One of my big guitar influences is the late, great Chet Atkins.  Chet was an amazing guitarist, and predominately played finger style guitar, which is also my preference.

When you play finger style, you need to maintain your nails, on your right hand at least (I still trim my left hand down to the quick as nails + fingerboard = not a good mix).  And there’s nothing worse than losing a nail, or even getting a crack in one.  It can take months to get your nails to the right length for good playing, and if you lose one your sound goes out the window (eg if Index and Ring have perfect length, but you’ve lost the Middle, every note hit with the middle won’t have the same “attack” as you’re playing with nothing but finger pad).

Thankfully Chet had a solution.  Ping pong balls.  If you’ve got a cracked or broken nail, you can do a makeshift repair using a ping pong ball.  Not quite as fancy as an acrylic from a nail place, but as a bloke I don’t really care about how it looks, and it also means I don’t have to visit a nail place.  They also cost about $2 for a pack of six from a discount store, rather than whatever a nail place charges.

There are two approaches, over-nail and under-nail.  Under-nail seems to be more prevalent, but in general I’ve found the over-nail approach better, as it’s much more stable (more surface area), and less painful (you’re not trying to jam something under your nail).

My lovely got a split in her thumbnail on the weekend, and I appear to have developed a sympathy split today, so thought it would be worth doing a walk through of “Ping Pong Ball Nail Repair 101”.  Note I’m only going to talk about the “over-nail” method as it’s the one that works for me.  I’ve already done the repair on my thumb, so the photos will be from my index finger instead.

Ingredients:

  • Ping pong ball
  • Manicure scissors
  • Superglue
  • Nail file
  • Nail buffer
  • Rimmel Nail Base & Top Coat (or equivalent)
  1. Get yourself some ping pong balls from your local $2 shop.  Then head to the chemist or the cosmetic aisle of the supermarket at pick up some manicure scissors (preferably with a curve)
    Manicure Scissors
  2. Cut out a piece of the ball.  The top should roughly match the profile of your existing nail.  The bottom shape doesn’t need to be exact, but should be at least a third of the nail long.  Try to shape it so there are no sharp edges, as these will tend to catch on things and rip it off.
    Cut Nail
  3. The next part depends on the curvature of your nail.  If you’ve got curved nails, the profile of the ball should be a good match.  If you’re got flat nails, it can be a two step process.  My thumb and index are flat, but my middle, ring and pinky are almost a perfect match for the ball, but as I’m doing my thumb I’ll describe the two step method.  If you’ve got a matching curve you can hopefully work out the one step approach.
  4. Get your superglue and put some on the left hand side of the damaged nail.  Get your ball lined up, then press it down on the left hand side, being careful not to stick your fingers together (learned that one the hard way).
    Gluing the left side
  5. Wait for the glue to set.  Depending on the superglue this will probably take a couple of minutes.
  6. Put the tip of the superglue under the now stuck ball, and coat the rest of the nail.  Hold it down again, and once again be careful not to get stuck.
  7. Wait for the glue to set.
  8. Now that the ball is stuck, it’s time to get onto sanding.  The ball is less than a millimetre thick, but it’s enough to be noticeable and easy to catch on things.
  9. I normally start with a standard diamond nail file.  The scissors did a “rough cut” I use the file to refine the shape.  I then use it to take the bulk of the ball from where it meets the nail to make the join as smooth as possible.
    Diamond file
  10. After refining with the file, I move onto the buffer.  I only use this on the surface of the nail to further smooth out the join – you can also use it to shape and refine the nail further, but I don’t really see any benefit in my experience.  You’re really just trying to get rid of anything that could catch and pull the ball off.
    BufferBuffer
  11. Finally I put on a coat of nail base.  It’s low sheen and clear, and I normally put on two-three coats.  If there are any remaining bits that could catch, three coats will pretty much guarantee that they’ve been “defused” by a few coats of lacquer.

Final product on my split thumb below.  Now I know it’s not going to win any “nail of the year” award, but I don’t do this for fashion, I do it for function, and being able to play with nails (even if they’re artificial) beats plastic/metal fingerpicks every time.
Final repaired nail

So… (double entendre time…)

Get your balls and your fingers together, you won’t regret it.