filing nails with nail buffer

  • 240-grit nail fileA wooden stick – This handy tool (also known as “orange wood”) is relatively inexpensive and can be thrown away after use. This can be used to push back cuticles, clean out the nail beds and sides of the nail to remove dirt and dead skin, giving nails a fresh, clean look and smooth surface prior to painting.A wooden stick is also handy to clean up and remove excess polish that may collect along the sides of the nails or the nail beds after painting.
  • A dust brush or piece of cotton – This is great to have on hand to wipe away the dust after nail filing. Simply use a cotton ball or a nail dust brush to clean off your nails and your work area once you are done filing. Cleaning up excess nail dust is always a good idea prior to painting. If you don’t brush off your nails or your work area sufficiently, then you risk painting over bits of nail dust, which can leave a bumpy or uneven surface on your nails. Not good.
  • A medium-sized bowl with warm water – After you finish filing your nails, you may want to soak them to properly sanitize them before applying a base coat or painting. This is optional.
  • Moisturizer – After you finish filing and painting, it is best to moisturize nails to keep skin and cuticles healthy smooth, especially if you suffer from dry skin or brittle nails. This is also optional.

Tips in Filing Nails

You should apply specific methods and tips to make sure your nails are well-treated while being filed. Here are a few tips to file your nails.

Pick the Right File

Did you know that it’s important to clean your nail file before and after each use? Using a glass versus metal, or standard acrylic filing surface will keep the nail tip from tearing. A “clean” file is an easy way to prevent splitting nails!

Don’t just go wary about your hands as this tip must also be applied in toe nail filing.The kind of tool used for filing one’s natural nails can make all the difference in how well they look post-filing job.

If you choose anything other than a glass filed, then be prepared for unhappy results with rough edges on brittle tips—not so great when applying polish over these pieces are tough as this could lead to chipping and cracking faster than usual due to low tolerance levels.

Embrace Your Natural Nail Shape

Your natural nails might be long and slender, short but strong or wide like a squished diamond. All of these shapes have their own strengths just as any other nail shape would. Use the strength that is inherent in your nail to choose which style you want when filing them down into an appropriate length for application purposes and manicure artistry.

Slow Down

​It’s easy to rush through toe nail filing so as not to spend too much time getting ready but have you ever noticed by going into any nail salon that it seems like just about anyone with manicure skills spends way longer shaping up their customer’s nails?

It’s because rushing the filing process will result in a mess.It is important to be meticulous when filing your nails so that you don’t damage them. It’s also worth taking the time to make sure everything looks nice before moving on with a manicure or pedicure, because it will take care of itself afterwards and look even better than if done quickly in one sitting.

How to File nails and Shape it

Filing and shaping your nails is much easier when you have all the right tools nearby. So, once you have the right tools ready to go, now it’s time to get down to business. Clean, smooth, and beautiful nails are only a few steps away!

Here is a quick guide on how to properly file and shape your nails:

1. Use a Soft Nail File – As mentioned above, using a soft nail file is best for filing natural nails. Using a 240-grit nail file is a great place to start.Before you pick up your nail file and begin filing away, pay attention to the way you hold the file. Do not grasp the nail file. Holding the soft nail file loosely between the thumb and index finger will allow you to have a firm handle on it and also easily move it in the appropriate direction.

Soft nail file to shape nails

2. File in One Direction – Here is a common mistake many DIY-manicurists make. When filing nails, be sure to file them in one direction ONLY. Back-and-forth sawing motions are never okay.

Start from the center or the side of the nail and move in one direction—either from the side to the center or from the center to the side. Just be sure to choose one direction and stick with it. 

Filing your nails back and forth will lead to breakage, tearing, and rugged edges. Not only is this method best for keeping nails healthy and smooth, it will also help you to easily get the shape you want.

File nails in one direction

3.Hold the File Flat. It might seem like second nature to hold a nail file at an angle, and some beauty blogs will tell you to do so. However, it’s best to hold the nail tip flat against the nail file while filing. Holding the nail file at an angle while filing will thin the nail tip making it more susceptible to damage and breakage.

Although filing nails flat and in one direction might take longer than filing back and forth, you will likely be pleased with how your nails look afterwards.

Note: If you accidentally file nails too short, don’t fret. Remember, like hair, nails will grow back. If you file nails too short, consider applying a neutral nail polish color, which can make nails look naturally longer until they grow to the desired length.

4. Shape the Nails. Filing nails to smooth rough edges is one step, but getting the desired nail shape is another. You can easily file your nails to get the shape you want. Square, rounded, oval, almond and stiletto are some popular nail shapes, each with their own levels of filing difficulty and skill.

The round shape is by far the easiest and most common shape to achieve. Use a file and simply round the edges and the top of the nail tip until you achieve a round shape. The same process goes for achieving square and oval shapes. On the other hand, the almond and stiletto shapes require more time and patience.

These shapes involve squaring the sides and edges, and then carefully rounding them at the top, bringing them to a point. You can achieve any desired shape; the key is filing.

How to file nails

Note: Be careful not to file the nails too much. Filing too far in on the sides can weaken the nail causing nails to break easily.

5. Dust Off Nails. Once you achieve the desired shape and you are finished filing, the next step is to brush off the nails using a nail dust brush or cotton ball. Be sure to also dust off your work area before you begin painting. This will help to ensure that nails are clean from excess nail dust and dead skin before painting.

buffering nails

6. Soak Nails. Before painting nails, soak nails in soapy water for a few minutes to properly sanitize and remove any excess dirt, dead skin or nail dust prior to painting. Not only will this step ensure a smooth paint job, it will also help sanitize the nails to prevent infections.

However, if your nails are dry, brittle, and are prone to breakage or damage, then you may want to skip this step as soaking can dehydrate nails, making them even more brittle and susceptible to damage and breakage.

7. Apply Base Coat and Paint. Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for. After filing and shaping nails, the final step is to apply a base coat to help protect nails, avoid infections, and keep nails looking healthy and clean.After applying a base coat, you can also paint the nails with a nail polish color of your choice.

8.Moisturize. Once you have finished painting nails and are happy with the outcome, the last step is to moisturize. Using your favorite moisturizer (preferably one with Aloe or Vitamin E), apply a dime-sized amount of moisturizer on your hands and smooth into the skin and cuticles sufficiently.

Be sure to make sure your nails are dried completely before moisturizing to avoid smudging or ruining your artwork.

Filing Nails is a Snap! (Not Literally)

See? Filing and shaping nails is easy as a snap—but, not literally. We don’t want any broken nails! But, seriously, filing and shaping nails is easy once you have the right tools and you understand the right (and wrong) ways to filing and shaping nails.

Remember, if you file your nails too short or if you don’t like the shape, you can always nurse them back to health. Nails always grow out. You will have longer nails back again in no time!

Do you have a favorite nail shape or do you have a trick to filing nails? We’d love to hear all about it! Feel free to share your thoughts and comments in the box below. Did you enjoy this article? If so, then don’t forget to share this with your friends!

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