Impractical idea: Iron filing nail polish

spiky nail polish

Some time ago we came across a subtle magnetic nail polish. It had fine magnetic dust in it, and could record the local magnetic field profile at the time that the polish dried.

But hey, why can’t you do this with full-on iron filings? So, for our own bold and impractical take on this concept, we tried mixing genuine iron filings with nail polish (clear, in this case). Mix well, paint on, hold finger over (large) magnet while it dries. Don’t even think about trying to fit those spiky fingertips into gloves.

Results? So-so. The particles aligned with the field and solidified, but have more clumping than we’d like to see.

Maybe slightly finer particles would have been better. Much better would be if we found a good way to work with ferrofluid that could be hardened, or perhaps a version of magnetic viewing film that could be painted onto surfaces. Or maybe, if our version above were redone with RTV silicone, the particles could wiggle around in the presence of an external field.

We leave these important questions to higher minds than our own.

10 thoughts on “Impractical idea: Iron filing nail polish

  1. Nailpolish aside, this technique could be used for other painted-on applications! A unique way to get a unique texture.

  2. Thin out the polish. You’ll have to wait longer for it to dry, but it will have a lower viscosity like ferrofluid.

  3. This would have been evil fun back in the 80’s and 90’s with all the magnetic media around. Any time someone handed you a floppy disc or a videotape, cassette, etc you would leave your magnetic fingerprints on it. I wonder if you ground up some rare earth magnets into polish if you could pick up small metal objects with your finger tips as a parlour trick. I guess there is probably a problem with aligning the direction of the polarity

  4. Can you use it to detect magnetic fields?? Adding a sixth (or seventh for you lucky ones) sense would be neat

    1. only a tad off subject, but an idea similar to this has been done by body modification artist Steve Haworth who implanted a small powerful magnet encapsulated in PTFE material into the tip of his left ring finger.
      a few people in the modification community have followed suit, and along with Steve, have all reported a new human sense of magnetic fields.
      Steve has been quoted as saying "I love putting my finger near an electrical socket and feeling the magnetic impulses flow"
      I’ve personally spoken to one person who has undergone this type of procedure, and he reports that he can walk into a room and instantly sense all the magnetic fields emitted from objects in that room simply by holding his hand over the object

      Magnetic Implants have been in the works for quite a few years in the mod culture, and have yet to be perfected as the encapsulation material has a tendency to breakdown after a couple years, or even months, thus exposing the raw magnet to the flesh.

      Reports of this type of implant can be found all around the internet, but is most famously covered on (as that is where Steve first announced a successful implant).

  5. I wonder if you could record a small amount of data on your fingertip using a variation of this? I’ve no idea how you would rear or write to it, though…

  6. This reminds me of how they get the hair on movie prop tarantulas to stick up – the model is covered in adhesive, a static charge is applied to the model, and then the hair is blown on by a ‘flocker’, sort of a low speed airgun. Maybe try applying the nail polish, placing the finger in a (strong) magnetic field, and then sprinkling the filings? Bonus points if you can generate a strong static charge on the finger first :)

  7. This would look pretty cool with black nail polish instead of clear. Good for halloween, perhaps.

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