No well-groomed woman or man would be without a nail file stashed away in their bag, desk drawer or bathroom cabinet. They are, after all, the quick-fire way of creating the perfect base for a manicure. 

If for you, keeping your talons in tip-top shape is a priority you’ll be well aware that a workman is only as good as his tools. Alas, not all files are created equal. From metal to glass, there’s an option for every need but depending on what type of file you choose, they can either make or break your nails – literally. 

Of course, the perfect tool is only half the mystery – your technique comes in to play here too. If, despite your best efforts, your talons always seem to split, it could be your method that’s at fault. Keeping your nails in tip-top shape isn’t always an easy task but for best results file from the side of your nail to the centre in one direction, lift the file away, and return to the starting point. So many people aggressively saw their nails back and forth but this a gateway for premature breakage and a seriously traumatised nail bed. 

Purchasing a nail file might seem like a simple enough task but with so many variations on offer it can be hard to know which one’s best for you. Here, we take a look at some of the best files on the market. From cushion to crystal, budget to blow-out, we get down to the nitty-gritty of nail files.  

1. Leighton Denny Crystal Nail File: £12.50, John Lewis 

Having won Nail Technician of the Year four times over, we think it’s fair to say that Leighton Denny knows his stuff – a claim we feel is substantiated with this crystal nail file in particular. Presented in an aluminium case, it far outclasses your standard emery board. Slim and sleek, the crystal file is super-elegant and ultra-kind to your nails. Nonetheless, it still packs some serious punch turning nails to dust as it files away. Comfortable to hold, it makes quick work of the toughest of talons and leaves a smooth, clean-cut finish. We also love the fact that it can be easily cleaned with just a rinse under warm water. One thing to note here though is that, because of its crystal foundation, it does feel rather fragile so if you’re heavy-handed, you might want to reconsider. That being said, it does come with a lifetime guarantee. 

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2. Deborah Lippmann Smooth Operator 4-Way Nail Buffer: £10, Feel Unique

This multitasking buffer has everything you need to achieve a great manicure in one easy-to-use tool. Split into four sections, the double-sided emery board is numbered for a step-by-step guide on how to look after your nails properly. From gently shaping and eliminating ridges, to smoothing the surface and buffing for a serious high-shine, this has the answer to all your niggling nail needs. The micro-fibre material it’s made from is extra gentle on the nails but it still manages to achieve a clean shape. For us, the best part is the buffer, which gave our nails a sparkle that lasted for days on end. It’s only down side? It wasn’t the sturdiest of the tools we tried so make sure to treat it with care.  

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3. Tweezerman Neon Hot File, Smooth, Buff & Shine Block: £12, Boots 

Beauty tools expert Tweezerman has extended its expertise to the field of nails and we’re seriously impressed. The brand might be better known for hair removal but its knowledge of what customers want from a tool translates well with this multi-use block. The cuboid-shaped device is made up of four sides that each offer a different technique for your nails and for a bit of fun they’re colour coded in neon. For filing, smoothing, buffing and shine, this block ticks all the boxes. The file is easy to use and we were left with perfectly preened tips after every use. The best part though is that the pads on each side can be easily removed and replaced with fresh ones once you’ve worn them down. 

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4. Elegant Touch Professional Nail File: £7.50, Look Fantastic 

It’s back to basics with this fuss-free nail file from Elegant Touch, but don’t be fooled by its simplicity. The logo side is ideal for shaping your nails and smoothing over any frayed edges, while the reverse is a lot harsher and best suited for tougher fingernails, toes or falsies. This is by far the most abrasive file on our list so if you have stubborn talons or prefer a super-sharp finish then look no further. 

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5. Nails Inc Three Way Nail File: £6, Look Fantastic 

This peculiar-looking tool is seriously fun to use and takes all the bother out of shaping your nails. In the shape of flat loop, the nail file features three sides – one for filing, one for buffing and one for shine – but it’s how you hold this one that makes it stand out from the rest. To use, you slide your fingers through the centre to use the file or smooth sides, and finish off by rubbing your nails side to side on the internal section. The file itself is quite coarse achieving sharp, defined nails but for us the buffer was the stand-out feature. After using it, our nails were left incredibly smooth and with a long-lasting, mirror-like shine.

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6. Stylfile Curved Nail File: £4.49, Stylfile 

Apprentice fans will recognise this one. Created by Tom Pellereau, who won the show back in 2011, the Stylfile is designed to follow the natural shape of your nail, making it easier to create a smooth curve – and it definitely works. While straight files can be tricky to manoeuvre around an almond-shaped nail, this one is an absolute breeze. We also love the fact that at each end of the file is an under-nail skimmer to remove unwanted dirt and grime and a nifty cuticle pusher (something none of the other tools feature). Quick and easy to use, this file gives a smooth, snag-free finish that’s perfect for those who prefers a rounded nail. 

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7. Models Own Long Buff/Shine Nail File: £4.99, Models Own

Known for its bold, trend-led polishes, Models Own is a go-to brand for nail lovers and we definitely give it a thumbs-up when it comes to this nail file. Kept safe in a clear, zip-lock pouch, the super-long duo can be distinguished by its high-glow colouring; the file comes in flouro-orange and the buff in shocking pink. There’s no way you’ll lose these in the depths of your handbag. The long length of the file allows for long, fluid strokes with zero snagging, while the buffer offers smooth, gorgeous shine across the nail every time. 

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8. Lottie Files On The Fly Mini Set: £3.50, Asos

London label Lottie has really taken off in recent months thanks to its range of cruelty-free, purse-friendly cosmetics, not to mention its adorable packaging. This mini pack of three nail files is ideal for those on the go, and while they might be fiddly to handle, they’re great for a quick fix. Light and portable, each file is sturdy and thick enough to tackle the toughest of nails and left our talons with a sharp and smooth finish. We also love the mix of colours you get in this trio and think they’d make a great addition to the SOS beauty stash in your desk drawer.

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The Verdict: Nail files

Overall, Leighton Denny’s classy crystal nail file came out on top and not just in the style stakes. The tool left our nails with the most pristine finish out of the lot and it was we loved how it turned any residue into a fine dust. The aluminium case is a huge plus, too. If you’re after a multitasker, we recommend Nails Inc’s three-way loop that promises clean edges and give superior shine.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.