Ask the experts about proper filing techniques and they’re likely to tell you to do what’s comfortable and what looks good. A little vague. Ask which emery board to use and they’ll say it depends on the product and personal preference. A little too general.

But it’s true. There are many variables that enter into a process like filing. You have to relate the personality of the technician with her client and match the function of the board with the product. It’s difficult to recommend any specific style or technique with circumstances like these.

The key is in knowing your tools, your product and your clients. Through practice and experience each technician develops her own personal style. It’s just a matter of getting started on that learning process.

Many manufacturers supply a board with their product as part of a kit. Work with that board until you are familiar with the product you have chosen to use. Once you know the product’s characteristics and you have evaluated any problems you encounter, you can begin to experiment with other boards that are on the market.

You’ll want to find a board that’s comfortable to hold. Consider the shape, size, weight and balance of the board. If you’ve been using a standard seven-inch board, you might find you’re more comfortable with a shorter board, one that’s tapered or one that’s a different shape altogether. If a two-sided board is too rough for your hands consider a board with one side that’s less coarse, or try a protective handle.

If you feel you spend too much time filing, it may be that the product you’re using will be compatible with a more aggressive abrasive, which will increase your speed and reduce filing time.

Evaluate the flexibility of the board. Does it curve gently to conform to the shape of the nail, or is it too stiff? Check to see if the surface puckers when the board is flexed or if it bends smoothly.

Before you start remember to keep your hands steady by bracing them against something to help guide your hands and keep them from slipping. Use the top or edge of your station, or pop your wrist on the palm or side of the opposite hand.

To speed your filing, follow a system, so that if you are interrupted, you won’t forget where you were last filing. A consistent procedure will ensure an even, well shaped nail.

When filing natural nails, use only a standard garnet emery board. Boards designed for acrylic nails are too abrasive for natural nails, and metal files cannot be cleaned and sterilized sufficiently. Remember to file in one direction only, never in a back and forth motion, as this may cause layers of the nail to split.

Begin by filing in one direction along the tip of the nail. Using long, even strokes, shape each side by following the line of the nail wall from the base of the free edge upward, slightly rounding the corners to eliminate any sharp points. Create a square, round or oval shape according to the contour of the fingers.

Filing sculptured nails is more complex and requires a variety of techniques. Below are some general guidelines: they are not intended to be specific instructions for perfecting the sculptured nail (such as levelling high and low spots or removing excess product, etc.). The points will get you started on practicing your technique.

  1. Hold the finger securely with your thumb and forefinger, holding the cuticle back if necessary to avoid filing too deep or cutting the finger. (Remember how sharp emery boards can be.)
  2. Using the rounded end of a coarse two-sided emery board, start by gently going around the cuticle on the nail (not the skin). Use short, careful strokes until the nail is smooth.
  3. Next, file the center of the nail by pressing firmly and filing from the cuticle to the free edge (toward yourself). Start with short strokes at the cuticle, gradually using longer strokes.
  4. Once the center is smooth and even, begin working on one side, then the other. When shaping the sides, angle the emery board slightly and go from the center to the side of the free edge, curving the nail with the file. Whether you use long or short strokes will depend on which side of the nail you’re working on and the angle of the board. Again, it’s case of what’s most comfortable for you. Work until smooth at the nail wall.
  5. When the plate of the nail is thin enough to look natural, proceed to shape the nail. Holding the emery at an angle, begin along one side of the nail at the groove. Gently pull the side of the finger down to allow the emery to fit between the groove and the sculptured nail. Move the emery in an upward direction (and remove any product lodged in between). Then file down toward the cuticle. As you file the side of the nail should begin to look as though it is smoothly coming out of the cuticle. Repeat this procedure on the other side of the nail.
  6. To get a nice shape that does not curve in too much, line the emery board up with the nail wall and file straight out, making sure the file is not tilted. This will give a straight nail that can be rounded or squared off as desired.

Only practice and experience will prepare you for every situation with a given product. You’ll also find it helpful to compare notes and techniques with other manicurists. Observing someone else, or having another technician observe you, can also be enlightening. Eventually you’ll have perfected your own personal style of filing.

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