It’s hard to overcome a history of adversity, but today’s electric files have come a long way, baby. With some patience and practice, techs can get a lot of help from this handy tool.

Which Handle Shape Suits You?

Nail techs can be funny about brushes, and each one has a preference when it comes to shape, weight, length of bristles, thickness of bristles, etc. The hand piece of the electric file will elicit similar opinions. A couple design features to consider:

Where is the majority of weight of the hand piece? Some drills can make a tech’s hand tired by the end of the day from trying to keep a heavily weighted hand piece elevated. Choose a handle that allows the drill to be held as a pencil.

Is the end of the bit head easy to see when the handle is at a 45-degree angle? Some drills better suited to hobbies than nails flare at the end, presenting an obstacle for techs.

Choosing Your Bit Head

Once you’ve determined which drill to purchase, you’ll need to decide which bit head you prefer. Again, much of this is preference — what you choose is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. However, each has strengths and weaknesses.

CARBIDE - Carbide bits have flutes cut into them that provide the cutting power. The more flutes on a bit, the finer the cut. A carbide bit reduces material by acting like a potato peeler, shaving layers off while leaving the surface smooth.

Strengths: Can be disinfected for multiple uses, durable, available with different coarseness and in many shapes and sizes.

Weaknesses: The edges of a new carbide bit can be sharp. (Smooth the edge with a nail file or an old diamond bit before using on a client.) Some carbide bits don’t work well in reverse (for left-handed techs) because of the direction of the shave; however, double-cut or crisscross designs are available.

DIAMOND - Diamond bits are made by applying an adhesive to a shank and rolling it in diamond material that dries on the shank. The diamond particles file the nails by scratching the surface to remove material.

Strengths: Can be disinfected for multiple uses, are available in a variety of grits, shapes, and sizes.

Weaknesses: Course-grit bit heads can be sharp for novice techs.

SANDING BANDS - Sanding bands are disposable files in the shape of a barrel. They slip over the head of a mandrel. Sanding bands, like traditional nail files, come in different grits.

Strengths: Inexpensive, disposable

Weaknesses: The material generates a lot of heat; the “seam” on the band can snap during use.

Bit Heads … Abbreviated

Two basic bit heads will get techs started: a barrel bit (or a safety bit, which has a rounded tip) and an under-the-nail bit. However, as skills improve, techs may want to expand their repertoire of bits. For that, choose bit heads that are job-specific. Listed here are popular styles and their most common uses. Remember, for many of these bit shapes, you still have the choice of materials, such as carbide or diamond. Which material you choose is simply a matter of preference.

Natural nail bit: Safe on natural nails, including toenails.

Tapered cone/UNC: Regardless of what you call it, this little tool is ideal for cleaning the tight spots under the nail.

Cone: Another handy tool for under the nails or for running along the cuticle.

Small barrel and large barrel: Used for surface work, shortening, and backfills. Bits come in different sizes and coarseness to satisfy any tech.

Mandrel/sanding bands: Made of paper, so they are not able to be sanitized. Bits must be discarded after one use. Bands slide over the mandrels.

Pedicure bit: Comes in many shapes and sizes. Some pedicure bits have a hollowed-out inside to reduce heat. Electric files are excellent at removing calluses.

Prepper bit: Prep nails and gently remove ridges on toenails using this smooth bit.

French fill bit: Create a trench with ease using this specially designed bit.

Backfill bit: These bits come in different sizes. Techs choose the size depending on the amount of growth on the client’s nail.

Inverted backfill bit: Another option for fills. An ideal bit to trench and remove product at the tip of the nail.

Buffing bits: Some buffing bits are made from chamois, some from silicone, and others from rubber. Chamois buffers cannot be disinfected, but they are washable. Silicone bits can be filed down (similar to a pencil) and then disinfected. Rubber bits can be disinfected.

What Is RPM?

RPM stands for revolutions per minute. What does that mean to you? Munkel gives some general rules about drill speeds:

For prepping the nail, techs usually keep the RPM under 5,000. Generally, the drill is also at this low speed when the tech is doing work that requires the drill to be at a 45-degree angle.

When techs remove old product or shorten nails, the RPM reach speeds close to 15,000.

Once new product has been applied, and techs begin shaping and finishing, RPM hover around 10,000.

How to Clean and Disinfect Bit Heads


1. Remove all loose nail product with a wire brush.

2. Wash the bit head with soap and water, or soak in acetone for 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Immerse the entire bit, including the shank, in an approved disinfectant and soak per manufacturer’s instructions.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Whether you’ve done nails for two weeks or two years, it’s intimidating to use an electric file in the beginning. Instead of practicing on clients, Kupa’s Vicki Peters suggests honing your skills at home.

Glue a tip to the end of a dowel rod or rounded clothes pin. A dowel is your perfect practice tool, because you can hold it like a finger.

Shorten the tip to a normal wearable length.

Practice using the electric file on a soft nail tip before applying any acrylic. This will teach you how to use very light pressure. You can overlay it later to practice your backfill and smile line.

Practice using the drill at different speeds and with different pressure. In no time you’ll be ready to work on clients.

You can use an electric file for everything except defining the perimeter of the nail, says Peters.

A Matter of Preference

Some questions about e-files don’t have a “right” answer. Instead, it’s up to the individual tech to determine what works best for you, considering your work style and space. In this category you find the issue of a foot pedal vs. a hand control. Whether to opt for carbide bits, diamond bits, or sanding bands is similarly a matter a preference. But some things are set in stone:

The bit must be sanitized and disinfected (and possibly put through an autoclave) after each client. Sanding bands must be thrown away after each client. No exceptions.

The drill must have variable speeds. Drills that offer only an on-and-off switch are better suited to home improvement than hand improvement.

Electric files should not generate heat on a client’s nail bed. Use a gentle touch. Electric files should not vibrate and bounce all over the nail.

Electric File Tid-Bits

Electric files create friction, and friction creates heat. So when a client complains of heat a tech should slow down, right? Not necessarily, according to Robert Munkel, educator for Medicool, American Beauty Skills Alliance, and Isabel Cristina. “If the nail gets hot, it could be from working too slow,” says Munkel. “If the speed is too low, techs increase pressure.” Instead, he suggests, techs should increase speed and reduce the pressure — and consequently the amount of friction being applied to the nail.


Balance: To get balance and better control when using an electric file, anchor your fingers against each other.

Fun Fact: Some experienced nail techs change bits as many as six to eight times during a fill.

Frustrating fact: Most techs pass licensing requirements having never held, or been trained on, an electric file.

Where to Find Training

Your best bet is always a trained technician who will work with you one-on-one, so try to find a local tech who is willing to train you. If that proves impossible, use these online resources: Kupa Inc., Medicool Inc., Beauty Skills.  You can also view electric file related videos at NAILS TV.

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