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The Ultimate At-Home Guide to Shaping Your Nails Like A Pro

By: Sarah Federico, Beauty and Wellness Writer

At-home beauty techniques can range from simple upkeep – to the downright baffling. Because, just when we figured out how to achieve the perfect iteration of the beachy brow, we’re required to execute near magician-like makeup tricks. We’re looking at you watercolor lids. Now, it seems that this feat of excellence extends to shaping our nails at home, too.

But armed with the right techniques – plus expert approved tips and tricks – you can learn to file and shape your tips, with ease. From choosing the perfect shape to learning the best tools for the job, discover our foolproof guide, which will instantly improve the look of your nails – and can help to prevent splitting and breaking, too.

Choose Your Nail Shape

Before you get down to filing, you’ll need to decide on your nail’s optimal shape. “Examine your hands, fingers, and nails to get an idea about their relative proportions, then choose the nail shape that suits you best,” Jin Soon Choi, celebrity manicurist and founder of JINsoon nail salon in New York.

Also, remember to keep your nail length in mind when choosing a shape. “Most people need to start out with squares when their nails are short, then file to oval and then taper further to an almond,” says Los Angeles nail artist Fariha Ali. “It’s much easier to maintain longer natural nails with the almond or oval shape, since the sides are less prone to impact and wear and tear.”

The Tools

For expertly shaped nails at home, all you need is a pair of sharp nail clippers and a good nail file. “Nail clippers come in different shapes, straight or curved edges, and it’s all a matter of preference,” explains Chelsea King, celebrity and editorial manicurist. For square shapes, King recommends a straight edged clipper. For all other shapes, a curved edged tool will suffice. “As for nail files, I like to stick a 180 or 240 grit – the higher the grit the smoother the file.” But she advises not to invest in a nail file that’s too rough. “It will tear the nail and can cause future breakage.”

How-to: Square Shape

“First, use a straight edge nail clipper to trim your nails as straight as you can. It’s best not to trim the nail in one clip, but rather clip across the nail a couple of times,” King notes. “Then, use your file perpendicular and 90 degrees flat on the nail and file in one direction.”

How-to: Round Shape

Simple to achieve and perfect for shorter tips, round shaped styles are considered an ideal, low-maintenance solution for active wearers. To accomplish a round shape, use a curved nail clipper to rough out your desired form and length. Next, round out the corners of the nail with your file. Remove and sharp edges underneath the nails to prevent the silhouette from snagging or tearing.

How-to: Almond Nails 

Somewhere between rounded and pointed, oval shaped nails are ideal for maintaining longer lengths. Working from left to center and then right to center, work in a single direction and use long strokes to prevent shredding and splitting. “Do one to three strokes at a time, stopping to check to make sure that both sides are even,” says Mimi D, celebrity manicurist. It’s better to go slow and steady instead of over-filing on the sides.

How-to: Coffin Nails

“A true coffin shape is usually only possible on longer nail lengths, and it’s possible to transition to coffin from long almonds or squares,” says Ali. “I would suggest professional [guidance] when doing the first shaping, and then maintain the shape at home with the help of a 180-grit nail file.”

Regardless of your desired length and shape, you can use these simple at-home methods to achieve your goals. Use this guide to get started in the right direction – and you can look forward to perfectly flawless tips, anytime.