How to File and Shape Your Nails

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This post is dedicated to Emily, one of my day-job colleagues. I’d link to her Instagram/Twitter/Blog…but she doesn’t have one…yet…

This article is going to explain how I file and shape my nails and I will also share some of the ‘best practices’ for filing and shaping nails. Most of my knowledge comes from reading Ana’s articles on She thoroughly researches nail care so we don’t have to. Thanks, Ana! :*

My Shaping Routine

Thank goodness for stoplights! At every stoplight, I am either oiling my cuticles or shaping my nails. I’m actually a little disappointed when I get a green light. According to Ana, about 20 strokes with a nail file takes off one week of nail growth. A few times per week, I will do about 5 strokes per nail. This keeps my nails at a consistent shape and length.

My preferred shape is square, but there are many common shapes to chose from:


Photo From:

(Mountain Peak is also commonly known as Stiletto.)

Once you’ve decided on your preferred shape, you will want to slowly coax your nail into that shape. Unless you have really long nails and can take off a lot of length to change shapes, this is going to be a work in progress. Each time you file, you’ll want to file with your goal shape in mind. Since my shape is square, I always file with the file parallel to the tip of my nail. This keeps the edge as flat as possible. I don’t ever file the sides. But, if you want an almond or round style, you’ll move the file in an arc motion to encourage that shape.

Best Practices for Filing Nails

There are a few commonly accepted best practices for filing nails and I have found them to be true.

  • Use an etched glass or crystal nail file. My favorites are from or Mont Bleau from Amazon.

    • Why? Glass or crystal files are much easier on your nails than emory board files. The grit is finer and strong meaning that it takes less pressure to file more effectively. I think of it like the difference between cutting with a sharp steak knife versus a butter knife. You need less pressure and fewer strokes if the knife is sharp. Same thing with fine, strong grit nail files. Etched glass/crystal also does not wear down so you can use the same file for years to come. Unless, of course, you drop it on a tile floor…When I first switched from disposable files to glass, it took a little getting used to. I didn’t like it at first but after using glass for about a week, I know now that I will never go back to paper files.
  • File in one direction. When I first heard this advice, I thought it was just one direction – ever. Then, after talking with Ana, I realized it’s one direction at a time. So, I’ll do a few strokes to the right and then a few strokes to the left.
    • Why? If you file your nail like a saw (back and forth and back and forth), it’s going to cause a lot of torque which can damage your nail. This torque can cause peeling and weakness in the nail.
  • File while your nails are still painted.
    • Why? This reduces tricks that your eyes play on you! Most of us don’t have symmetrical half moons and nail lines (where your nail is grown out past your finger). These asymmetrical lines will play tricks on you! If you file with bare nails, your eyes will want to follow these lines and then when you put on polish, your nails don’t look even or nicely shaped! Since we all want our nails to look even once polish is on, then you should file with polish on. That way, these tricky lines are covered and you can focus on what the shape will be at the end of a mani.


You might have noticed that I didn’t mention nail clippers in this article. Unless you want to take off a lot of length, you don’t need them. 20 strokes per week will keep your nails at a consistent length. A few times, I did let my nails get way too long. In that case, I used clippers to take off just a millimeter or two. Then, I used a glass file to take it down the rest of the way to my desired length. It’s generally thought that clippers might encourage peeling since they are so hard on your nails. Therefore, I try to avoid them unless absolutely necessary. If you do use them, make sure to get ones that are as sharp as possible. Here are the ones I use from Amazon.

I hope you found this article helpful! (Especially you, Emily!) If you have more questions or something still doesn’t make sense, please let me know! Then, i will update the article! Thanks for stopping by!

Author: Anne

Blogging about makeup, dogs, and mostly NAIL POLISH!