This is a post I’ve meant to write so many times since I started learning how to upholster furniture a few years ago. I used to pick and pry at furniture, wondering what was underneath, and now that I know the answer to that most of the time, I hope I can save you some wondering and frustration. Myfavourite part of any sort of furniture upholstery is definitely choosing the fabrics. There is so much to choose from and any pattern can take an everyday household item to the next level. Through sites like www.myfabricconnection.com, you can find material that offer you the opportunities of creating one off products for your home, to give it that personal touch.
This is not meant to teach you how to upholster, but if you’re starting out and wondering what basic tools you should have on hand to do the job, this should answer that question.
First up, let’s assume you found an amazing vintage piece of furniture with so much potential, and it just needs new upholstery to bring it back to awesomeness. The first hurdle is getting rid of all the old stuff – fabric, staples, tacks, etc.
- tack puller – This is an indispensable tool when it comes to removing staples and tacks from furniture. You ease the tip underneath a staple and then pry it out. So much easier than trying to jam a screwdriver under there, which is what I did before I realized this was the tool of choice.
- pliers – Once you get a few staples pulled up you can usually grip the fabric with a good pair of pliers and give it a good strong pull along the staple line to remove large sections of fabric at one time. Much faster and less tedious than going staple by staple.
- needlenose pliers – Ripping the fabric out like that invariably leaves dangling staples that you’ll want to pull out. Needlenose pliers are perfect for this job and make pretty quick work of removing those sharp staples.
- dust mask – You won’t believe how much dust and general nastiness spews into the air once you start pulling and ripping at old upholstery. Protect your lungs! I’ve stripped furniture without one before and actually felt kind of ill later that night.
- eye protection – You’ll also want something over your eyes to protect them from flying staples and other bits. If you wear glasses, they should be fine, but otherwise wear some kind of eye protection.
So after some time and muscle you should be left with a bare furniture frame ready for new clothes!
- upholstery staple gun – this may seem like a pricey investment, and I will say this: I used a cheap electric staple gun for a lot of upholstery projects. And it worked okay. But just okay. It took a lot of effort to shoot the staples in and made the jobs take a lot longer. Once I got a pneumatic stapler…it was like the difference between trying to floss your teeth with a rope and trying to floss your teeth with dental floss. SO much easier. I HIGHLY recommend one.
- 22 gauge 3/8″ crown staples – Order these online! I thought it would be simple enough to find them at a hardware store. It was not. No one carried them. Fine gauge upholstery staples are apparently not high in demand for the average consumer. I’d get both 3/8″ and 1/2″ length staples.
- air compressor – Now to run that amazing new staple gun you will need an air compressor. I already had one I use with the air nailers I have for carpentry projects. They are not particularly cheap. But they make home improvements projects SO MUCH EASIER. Air tools changed my DIY life more than anything else. I’d get one that is oil free because that means no maintenance! And I can be lazy about maintenance.
- cardboard tack strip – This is what gives you crisp edges in upholstery. You use it along most straight edges to get a nice, clean look.
- Ply Grip – Closes the last piece of fabric you put on an upholstered piece – usually the back. The rest of the fabric can be pulled and stapled and hidden but the last piece needs a little help going on invisibly. There are lots of videos on You Tube on how to apply it. The metal teeth on it are SHARP. Speaking from experience. Ouch.
- regulator – This tool helps you tuck fabric neatly into the Ply Grip. I actually don’t have one and use a super thin screwdriver. But this is the “right” tool for the job.
- rubber mallet – Once you have fabric tucked into the Ply Grip you’ll need to tap it shut, and a rubber mallet is the tool to use for this job.
You might be surprised how many upholstery projects you can do without a sewing machine, though if you can sew, they do come in handy, and there are pieces that require some sewing. I just upgraded my sewing machine to THIS ONE, and it works like a dream. So smooth and easy to use.
Just a few other bits you will need are burlap (used to seal openings underneath fabric), bonded Dacron (for light padding and wrapping cushions), and high density foam (for seat cushions).
There are other odds and ends as well, but this list here should get you through most upholstery projects without having to make multiple emergency Amazon orders or quick trips to the hardware store.
I wish I’d had it all laid out before me when I first started, so I hope this helps those of you thinking about wading into the waters of DIY upholstery!
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