Step 1: Chairs are not all created—or upholstered—equally
Here we’ll show you how to reupholster a
chair with a “drop-in” or “screw-on”
seat—a style shared by many benches
and stools. Seat bases can be constructed
from a variety of materials: solid wood,
plywood, pegboard and others. The seats
are normally screwed on but can also
be glued on or dropped in. The cushions
can be foam, cotton or other natural
It will give your hand a workout, and you
may have to occasionally use a hammer
to drive the staples all the way in, but you
can still get good results. Make sure you
hold the nose of the stapler firmly against
the seat base when you pull the trigger.
Cost: $15 to $30
We used one for our project and it
worked flawlessly. You still need to
firmly press the nose against the fabric
and plywood to get a well-seated
staple—but it’s way easier on the hand.
As a bonus, some models also shoot
3/4-in. and shorter brad nails.
Cost: $25 to $75
If you’re going to be stapling for hours
on end, invest in a pneumatic stapler.
These drive the staples flush with the
pull of a finger and allow you to be
extremely accurate in the placement of
your staples. Some tools also drive
brad nails up to 1-1/4 in.
Cost: $40 to $150 (plus air compressor)
Which stapler works best?
All the staplers shown will do the trick. The question is: How hard do you want to work—and squeeze—to “do the trick”?
Your stapler buying decision may also hinge on a few other factors, including how often you’ll use it, what else you
might use it for—and whether you need a good excuse to buy an air compressor.
Step 2: Round up your materials
When you shop, buy “upholstery grade”
fabric for its strength and stain resistance.
Fabric prices vary wildly; you
might find something for $5 in the bargain
bin or spend 10 times as much. We
bought our fabric, foam and batting at a
fabric store. For the dust cover, we used
landscape fabric from a home center.
Step 3: Remove the old and get ready for the new
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Photo 1: Remove the old upholstery
Pry and yank the staples with a screwdriver and pliers or side cutters. Remove the upholstery and cushion material.
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Photo 2: Make a new seat
If the old seat is in bad shape, cut a new one from plywood. Trace
around the old seat, then cut with a jigsaw or circular saw. Bevel or
soften edges with a sander or router to match the old contour.
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Photo 3: Cut the foam
Trace the outline of the seat onto
1-in.-thick foam. Cut the foam with a
bread knife. To avoid tearing the foam,
pull the knife toward you, using light
pressure and short strokes.
Our seats, for example, were made
from a pegboard-like material secured to
a 1x3 framework, covered with horsehair
padding. Someone had already reupholstered
the chairs, going directly over the
old fabric. Expect the unexpected and
adjust your game plan accordingly.
If you’re re-covering more than one
chair, number each chair and seat; that
way, the screw holes will line up properly
when you reinstall the seats. There
are special tools just for yanking upholstery
staples or tacks, but you can get by
with basic hand tools (Photo 1). Tip: Old,
dull side cutters are perfect. They grip
staples well but don’t cut them off.
Remove the padding and inspect the
seat. If the wood base seems solid, reuse
it. If it’s cracked, use it as a template to
make a new one (Photo 2). We used a
sander to taper the edges to match the
profile of the old one. Plop the seat on
top of the foam and outline it with a
marker. Use a serrated bread knife (Photo
3) to cut just inside the line.
Step 4: Install the new fabric
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Photo 4: Add the batting
Cut the batting so it overhangs all sides of the seat by about 4 in.
Then drive a single staple on each side to hold the foam in place.
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Photo 5: Center the pattern
Determine the best layout for your material; make sure any
patterns or stripes align correctly. Hang the edge of the seat over your
work surface then drive a staple, from below, in the centers of the front
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Photo 6: Staple the front edge
Working from the center outward, install staples
along the front as you lightly tension the material with
your hand. Stop 2 in. from the corner. Flip the seat over
several times to check the pattern as you go. Repeat the
process along the back edge and sides.
Place a section of batting—4 in. wider
in all directions than the size of your
chair seat—on a flat work surface,
then set your foam and seat on top.
Lightly stretch the batting and drive
one staple (Photo 4) along each edge.
Flip the seat over, then center
your material on top (Photo 5). Cut
the material so you’ll be able to
wrap it up onto the chair bottom at
least 4 in. in each direction. With the
seat facing up and the front edge
overhanging the work surface, drive
one staple through the bottom to
hold the material in place. Rotate
the seat 180 degrees, then tack the
back the same way.
Check your pattern alignment one
more time, then flip the seat upside
down. Starting at the front middle
staple and working toward the corners,
use the palm of your hand to
lightly stretch the material, then drive
a staple every 2 in. (Photo 6). Keep the
staples within an inch of the edge, and
secure the batting and fabric at the
same time. Use your entire hand, not
just fingertips, to tighten the material.
This way you’ll avoid little dips and puckers in the pattern.
Repeatedly flip the seat over to check the pattern for
straightness; it’s easier to keep flipping and checking
than to go back and pull staples. Our expert flipped the
seat over and checked the pattern a dozen times while
stapling each edge. Stop stapling 2 in. from each corner.
Secure the back edge in the same way, stretching the
material lightly as you work. Then complete the sides,
again repeatedly checking the pattern.
Step 5: Corners are the key
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Photo 7: Trim the corners
Cut off the excess batting and upholstery so you
don’t end up with ugly lumps at corners.
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Photo 8a: Wrap the corners
Create a “butterfly corner” by first tucking the center under, then folding and tucking the material to each side.
Flip the seat over and drive staples to hold the corner tight.
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Photo 9: Install the dust cover
After you trim the excess fabric and batting, staple
on a dust cover—we used landscape cloth. A dust cover
neatly hides the exposed fabric edges.
You can make simple, single-fold “hospital corners” if
the edges of your seat are concealed by a frame. But in
most cases, the front corners will be exposed and will
look better with a “butterfly corner.”
Remove excess batting and material from the corners
(Photo 7) then flip the seat right side up and experiment
with a few corner tucks. Fold the center inward, then
overlap each side onto that fold (Photo 8). When the
corner looks symmetrical and tight, flip the seat over
and staple the folds in place.
When the corners are done, flip the seat over and cut
off the excess material. Staple on a dust cover (Photo 9).