Nail Tech 101

Everything you wish you had learned in nail school.... and now you're too embarrassed to admit you didn't!

Well fear no more! We ALL have stuff we didn't quite get back in school. Maybe your school just didn't teach it, or perhaps your education is just a little "dated" or rusty. Eventually this page will be nice and organized, but for now, it will just be a big list of information I'll keep adding as I think of it.


The higher the grit, the SOFTER the file. The lower the grit, the coarser the file. 80 grit files are very coarse. Then you have 100 and 120's. 180 to 240's are about "medium" if there is such a thing. Then there are "fine" files, and finally buffing type grits that go into the thousands.

The Basics of Filing Shape in Nails

The "trick" with filing shape is how you hold your file (angle) and what perspectives you look at to check the shape.... For rounded nails: Hold the file flatter as you file underneath (bevel) the free edge. (180 degrees is perfectly flat under the nail)For square: Hold it straight on (perpendicular) to the free edge. The "flatter" your file, the rounder the nail. (Straight on, dead square is a 0 degree -i.e.: none! - tilt of the file!)Practice this shaping technique by varying the angle on the file to produce different shapes of nails.Whatever angle you hold the file at in relation to the nail as you shape, just be sure it's the SAME angle on all 10 nails. This will also help to keep the shape the SAME on both sides of the nail (left and right)... and watch out for "drag" on the side you are handed. You will tend to file heavier on one side than the other, causing lopsided nails. Check this by looking at (and re-filing as needed) the nails from another angle (such as hold the hand up in front of you to see it, see "views" explanation below).Make a habit of checking the nail from 7 different vantagepoints when checking the shaping (identical of course) and the contouring (think almonds here!)
The 7 usual views of the nail to consider are:
1) Our usual filing view (overall picture),
2) Left side lateral (landscape contouring and arches),
3) Right side (landscape contouring and arches),
4) Down the barrel ("C" Curve),
5) Held up in front of you forwards (shaping and proportionality),
6) Backwards view or the backside of the hand and nails (evenness and proportionality),
7) Clients view, turn the hand around to see what they see from their perspective (overall picture again!).
Consistent and constant use of these 7 steps can eventually train your eye to see "most" common and obvious flaws from just one or two angles instead of needing to see all 7.... (Unless you are in a competition of course, then of course you always check them all!).

Clarification on a few of the angles

#5) Held up in front of you forwards (shaping and proportionality), Hand is held with knuckles facing you (the tech) and palm facing client, fingers pointed skyward.

#6) Backwards view or the backside of the hand and nails (evenness and proportionality), This is the reverse of #5.... Palm toward tech, knuckle side to client, fingers still pointing skyward (clients elbow resting on table)
#7) Clients view: turn the hand around to see what they see from their perspective (overall picture again!). This is similar to #5 except it's like looking down the barrel of the nails from the cuticle end, not the FE end. Palm is toward table, knuckle side up, nails pointing toward client, client elbow and wrist turned around toward tech. This is the lying down or flat view of #5 (while 5 is the standing up or vertical view.)
You may find different shaping and contouring "errors" from each different perspective and it will help train your eye to see the overall picture better. Through the years it is good to go back and check yourself from time to time to check for a regular pattern such as left handed drag causing lopsided nails in shaping. Beware: some views may contradict one another though, you will find from time to time, since natural nails grown out under an enhancement overlay (as in many fills down the road) are never perfect (like one side dips down on a FE), so you must pick and choose then what angles to compromise on to give the best overall effect and maintain strength! (Making a nail match-up perfectly from one view will give a thick nail look from another view in this scenario)

Choosing Nail Shape

Choosing shape is a compromise between many factors. Client preference is just one of them. Clients many times will unknowingly ask for shapes that may be incompatible with their lifestyles or not flattering to their hands. It is my job as the professional to educate her on other factors that will affect the final decision on shape, such as her lifestyle, habits, hobbies, nail health, length she is going to wear them, her nail and finger width, length, etc.Generally the most flattering shape for fingernails will be a Free Edge that somewhat mirrors their lanula (moon), which will tend to be somewhat squoval for most (some rounder, some squarer). But of course, squarer tends to be stronger. Length can be a factor too, as some clients see shaping of the FE to include all the sidewalls in the FE too; I let them know that "pointy" tapered nails are not durable, and therefore not an option! Rounded nails get rounded at the FE only, for short to med. nails that does mean almost the entire FE, for long nails that means straight sidewalls (as they come out of the groove) and then round shaping at the end only.So by educating our clients on what shapes will flatter their hands the most and hold up ('cause how flattering are constantly broken nails anyway) to their length and lifestyle, I can generally compromise on a shape that works out well for us both!

Polishing Nails

Use all new polish of one brand for now to help you define your technique consistently. You are right, clients polish is usually bad, and I rarely allow clients to bring in their own, as I can't guarantee the "results" with it (especially in combo w/ my UV top coat)! Polishes should be thinned once only. When they thicken again after that it's time to toss them! Thin only with thinner and not acetone. Keep bottles securely closed and out of sunlight. Air exposure (the # of times the bottle is opened) greatly affects longevity. First coat of polish is for coverage. Lay it down near cuticle and push toward and then back from cuticle in one movement, then still without lifting brush, now push it around the horseshoe to one side near cuticle then pull out. Repeat as needed to cover the nail for complete and total coverage, not being concerned about streaks or complete evenness. 2nd coat of polish is for evenness. Try to do this in 3 (or 4 max) strokes and float this coat on for smoothness and glossy look. Small ridges and streaks will level themselves out given enough time and if you are using enough polish. Be sure to pull out and over free edge end. Load brush, lay down near cuticle, push toward and pull back out in one stroke. Sometimes it helps to release some of the polish from the brush to the middle or tip of the nail so that you don't flood the cuticle, then go back and move that polish back into the rest. Sometimes it helps to let polish dry a minute or two more before adding topcoat layer, so that your topcoat does not streak the polish (especially frosts and sheers!). Float topcoat on in long, even stokes, paying close attention to the free edge! Key point: Polish is already starting to dry when you remove it from the bottle, so you must work quickly. Drying of the polish causes it to streak, so do not overwork the polish trying to get rid of streaks; you will only make more! Put the polish where it belongs and "trust" that it will work itself out, it almost always does if you just leave it alone... and topcoat can smooth out some slight imperfections as well.

Length of Nail Extensions

Part of many newer techs problems may be in allowing clients to dictate the length of their nails to begin with, which is too long for many of them. As professionals we need to educate clients on proper extension lengths and consult with and educate them. I explain that they can "grow" to a longer length as we go along in the fills, and that we should only do an extension of 25 to 50% at the initial full-set to avoid breakage, lifting, or wear problems. If clients don't want to follow my professional recommendations then I can't guarantee my work!

Shortening Of lengths between appointments? Let clients know that with any artificial service we

build the nails balance (arches) in proportion to length. So changing the length between fills will disturb the balance. Nails should only be shortened at fills. If they must have them shortened then they should book a fill appointment.

800 numbers for technical questions

Write down the 800 phone #'s of the products you use and keep them at your station. Next time you have an urgent technical question just call them up... most companies are staffed with people who can answer your questions right away on the phone! Don't hesitate to call, that's what they are there for.

Let me know what else you'd like to see added here by leaving me a message on my message boards or by posting a question to my newsletter at:, be sure to put "Basics Question" in the subject field.