How did people cut their toe and fingernails before we got nail clippers after the industrial revolution?

Would they have had a fair amount of ingrown toenails, especially in the colder regions where feet had to be kept wrapped up?

  • 2
    knives, files. biting. wear and tear.
    – Himarm
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 19:32
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    I take it you saw this, which Wikipedia claims is a nail cutter from the Hallstatt culture?
    – two sheds
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 20:51
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    ingrown toenails are not caused by failing to cut your toenails Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 17:10

2 Answers 2


With a paring knife. That's why nail parings are called, well, nail parings.

Also, there were nippers similar to modern yarn cutters which were in common use since Roman times. Yarn cutters look like this:

enter image description here

  • 1
    And how did they cut their nails before iron and steel became common?
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 20:15
  • @Alex By using bronze knives? Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 20:17
  • perhaps. And in the Stone age with stone knives:-) Have to tried to cut your nails with a KNIFE?
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 20:25
  • 6
    @Alex cutting your nails with a knife isnt that hard, done it a couple times camping, not proficient at it so i cant make nice even cuts, but i imagine with practice it wouldn't be hard, and for pre metal, i assume they just bit their nails, or wear and tear.
    – Himarm
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 20:32
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    @Himarm: you bet:-) I've even heard of people shaving with an ax...
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 20:40

Scraping the tip of your nails across a pocket knife blade. My grandfather does it all the time. It's similar to how some nail files work.

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