Nail drill bits used with electric nail drills

If you are starting to use an electric nail file either on your nails or to practice to become a nail technician, choosing which drill bit for which nail application is so confusing because there are so many types available. A nail drill bit is simply a nail file that is used to shape artificial nails using a rotating motion. They are attached to an electrically-motorized handpiece to perform different filing tasks to save a nail technician’s time and hand-filing efforts.

For a beginner, a mandrel with sanding bands is sufficient.

Whether you are planning to practice or work on gel polish or more advanced nail enhancements such as dipping powder, hard gel or acrylics, knowing which drill bit to practice will reduce your practice time and increase efficiency later.

What is a nail drill bit

A nail drill bit has two main sections that adjacent to each other, a shank and its head. The shank is a small cylindrical rod compared with the head. The industry’s standard for the shank is either 1/8 or 3/32 inch in diameter. The 1/8 in shanks are used in the older nail drills and 3/32 in. shanks are used primarily in table-top or portable nail drills.

Nail drill bits owe their origin to their predecessor drill bits that were used to work on various hard materials like wood, plastic or metals. The earliest drill bit that was used on natural nails was a simple mandrel or a cylindrical rod on which a sanding band is attached to do finishing touches on artificial nails.

Over time, more drill bits were made either from better materials or were developed to do more specific tasks such as doing fill-ins of no longer popular pink and white powder, cleaning removing excess of acrylics under a nail or removing of gel polish topcoat.

Are nail drill bits universal?

Any 3/32 in. in diameter shank nail drill bit will only work with nail drills that accept 3/32 shanks and 1/8 in. in diameter shank drill bits can only work with nail drills that use 1/8 in. drill bits specifically.

Because of a variety of available sizes and shapes, it is difficult for someone new in the industry to know their specific uses and what they can and can not do. There are four distinct types of nail drill bits.

The basic mandrel and sanding bands

This is the oldest drill bits used in artificial nails going back as far as the late 1980s. It was and still is being used by many nail technicians because of its versatility, ease of use and relatively inexpensive to operate and are the only drill bits that could be used on natural nails due to their similarity with an emery board or a nail file.

Sanding bands have three different levels of coarseness: fine, medium and coarse. It was this basic drill bit that enabled the early generation of nail technicians to create a countless number of beautiful sets of acrylic nails for their customers when this product dominated the nail industry in the late 1980s and up to 2000s.

Fine sanding band: is used to gently roughen up the natural nail surface to create a good bond between acrylics an natural nails.

Medium sanding band: is used to clean up the excess around the cuticles, under the nails or around the tips after acrylic application.

Coarse sanding band: is used to trim or shorten long acrylic nails during fill-ins or new full sets.

Even though many nail technicians now own many different kinds of drill bits, they still use mandrel with fine sanding bands to roughen up nail surfaces instead of emery boards before gel polish or any other artificial nail applications like acrylics, hard gel or dipping powder.

Basic drum or barrel type metal drill bits

These look like a mandrel with abrasive elements built-in. they are called differently mainly for the high-quality materials that they are made of, stainless steel, high alloy steel, carbide, tungsten carbide, diamond, ceramic just to name a few. Some are coated in gold finish.

Like the sanding bands, metal nail drill bits usually have three basic different levels of coarseness.

Fine metal drill bits: is used mainly for smooth out the top of artificial nails. They can also be used to clean or smooth out the powder along cuticle curves.

Medium metal drill bits: is used to smooth out lumpy spots accidentally formed by acrylics, dipping powder or gel.

Coarse metal drill bits: it is very sharp so it must not be used on natural nails. Coarse metal drill bits are used to remove gel topcoat, thin down hard gels or acrylic powder on natural nails to speed up the removal process.

The edge at the tip of the coarse meta drill bit is also very sharp so it is often used to fix acrylic nail cracks.

All drum or barrel type drill bits can have a variation in which their edges at the tips are rounded off to remove the sharpness. These types of drill bits are safer to work around skin and cuticles.

Cone or pointy metal drill bits

These types of drill bits are primarily used to clean out or remove excess acrylics or gel which deposited under the nails during their application.

They can have a cone shape, pointy tip or rounded tips. They are very useful tools to remove excess under the nails because of their relatively smaller or thinner.

Drill bits for specific applications

Drill bits to remove gel polishes: the medium metal drill bit with a rounded edge is very efficient in removing the gel top coat before gel polish is soaked off or wrapped.

Which nail drill bit is best for acrylics: mandrel with three sanding band types.

Nail drill bits for dipping powder nails: mandrel with 3 types of sanding bands

Drill bits for pink and white acrylics: in addition to drill bits for doing acrylics, pink and white acrylics also have two additional drill bits. They are called two-week fill-in or four-week fill-in drill bits. As the names suggest, they are for fill-ins after two or four weeks.

Nail drill bit safety

Warning: do it at your own risk! Wear protective gorges while you practice with drill bits.

Never turn the nail drill up to the highest speed setting because the drill bit could break apart and the fragments could fly into your eyes.

For beginners, the safest one to practice with is the mandrel with sanding bands because they offer them the feeling of sanding and gain the experience of handling the nail drill handpiece without accidentally cutting themselves.

How a nail drill bit works

The head of the drill bits has a series of small cutting edges that are created in a way that they can remove other softer materials when pressed against.

Because the cutting edges of burrs are so small, they can often be touched when spinning by a finger without cutting the skin, which flexes out of the way, although it would not be safe to pinch or grip them from two sides. Hard metal or ceramic workpieces cannot flex beyond the cutting edges, so the tools remove material from them. 


Since the cutting edges of the nail drill bit are formed in one direction, they can only remove material if pushed in one direction only. Therefore, there are so-called right-hand and left-hand nail drill bits.

Nail drill bits for beginners

Only the mandrels and 3 types of sanding bands should be used.

For beginners, the safest one to practice with is the mandrel with sanding bands because they offer them the feeling of sanding and gain the experience of handling the nail drill handpiece without accidentally cutting themselves.

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How to practice with nail drill bits

The handpiece

To practice with drill bits, you should practice how to hold the handpiece comfortably first.

Hold the handpiece the same way you hold a pen. Improve your finger, hand and wrist flexibility by moving or rotating them with the handpiece in hand. For the next few days, carry a highlight pen of similar size in diameter with your nail drill handpiece and practice this exercise whenever your hand is free.

Finding someone who is brave enough to sit down and lend you a hand so you can practice your nail-drilling skill is rare and practicing on real nails is not recommended because you have not mastered it yet and the chance of hurting or cutting that person and yourself is very high.

Cheap dummy fingers

The best and cheapest dummy fingernails that you can practice on is a piece of white PVC pipe. You need about four pieces of 5 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. You can get them at your local hardware stores. They usually sell them by the foot. Do ask a friendly sales associate to cut them to the right length for you.

Practice on the dummy fingers

You need to practice to improve the flexibility of your fingers, hand and wrist. Start the nail drill at a low speed that you are comfortable with and start filing freely the PVC pipe away. In the beginning, just practice to get a feel for the drilling sensation on your hands and see how powerful and dangerous your nail drill is at the same time.

After you are comfortable with sanding The three main exercises that you can do is first hold a pen with your dominant hand and:

  1. Draw or write an imaginary letter “i” by moving only your fingers up and down.
  2. Draw an imaginary circle by rotating your wrist.
  3. Move it side to side by turning only your wrist.

Practice these two activities when your hands are free for the next few days.

When you are comfortable at a low-speed setting, you can gradually increase the nail drill speed but never turn the speed up more than halfway because it is not safe and necessary to go that high. Take your time and do not force yourself. If you get a cut or an accident, it will set you back time-wise and your confidence. Exercise safety and do wear protective goggles.

3. Practice using all three types of sanding bands so you know what each of them can do.

The more you practiced on the dummy fingers, the less damage you will do to natural nails.

Practice drill bit on your own nails

After days of practicing using drill bits on dummy fingers, you have built up confidence, the skill of using drill bits and also having great flexibility on your hand and wrist. Now you can practice on your own nails.

1. Practice on your own nails without sanding band: this step in essential since you now start practicing on your own natural nails.

Do not attach any sanding band on the mandrel, now you can practice “dry” on your own nails. What you want to gain from this exercise is practicing the hand drilling technique on real nails and the feeling of the nails as it is being worked on by a nail drill.

Keep practice like this until your nail-drill holding hand is going around the cuticles and on the nails smoothly without any hesitation.

Then practice some more.

2. Practice on your own nails with a sanding band: at last, you think you are ready for the real sanding band, but not yet.

Insert the fine sanding band onto the shank and run the drill at ¼ of the maximum speed and let the sanding band come in contact a the end of an emery board. What you want to do is to remove the coarseness of the sanding band until it is smooth.

Practice with this worn-out sanding band on your fingernails to gain even more flexibility and confidence as you work on your real nails without thinning or damaging them.

Practice until you think you are very good at moving around the cuticles and on top of the nails without causing you any pain.

You are ready now for the real drilling.

Remember you only have five fingernails that you can practice so do not force the nail drill and drill bits on your nails.

It is essential that you follow all of the above exercises. What you would get is an invaluable skill: using the nail drill and its various drill bits so you can speed up your artificial nail application without causing injuries to yourself and your customers.

How to tell if a drill bit is bad

The drill bits are bad when the shank and its head are out of line. If you feel any vibration travel to the nail drill and also to the fingernail being worked on, the drill bit is no longer balanced and should be discarded.

How to clean nail drill bits

Any metal utensils or equipment can be brushed clean with water and soap then sanitized with alcohol or 10% bleach solution or soaked in disinfecting solution or using UV light.

Can nail drill bits be sharpened?

Drill bits and sanding bands can not be sharpened to restore the original condition. When they are worn out, they should be discarded.

Nail drill bit for left-handed users

Good news for lefties who want to do nails! Many electric nail drills do have forward and reverse functions so these left-handed people can just switch to reverse to have the drill bit run in reverse mode. The sanding bands can be used in both directions but the majority of metal drill bits are made for right-hand users. If you are left-handed, make sure you check out the drill bits for left-handers before you buy because they are not easy to tell the difference by just looking at them.

The best type of nail drill bits

Given the vast number of different drill bits, the best ones are the ones that you can comfortably work on other people’s fingernails without cutting them, reduce working time and improve your workmanship.

After you are good enough at handling the electric nail drill and mastered using the basic drill bit, the mandrel with three types of sanding bands, then picking out the drill bits that best suited for your hands, for the way you work with your nail drill and for the type of nail products you primarily work on will be much simpler.

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How long do nail drill bits last

Nail drill bits are supposed to be used on artificial nails only. Except sanding bands are one-time use, metal drill bits can last hundreds of uses or up to six months of everyday uses given the fact that these high-quality drill bits are used on relatively soft materials, not on hardwood or metals.

How to care for nail drill bits

  • Remove drill bit off the handpiece after every use.
  • Brush off nail dust, wash with water and soap, dry and sanitize or disinfect with alcohol or disinfectant.
  • Store them in their own case or some appropriate one.
  • Never use nail drill bits on materials that are harder than acrylics because they will wear out faster and might be bent out of balance due to being pressed too hard on the workpiece.

Conclusion: mastering the skill of handling the nail drill bits is a must for someone who wants to be great at doing artificial nails. This skill will enable a nail technician to quickly create a great set of nails with little effort. When you are good at using drill bits, your hands and wrist will not be subject to so much repetitive motion of hand filing the nails. Therefore, you will reduce the chance of getting hand and wrist fatigue and injuries.

Have fun filing you nails and your future customers’.

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