Well, not really lives per se, but they do save limbs and careers. But “E-files Save Lives” would make an awesome T-shirt, don’t you think? Did you know that nail techs who hand-file for their entire careers are much more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, and other nerve/tendon/joint-related conditions as a result of wear-and-tear on their bodies? All that movement and muscle we put into our arm and hand while hand-filing really takes its toll over time. E-filing is a great way to allow an advanced tool to do the work for you. Not only that, but you can be much more precise and efficient.
With a hand file you’re limited to just one flat surface that can be difficult to maneuver into tight areas — like around the cuticle area and sidewalls. It can also be much more labor intensive to remove old product and lifting with a regular file. Because e-files and bits have become so specialized, we are now able to do a full service from start to finish with less physical exertion, a lot more precision, and even more efficiency. An e-file can do everything a hand file can do, and 10 times more. Plus your hand, wrist, arm, and shoulder will thank you.
Imagine a car that can go 500 mph. Wow, that’s fast! Now imagine that same car trying to pull a trailer full of unicorns. Same car, but now it struggles. It can’t go 500 mph and it can’t haul unicorns. Why? Because it has speed, but not torque. RPMs (rotations per minute) are often what nail techs look for when shopping for an electric file, but RPMs only tell you how fast the e-file can spin. It does not tell you how well the e-file can function when actually filing a material, nor its ability to keep driving that spinning action when it encounters an opposing force.
Torque is a really important factor in e-filing. Torque is the rotational power in the actual spin itself. Just as a linear force is a push or a pull, torque can be thought of as a twist. It’s a twisting force that causes the rotation in the first place and determines how easy that rotation is. An e-file without torque and without rotational power will slow down and struggle when applied to a surface, and you’ll notice an audible decrease in pitch on the machine. A good e-file should maintain the same speed and rotational power whether it’s spinning in the air, filing on gel, or filing on acrylic.
Look for an e-file that has a smart motor that adjusts as you work. Often times techs who have a low-torque e-file apply more pressure or increase the speed on their machine to compensate for the loss in filing power, but this very action is what can lead to heat, damage to the nail plate, and other potential injuries to the client. With a high-quality e-file only a light touch is needed, and the bits and motor do all the work for you. So don’t get fixated on a specific RPM number as it really isn’t a good determining factor of power. Look for and ask about rotational power (torque) as well.
The Beach Boys got it wrong. At least when it comes to e-filing, there’s no such thing as “good vibrations.” With e-files, vibration is absolutely something to be avoided. Some e-files on the market shake so much they feel like they’ll wiggle right out of your hand. A good e-file should not vibrate much, if at all, when turned on, nor should the vibration increase with the speed.
What’s so bad about vibration? It can be very uncomfortable for your client as she will feel the movement and repeated pounding on her nail plate. In some extreme cases where there is prolonged and improper use, it can even damage the client’s matrix, causing abnormal nail plate growth. Vibration also makes it difficult for the nail tech to be precise. If your e-file is jumping around while filing in a tight area, you may end up hitting skin or causing other damage. Lastly, vibration is also damaging to a nail tech’s hands and arms. The extra muscle you end up using trying to maintain control and a grip can lead to joint, muscle, and tendon damage.
When shopping for an e-file, hold it, turn it on, and turn it all the way up to see if it shakes. A quality e-file will not shake or shimmy in your hand at all, even when turned to the max speed, and when filing on a material it should feel smooth, not bouncy.
One more note about a bouncy e-file: If your e-file doesn’t vibrate in your hand, but it bounces or vibrates when you’re filing, it could be that your shaft is bent from dropping your handpiece. Do an eyeball check on your bits while they’re spinning to see if they are truly spinning straight or if they are whipping around like a lasso. You’ll see a sort of blurry ring around a bent bit while it’s spinning fast. A bent bit or a bent shaft in a handpiece can cause unwanted vibration while working. Sending your handpiece in for maintenance can usually resolve this issue, but it’s important to keep an eye on the condition of your e-file as you work on clients.
A lot of nail techs think the power control unit (aka “the box”) is where the motor is, and they throw their handpiece around like a sack of potatoes. The handpiece (the portion you hold in your hand) is the most important part of your e-file. It’s where the actual motor and all the expensive parts and technology reside. The power box — or battery pack, if you’re using a portable model — is actually just the power control that provides the right amount of electricity to your handpiece and allows you to turn it on and off and control the speed. Take great care in protecting both, but especially your handpiece.
Download our ebook about how to speed up your nail services.Download Our eBook
Try to keep dust away from the opening of your handpiece when removing or inserting bits to avoid packing dust inside. Keep solvents far away from your e-file. And take care with all the cords so they don’t get pinched, worn out, pulled, or shorted. Just like your car, your handpiece needs an oil change via a tune-up at least once per year, especially if you work full time. Dust, debris, and even broken bits can get lodged inside over time, parts get worn out, and in order for your e-file to work the way it should, it needs some tender loving care. A quality e-file may be the largest upfront equipment investment a nail tech makes, but with proper use and regular maintenance it should last you your whole career.
E-files often get a bad rap. When we see pictures of rings of fire, nail plate burns, and injured skin we assume it’s the evil e-file at work. In truth, an e-file really can’t do any damage without a nail tech wielding it. The big question is how can nail techs learn to use an e-file properly? Well, it’s much like learning to drive a car. It takes instruction, lessons, and careful practice. You’re going to have an accident here and there, especially in the beginning, but the goal is to learn and improve.
My biggest tip is not to work on a client until you can work on your own hands without cutting yourself. Once you’re ready to start working on clients, feet are a great place to start. Toes, toenails, and feet are usually much less delicate, less sensitive, and you won’t be as nervous because you’re further away from the client’s vigilant gaze.
Also, many believe hand-filing is safer than e-filing, which is not necessarily true. Although you need to know how to hand-file before you e-file (hand-filing is a very important and fundamental skill and it comes in very handy when the power goes out or your e-file is being repaired), hand-filing has just as much potential to cause damage as its automated colleague. It just depends on who is the person doing the filing and how well trained they are. Education is key, and practice really does make perfect.
Scottsdale, Ariz.-based nail tech Elizabeth Morris (@thenailhub) is an educator, distributor, financial consultant, and experienced salon owner. Her website, The Nail Hub, offers free podcasts, a blog, product store, and consulting services. Learn more at www.thenailhub.com. Listen to The Nail Hub podcasts at www.nailsmag.com/thenailhub.