Being able to upholster something at home is an incredibly useful skill. Once you learn to reupholster a chair, you can turn all kinds of thrift store throwaways into useful, good-looking furniture.
The Tools You'll Need
A manual staple gun can work in a pinch to secure fabric, but it's much better suited to tacking wires or home improvement projects. Some manual staple guns require two-handed use which is difficult to do when working around the confines of furniture, which can be fatiguing.
Upholstery projects are best done using a powered staple gun that will quickly staple through fabric and into hardwood with little effort. Upholstery staple guns are available as electric or pneumatic (air-powered) models.
Electric Staple Guns
Electric powered staple guns are extremely convenient. They are easy to transport (no compressor to lug around) and setup (just plug it in). With no compressor there is no loud annoying noise.
But electric staple guns lack the power and performance of a pneumatic staple gun. The staples will go right through particle board, but for hardwood they often require more downward pressure to ensure good contact. Electric staplers can run into issues with staples only going halfway into wood, which requires you to either pull the staple or pound it in using a hammer. These performance issues waste time and make upholstery work much more difficult.
Pneumatic Staple Guns
Pneumatic staple guns are air-powered and require a separate air-compressor to run. The staple guns are often cheaper, and an air compressor can set you back a couple of hundred dollars. The compressor can be used to run other pneumatic tools like an impact wrench, brad nailer and spray guns.
If portability isn't an issue, then a pneumatic stapler is the way to go. It's what the pros use and is hands down the best way to drive staples in the least amount of time.
The video below shows a great comparison between an electric and pneumatic staple gun. Note the power and speed from the pneumatic stapler.
When shopping for an upholstery stapler, look for these three features.
- Extended Long Nose: This will help you staple in those hard-to-reach areas. Only found on pneumatic staplers.
- 22-Gauge Stapler: This is the standard staple sized use for upholstery, but you could use 18-gauge. The smaller-sized staples are easier to work with.
- Narrow Crown Staples: These staples are 6mm in width, which give you much more flexibility when using them for upholstery.
How to Find the Right Chair
There are many reasons you may want to reupholster a chair, but chief among them is sentimental value. If you have an old worn piece that's been in the family for years, it's probably worth reupholstering. A piece of furniture that fits a specific area is also worth saving.
You can start learning on that chair or go to any thrift store, Salvation Army or Vinnies and pickup a quality fabric-covered chair. The older, the better. A chair that is 15-20 years or older and is still standing is a great sign of quality.
Inspect the chair by checking the legs and frame for any cracks or splits in the wood. You need a solid base to work from and a chair that is damaged will take even more time to repair.
Look for coil springs in chairs and sofas. Press down on the seat and feel for springs and look under the seat to see springs. A quality sofa should be heavy and not easy to pickup which is a sign of solid wood.
Time to Reupholster
The best way to learn how to reupholster is by tearing down (taking apart) chairs and sofas. Once you have a grasp of how older furniture is constructed, you'll have a better idea of how to repair, re-stuff, and re-cover them.
The biggest decision during the reupholstering process is choosing a new fabric. Once you've made your selection, this chart shows you how much fabric you will need. A typical sofa uses about 13 yards of fabric and a typical chair uses about seven yards. Upholstery fabric costs between $20 and $70 per yard or more, depending on quality. So keep in mind the reupholstery of a typical sofa could cost between $260 and $910, or more, for fabric alone. Visit your local fabric store and get hands on with the fabric.
As you start recovering your furniture, work one section at a time. Line up your new fabric in the piece and use your staple gun to secure it. Make sure there are no gaps and fold and tuck the edges of each piece of fabric to make sure its tight and smooth. Add extra batting and cushioning if needed. Check out the video above to see a professional in action.
You can also learn to reupholster is by taking a group class. Students will work on different pieces and everyone learns on multiple types of furniture. Tools will also be provided which saves you from an initial investment, especially if it turns out you don't like it. Check your local community college or continuing education centres. You can also call local upholsterers in your area and ask their suggestions.