Practice makes perfect when it comes to using an electric file in your nail services. If you’re just starting out, it’s best to practice the below techniques on a tip that’s glued to the end of a dowel rod or rounded clothes pin first, advises industry veteran Vicki Peters of Vicki Peters Inc. You can them work up to practicing on yourself, then finally to working on clients. Peters also offers these safety tips:

> Compensate for pressure with speed. If you feel that you need to press harder, increase the speed of the machine and reduce the pressure you apply to the nail.

> Lift the bit frequently when filing to avoid causing heat build-up.

> Keep bit straight up (90 degree angle) and down when shortening the free edge to avoid skipping, which can cause the product to weaken and break down.

> Turn the client’s hand, along with the bit, to file around the sidewalls and cuticle area.

> Suggested speeds: Surface work: fast; Backfills: medium; Cuticle work: slow.

Our Experts

Lysa Comfort, international educator

Steve Wallace, Medicool

Vicki Peters, Vicki Peters Inc.

Doing a Backfill

Use a French-filled diamond bit, carbide straight barrel bit, or specialized backfill bit during this process. Backfills should only be done along a client’s natural free edge, says electric file expert Lysa Comfort.


1. If you’re a beginner, then use the inside portion of a nail form and a pencil to draw a smile line. Use this line as a guide for where to drill on the nail.

2. Using a speed between 5,000 to 9,000 RPM, position the hand at a 10-degree angle and cut a new smile line. White acrylic dulls in color as it ages. The new white tip powder is whiter and will make a strip of lighter white if you don’t remove the entire white tip when doing your backfill. Remove a minimum of 80% to 90% pink and 60% to 70% white.

3. Instead of a diamond barrel bit, you can also use a carbide straight barrel bit. If you use a carbide straight barrel, start at the right side of the nail and go toward the left side, holding the bit parallel to the nail. Hold the electric file securely without too much pressure on the nail. Don’t cut too deep. You can go back over the area if your cut isn’t deep enough.

Smoothing Calluses on Feet

Electric filing on calluses works best when the client’s feet are dry. (If you’re also doing a pedicure, you can do it either before or after using the e-file, making sure the feet are dry either way.) Use paper sanding bands or specialty pedicure bits for callus removal; remember to ­periodically stop to and check for any heat and discomfort. Products named below are from Medicool.

1. Sanitize the feet with an alcohol sanitizer. Using a large callus cone on a speed between 3,000 to 5,000 RPM, remove the dry, dead skin from the bottom of the feet. When smoothing thick calluses, you may need to increase the speed slightly.

2. Use the same tool to remove the dry, dead skin from the sides of the feet. Move the tool in a circular motion for best results.

3. Work your way around to the heels, concentrating on the areas with the most dry, dead skin. If there are cracks in the heels, remove the top layer of dead skin, then use a small foot cone to remove the area in and around the cracks. The cracks should disappear.

4. Use a long sapphire tool to remove dead skin from the sides of the toenails. This tool may also be used to clean under long toenails.

5. For thick or flaky nails, use a small foot cone on a speed around 3,000 RPM. Move the bit across the nail as you would to shape an acrylic or gel nail to reach desired thickness and shape.

6. Use the edge of a sapphire disc to shape the free edges of the toenails. Use light pressure; it will seal the nail as it trims and shapes.

Surface Shaping

All of your surface shaping can be done with an electric file. Only the sides and tips require you to hand file. To get a smooth surface, graduate your grits with smoother bits.

1. With your hand file, shape the free edges, sides, and undersides of all 10 nails.

2. With the coarsest bit you plan on using, shape the surface of the nails on a speed ­between 12,000 to 15,000 RPM. Rock the client’s nail to meet the bit as you angle your bit for contouring the sides and tip areas. Be sure to check the profile and all angles of the nails before moving on to the next nail. Be sure to file every section of the nail before switching to the next smoothest bit or you will see scratches. Remove the dust between the different bits. (Define a routine so you perform the same steps from nail to nail for a consistent shape.)

3. With a slightly slower speed, use a safety bit for work near the eponychium. Start on the right side of the nail and refine the groove wall, holding the bit so 50% of the bit is making contact with the nail. Contour the shape ­toward the natural nail. Curve your bit around with your wrist, and angle the nails to meet the bit. Check the profile of the eponychium area before moving on to the next nail.

4. Remove the dust with a clean, sanitary nail brush. Switch to a smoother bit and repeat Step 2. Continue to graduate your bits for a smoother surface.

Natural Nail Work

Use a natural nail bit, a natural nail rubber synthetic bit, an extra-fine diamond bit, extra-fine sanding band, or a silicone bit gently on a natural nail. Use buffing oils sparingly, Peters cautions, as they can seep up the neck of the bit into the hand piece and cause damage. Before polishing or using gel sealants, make sure to remove all of the oil for better application. When using buffing creams, make sure to rub it into the nail first; if you don’t, the cream will fly off of the nail and leave the bit spinning. You can also apply the buffing cream to the bit first, Peter says. Remember that sanding bands and cotton buffers can’t be disinfected, so throw them away after one use.

1. Gently push back the cuticle, exposing any dead excess skin. Using the bit and buffing oil, remove any ridges and smooth the nail’s texture. Use a speed between 2,500 to 6,000 RPM. Keep the bit flat to the nail. Holding it horizontally, move it from one lateral fold to the other. Remove the dead excess skin by circling over it with a bit.

2. Use an extra-fine sanding band along with the oil. Hold the bit horizontally going from one lateral fold to the other. Come up on the eponychium, keeping the bit flat.


3. Use a cotton buffer along with a buffing cream in a circular motion to bring the nail to a high shine. Massage cuticle oil into the nail.

Tips & Tricks On…

High-Shine Buffing

After filing to a smooth finish, enhancements can be shined with a buffing bit and buffing cream. Lift the bit frequently and don’t apply too much pressure; these bits can heat up quickly and burn your client. If your buffing does not produce a high gloss that means you didn’t file the nails smooth enough before buffing.

Shortening Nails

Shortening the nail should be done with a coarse barrel bit and by holding the nail with a firm grip. With the bit at a 90-degree angle on a medium speed, place the bit to the tip of the nail touching the center of the bit to the tip to shorten. Using a medium or coarse barrel bit, hold it to the tip of the nail at a 90-degree angle, making sure you have a firm grip. Use a faster RPM and shorten the nail.

Eponychium Work

Use a rounded tipped bit and hold it flat to the nail. Change the angle of how you hold the bit (keeping it flat to the nail) to get into the sidewalls.


A fill or rebalance can be done in a variety of ways. Some techs prefer to reduce the entire nail and apply a new layer of product, while some prefer to simply thin the product at the growth area. Either can be done with any shaped rounded tipped bit. Don’t touch the natural nail when filing; focus on the product as you reduce it at the eponychium area.

Shaping C-Curves

Any size barrel-shaped or tapered bits are best to use under the free edge to refine C-curves. Choose the size of the bit ­depending on the size of the underside of the C-Curve you ­­­are refining.


Graduating grits is the key to finishing nails without leaving scratches. Graduate bits from coarser to finer as with hand-held abrasives. Removing the dust each time bits are changed will make the final results smoother so you do not scratch in the previous grit with smoother grit.  

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