Illustration/Lisa Cyr

Illustration/Lisa Cyr

Say the word drill to a nail technician, and you’ll get an emotional response. Nail technicians either love ‘em or hate ‘em.

Drill – more correctly called electric filling systems – have advantages, say the technicians who favor them. They save time because they remove a lot of product quickly, they allow the technician greater control around the cuticle area, and they’re great fir cleaning the underside of the nail. Technicians who have suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome like the comfort that electric files can bring.

The nail technicians who use only hand files say electric files are scary – they’re noisy, they take up space, and they intimidate some clients. To top it off, these technicians have  seen the damage electric files can do to natural nails when they’re used improperly.

Pros and Cons

“The drill is a necessary instrument in maintaining acrylic nails. However, it has to be used properly,” says Julie Baltierra of Baltierra Nail Products in Costa Mesa, Calif. Baltierra is an educator who teaches the use of electric file.

Says Donna Beals, owner of Top Ten Tips in Sunrise, Fla., and a 10-year electric filer, “I find it finishes the nail much better than a manual file, especially when you get into the cuticle. It’s easier on the arm. I only use the drill to shorten and shape the nail, take down the seam, and correct the application of acrylic. It takes me only 45 minutes to do a full set and 30 minutes for a fill.”

Clients also enjoy the benefits of an electric file, says Fran Lawrence, nail market specialist at Brasseler U.S.A. in Savannah, Ga., and president of F&F Distributors in St. Petersburg, Fla. “If the drill is used properly, the nail tech can get closer to the back and sides of the nail plate, which helps prevent lifting, fungus, and mold,” she says. “In addition, it takes between 30% to 50% less time to file electrically than to hand file.”

The reason electric files have a dubious reputation, say their advocates, is that they’re so often misused. Many schools don’t teach electric file techniques, forcing technicians to learn on their own. Many salon owners elect not to use electric files because of their own or their clients’ bad experiences with them.

“We don’t use drills because we don’t need to,” says Linda Campana, owner of Armonds in Palm Beach, Fla. “Our product is applied thin, and when it’s applied properly, there’s no filling involved, just buffing. In this industry, there is a lot of bad work done. We’ve seen lots of damage done by drills, such as permanent dents or ridges in the nail. Our clients have seen it too. Besides, the drills take the personal part out of personal service.”

Joy Lasher’s clients were so turned off by electric files that she’s gained a lot of business by advertising “No Drills.”

“We put a sign in the window and everybody knows we don’t use drill here,” says Lasher, who owns Joy’s Nails in San Bernardino, Calif. “Our clients don’t like them. We’ve gained clients because we fo hand filing.” Lasher has also seen permanent damage done to her clients’ nails by electric files.

Drill Without Fear

An electric file is not an inherently bad instrument. Many of its problems, as well as its bad reputation, can be alleviated, if not eliminated, by using the electric file correctly. For example, an electric file can potentially damage the natural nail. Some educators and experts feel that electric files should never be used on the natural nail, while others say it can, but only to prep or finish it.

“Never use any kind of machine on the natural nail,” says Baltierra. “If you apply the frill to the nail plate, you can damage it. The so-called ‘required’ preparation is that the drill must be applied to the nail plate to allow the chemicals to adhere. But I teach preservations of the nail plate. All you have to do to prepare the nail plate for application is remove the pterygium. That should be done by gentle scraping, not by machine.”

Lawrence says, “The drill can be used on all types of nails and overlays, artificial and natural. Felt bobs and chamois wheels can be used for the final finish on natural nails. They must be used with a buffing cream. But never use carbide burs on natural nails.”

Baltierra adds, “One of these things techs think saves time is to put a lot of product on and file it all away. But if you put the proper amount of product on, you only need light use of the drill, which preserves the technician’s own health and safety as well as the client’s.”

According to a spokesperson for OPI Products in N. Hollywood, Calif., education will not only solve the problem of improper use, but will also help technicians increase speed measurably. For example, most technicians hold the hand-piece like a pencil, a position that is comfortable for them. OPI’s educators teach a grip called the free-thumb grip, which offers technicians more precision. The handpiece is held in the hand, while the thumb, braced on the client’s finger, gives extra support. OPI strongly encourages technicians to attend a class on electric filling. The company has created a booklet of instructions and photographs for technicians who can’t attend a class.

Familiarizing the Client

Elizabeth Anthony, president of Progressive Nail Concepts in Palatine, Ill., emphasizes the importance of familiarizing clients with the electric file and using burs that will not cut the skin. “When I teach electric filing, I introduce the machine to the students as a tool that allows them to accomplish a simple task more easily and with greater precision than a manual file,” Anthony says. “I also show students how to introduce the electric file to the client. I use bits that can’t cut the skin and a professional nail machine that doesn’t make a loud noise like a dentist’s drill. The first time a client comes in, I turn the electric file on, T touch my skin with it, and then I touch their skin with it. I say, ‘This is how it would feel if it touched your skin.’ When clients see that the electric file doesn’t cut them, they’re more comfortable with it.

Technicians have to sit down and explain that the electric file is a professional tool, adds OPI Products. The nail technician who has taken a class can the reassure her client that she has received the proper education using the tool. Any problems the client has experienced in the past, explains OPI, are probably due to misuse of the electric file, not the machine itself.

Anthony’s students begin using the electric file right away so they get plenty of practice in class. She finds that student models suffer from fewer punctures and less scraped skin with electric files than with filing boards.

The Right Tool

Finding the right machine is important part of using the electric file properly. Not only should electric file be comfortable and appropriate for your needs, it should also be easy to maintain and repair.

A variety of electric files is available to do the tasks a non technician requires, from cleaning under the nail to heavy-duty sculpting. “I would first ask what you are going to use the drill to do,” says Steven Greenspan, president of On the Spot Nail & Beauty Supply in Davie, Fla. “Some techs do most filing by hand and just want to clean under the tip. In that case, you don’t need a $400 machine. A small microdeluxe machine would be suitable. The nail tech who wants to do the bulk of her filing with a machine might choose a micromotor or dental type machine. The dental engines have a 1/8- to 1/5- horsepower belt-driven engine, an arm for the tool, and a foot pedal. It’s very powerful, but it can be noisy and intimidating to clients and technicians.

“The newest thing on the market is the micormotor,” continues Greenspan. “It’s a miniaturized version of the dental type machines, just as powerful but without the required maintenance of larger engines. This version is lightweight, quiet, low-maintenance, compact, portable, and less intimidating.”

Baltierra and Anthony both recommend using a machine developed specifically for the nail industry. Bob Upshaw, president of Kupa Inc. in S. Pasadena, Calif., agrees: “The dental drills have exposed belts. People can catch their hair in them, or the belts can break, fly loose, and hit someone. Also, their rpm [revolutions per minute] is too high. For the nails, you don’t need machines that run at 35,000 rpm. I like to see machines with 5,000 to 8,000 rpm maximum. Technicians need a lower speed engine that has good torque, which means they’ll continue to turn at the same speed even when they apply pressure. A good system is trouble-free, quiet, and non-vibrating.”

What should the nail technician look for in an electric filing system? “First and foremost, something that feels comfortable to work with,” says Ray Schultze, general manager of Lasco Diamond Products in Chatsworth, Calif. “The technician should make sure the bit turns true so it doesn’t wobble or hammer on the nail. If the bit vibrates, it can do damage to the customer’s nail matrix. Variable speed is also important. It’s nice to turn the machine slower when doing delicate, intricate work or faster when doing bulk reduction. Reversal is nice because technicians have the most control when going in the direction opposite the turn of the bit.”

Schultze also recommends that technicians purchase a machine that takes bits with standard size shanks. “Look for 1/8-inch or 3/2-inch sized,” he says. “If you buy a machine that doesn’t take standard size bits, you’re limited to purchasing what that manufacturer has to offer. If the manufacturer goes out of business, you have no drill bits.”

According to Upshaw, perhaps the most important item to look for when purchasing an electric filing machine is a warranty and repair service. “If a nail technician invests $300 to $500 for a system she depends on, and there’s no repair service, she’ll go crazy if it breaks,” he explains. “All systems should have a one-year [warranty] on the unit overall and six months on bearings. Repair service should be available. Get in writing what the warranty is and where repair service is available.”

Adds Lawrence, “Besides service, warranty, quality performance, power, technical support, and low maintenance, you want in-house education for all the system’s appliances.”

Bits on Bits

The bit you use is as important as the machine itself. Sanding bands, diamonds bits, carbide burs, and other attachments allow the technician to complete many tasks.

Sanding bands work like sandpaper to take down bulk quickly. “Sanding bands can be used for preparation of natural nails and shaping of acrylic overlays and sculptured nails,” says Lawrence. Because they are made of paper and can’t be sanitized, they can be used only once before they must be thrown out. They have a tendency to heat up as well.

Diamond bits work well for cleaning under the nails, shaping, and preparing for fills. They come in coarse to fine grits and can be sanitized. “Diamond bits, both synthetic and natural, can be used in all nail applications, natural nails as well as artificial,” says Lawrence. “The extra coarse, coarse, and medium bits are used for bulk reduction. Technicians using the harder acrylic products usually prefer a coarse or medium gift on a barrel-shaped diamond when taking down bulk. They then use a cone-shaped diamond of a similar grit for cleaning out the back of the nail and around the cuticle area. Natural diamond bits are more irregularly shaped and the particles tend to fracture as they wear, leaving additional cutting properties throughout the life of the bit. They are excellent for trimming silk and fiberglass wraps.

“Diamond bits absorb heat away from the nail, as both the diamond abrasive and the metal drum they are bonded to are excellent conductors of heat,” Lawrence continues.

Carbide burs have small teeth that shear the product from the nail. They perform the same tasks that a diamond bit performs and can be sanitized as well. “Carbide burs are becoming very popular,” says Lawrence. “They are the fastest cutting bur in the nail industry, and their implementation should be incorporated with caution. They should be used only by experienced nail technicians who’ve established rotary tool and instrument proficiency,” Carbide burs should not be used on the natural nail because they are designed to remove material very quickly. When used on artificial nails, they are comfortable for the client because they create little or no heat, says Lawrence.

Other bits include abrasive stones, cloth buffers, and chamois buffers. Schultze cautions against using abrasive stones. “Since they’re made from a mold, they’re rarely perfectly concentric. They hammer on the nail and get hot, he says. “Buffers can overheat the nail, which makes the client uncomfortable. To get a high gloss, use a hand buffer.”

Which bit to use is large up to the individual nail technician. Some technicians prefer sanding bands, while other prefer diamond bits or carbide burs. Whichever you use, it is important to clean and disinfect them between each client – or dispose of the paper sanding bands. “Acrylic can adhere to the facets of a diamond bit or carbide bur,” says Gerri Cevetillo, group manager at Ultronic in New York N.Y. “To remove the acrylic, soak the bit in acetone. After cleaning the bit, you need to disinfect it.” Cleaning the bit first will help you while disinfection systems do the best just possible.

Pay Attention While Filing

Don’t forget that as the professional nail technician you are the most important part of an electric filing system.

“Pay attention to what you’re doing,” says Beals. “No talking on the phone while you’re working, and don’t look away. Children should be kept away from the machine.”

Schultze adds, “Wear some sort of glasses when you’re using the machine.” Manufacturers also recommend that hair be pulled back while working with a machine.

“Take care not to drop the micromotor handpiece and controller,” Lawrence says, “and don’t use rusty bits or bent mandrels.” Lawrence also recommends that technicians not start the motor before mounting the bit or bur. “Don’t let water, oil, or dust to get into the micromotor handpiece and controller,” cautions Lawrence.

Use the electric file only on nails that are healthy, “If someone is a nail biter, every time they bite that artificial nail off, the natural nail becomes thinner,” says Beals. “If you see that, don’t put an electric file to it.”

Upshaw says, “If the client has an aversion to a mechanical piece of equipment, the technician should back down or have the client try one nail first. If the client doesn’t like the electric file, don’t use it.”

A Matter of Preference

Although an electric file is a time-saving tool when used properly, some salon owners and nail technicians still choose not to use one. Many technicians are going “back to basics” these days and want the personal touch and control that hand filing allows them, They may feel that “handmade” nails pay homage to their craftsmanship. Clients may also like the quiet and relaxation of a salon that doesn’t use electric files.

“Our clients would rather be worked on by hand than by machine,” says Campana. “Not using the machine makers for a more relaxed atmosphere.”

Says Anthony, “I’d rather go to the technician with the most up-to-date, precise equipment.”

If you use and electric file, it’s crucial that you use the proper tool in the correct way, and that you educate your clients so they’ll know when a technician is using one properly. If you don’t use one, be sure your client understands the reasons behind your choice and that an electric file is safe if used properly. That way, you can be sure that the choice you make best serves your client.

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