Implement Basics

Hand holding a tool before it is put in an autoclave.
Hand holding a tool before it is put in an autoclave.
Courtesy of Dreamstime

With so many implements available on the market and an abundant number of videos made by nonprofessionals, it can be very tricky as to what to look for. The amount of nail care products found online can be overwhelming, and many do not require a manicurist license to purchase. This can be a cause for great concern, especially when dealing with professional-grade tools. In my 20 years in this industry, the tools I have used regularly were only just a few of the basic implements offered to professionals. So, let us get into some of the basic tools of the trade used in the salon and how to care for and maintain them to maximize their use and life.

The Nail Clipper

  • This is the most common manicure implement; however, some may not know there is a difference between a nail clipper and a toenail clipper. Nail clippers are smaller and can easily cut down the length of natural nails. These can be found in many different finishes from gold to titanium.A toenail clipper is a larger implement with a wider blade area that is designed to trim the toenail to the ideal shape, which helps prevent ingrown toenails.
  • Using a standard nail clipper on toenails can sometimes be problematic. The thicker nail of the toe can be too much for the clippers to cut through and can cause the implement to break or malfunction.
  • Maintenance on nail clippers is very easy. After use, these implements can go into an implement soaker for the required time and with the suggested disinfection mixture.
  • For a higher level of sanitation, an autoclave could also be used. Autoclaves are very similar to pressure cookers in the sense that the machine uses heated, pressurized steam to sterilize nonporous tools. The implements are placed inside a sealed pouch that has a color-changing marker to assure that the tool being used has been properly sterilized at the correct temperature.

The Toenail Clipper

  • Strong enough to cut through thicker, tougher toenails.
  • This tool is not recommended to cut length on acrylic or dip nails as this can fracture the nail or damage the implement.
  • Maintenance for toenail clippers is the same as standard nail clippers, and sanitation should follow the same process.
  • Nail clippers and toenail clippers are so widely available and inexpensive; replacement is easy if these get dullafter time.

Artificial Tip Cutters

  • Cuts down tips in one motion—these are very similar to dog nail trimmers.
  • I would not recommend using this tool to cut acrylic ordip nails as this tool can fracture the nail or damagethe implement.
  • Maintenance for artificial nail tip cutters is the same as the previous implements and sanitation should be the same.

Acrylic Nippers

  • Cuts away at thin enhancements and can help remove lifting on artificial nails.
  • This type of nipper is commonly confused with cuticle nippers. These nippers will have a larger jaw, and the blade and head of the implement will not bend as easily.
  • The price for a really good pair of acrylic nippers can be pretty high; however, they do usually tend to last longer if well-maintained. When these get dull, they should be serviced and sharpened by a professional.
  • Sanitation on these is the same as described for the previous implements.

Cuticle Nippers

  • Perfect to remove hangnails or excessive dead tissue (cuticle).
  • These blades need to always be sharp. Do not use this implement to nip at acrylic as this can dull the blades or possibly bend them.
  • A good pair of cuticle nippers can also be very pricy, and service should be done regularly by a professional sharpener.
  • Sanitation of cuticle nippers should be taken very seriously and done meticulously and carefully because this is the tool that can most commonly make contact with blood. (This is a big no-no yet it is still common.)

Cuticle Pushers

  • Used to push back the cuticle to expose the nonliving tissue in a simple, smooth and easy motion.
  • Cuticle pushers are crucial to a successful manicure. Most professional nail care products will not stick to the skin. Therefore, having that clean cuticle area and a skin-free nail plate can extend the wear of polish, gel lacquers and enhancements dramatically.
  • Many cuticle pushers are dual ended with one end to use as an underside cleaner and one end to gently push back the cuticle. This end can also be used to detail the sidewalls to remove any remaining nonliving tissue.
  • Cuticle pushers are usually inexpensive enough that if these get dull after time, replacement is generally easy with no need for sharpening.

These are the six must-have implements in my nail station. Keeping track of when your tools are due for service or replacement is very important and should not be delayed. I cannot stress enough how important it is to sanitize the implements you use—some implements have a special finish on them. This can wear or chip away over time or even start to rust from improper maintenance. Remember that if you choose to use an autoclave, be sure to use distilled water to prolong the life of the autoclave unit. Also, be certain that the tools going in can handle the heat. With an abundance of options, the biggest factor to keep in mind is personal comfort—comfort for your grip as well as for your client. The implements we use help us achieve that perfect manicure or enhancement. Using the right tool for right the job will lead to better results and longevity of your finished product. And with these tools, happy nailing.

About the Author

With almost 20 years in the nail industry, Vu Nguyen (@voodoonails) has achieved many awards for his artistic talents. He has been part of the Nailpro top 10 competitors, has created many covers for trade magazines, and is a member of ’s 2022 advisory board. For the past 15 years, he has been educating nail techs around the world and working with the industry’s top techs and competitors. He trained his younger brother, Robert, who was a finalist on TV’s Nailed It! Vu also works closely with the nail world’s best chemists on product development and still loves teaching nail techs nail art and says, “There is nothing more rewarding to me than to share my knowledge of art and give those without any artistic bone the ability to be an artist.”

This article was originally published in the July/August 2022 Nailpro issue.

More in Tools