If you get regular manicures or you typically use nail clippers instead of a file, you may never have learned how to safely file your nails. Filing keeps nails strong and healthy while also giving them your desired shape.

It’s possible to file incorrectly and actually make your nails weaker and more jagged. Let’s cover how to file nails safely so they don’t peel, crack, or break.

Having the right tools for filing your nails is helpful to keep your nails healthy and strong. Here are the tools you’ll need before you get started:

  • Fingernail clippers. These are helpful for trimming long nails before filing.
  • A nail file. This can be a classic emery board, though glass files are often recommended because they’re gentle on the nails and easier to clean. Nail files should be cleaned to prevent the spread of bacteria.
  • A nail oil and cuticle oil. These can help repair frayed nails and prevent future breakage.

Your nails have a natural shape that’s largely genetic, and it’s typically either round or square. The shape of your cuticle and nail bed usually determines the natural shape of your nail.

It can be most flattering and easy to maintain if you work with your natural shape. When trying a new nail style, it’s best to leave the shaping to a professional nail technician.

It’s not recommended that you remove the cuticle on toenails or fingernails.

Below are several popular nail shapes:

  • Almond. Almond nails resemble, you guessed it, almonds, with tapered sides that meet at a rounded peak.
  • Round. Round nails resemble the tip of the fingernail and are a common natural shape. Typically, the sides are filed straight then lead into a semicircle tip.
  • Square. Square nails are flat across the top with straight, sharp corners. These work best on shorter nails or nails that are naturally square or rectangular in shape.
  • Coffin. Coffin nails are filed to get narrower as they move away from the nail bed, then come to a blunt square point at the tip. The shape resembles a coffin, but it’s also sometimes called “ballerina” because it looks like the square toe of a ballet shoe.
  • Squoval. Squoval (squared oval) nails are similar to square nails, except the edges are slightly rounded to create a softer, more oval shape.
  • Stiletto. Stiletto nails are similar to almond, though they come to a sharper point at the tip. The shape is filed into a sharp point and is usually worn long, though a shorter version of the stiletto is sometimes called a “mountain peak.”

If you have long nails, the process of filing them is slightly different than how you would file shorter nails.

  • If you want to get rid of extra length, cut the nail before filing.
  • Think of the nail in two sections: the right and the left.
  • Hold your fingers toward your face. You can do this by making a half-fist, with the underside of your wrist facing up and nails bent toward your face.
  • Start from one of the outside corners and file toward the center. Don’t file back and forth across the entire nail tip because it can damage the nail.
  • When you achieve the desired length and shape on one side, file from the opposite corner toward the center.
  • Go slowly. If you file too fast, you’ll take off too much nail too quickly, which makes it hard to achieve a desired shape.

You can shape short nails as you would long nails, with slight differences.

  • You don’t need to cut the nails if they’re already short, but if they’re uneven, cut them all to about the same length.
  • Start on the outside corner and file toward the middle, then do the opposite corner.
  • Don’t saw back and forth.
  • With short nails, it’s especially important that you go slowly because if they get too short, it can be painful.

When filing your nails, you don’t want to bring the file back and forth across the nail in a sawing motion. This can fray the nail and even damage the nail bed and cuticle.

The whole nail may move (sort of like a loose tooth) if you file this way.

Filing your nails is a good way to keep a uniform length and shape, and it can keep nails from breaking.

However, it’s easy to file your nails incorrectly, which can lead to jagged, frayed nails, and even nail bed or cuticle damage.

It’s best to file from the outer corner into the center of the nail and repeat the motion on both sides rather than sawing back and forth with the file.