How to Reupholster a Chair

How to do a first-class upholstery job.

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Step 1: Gather materials and prep the seat board

If you have upholstered chair seats that are stained, worn out or just plain ugly, there's no need to call a pro. You can do a first-class upholstery job yourself, even if you have zero experience. Don't worry about making mistakes; you can correct them by prying out staples and starting over.

If the chair is fairly new, you can simply cover the existing fabric with new material. But it usually makes sense to tear off the old fabric and replace the foam padding, since most foam has a life span of only five to 10 years. Many fabric stores carry foam and upholstery fabric, but for the best selection and advice, start with an upholstery store (under “Upholstery Fabrics” in the Yellow Pages). For a small chair like the one shown here, buy foam, batting and fabric. You'll also need a can of spray adhesive, a scissors, a stapler and 5/16-in. staples.

Turn the chair upside down and remove the screws that fasten the seat to the chair frame. Then tear off the old fabric with a pliers and pry out the staples with a small screwdriver. If the seat is made from particleboard, you might find that it's warped, crumbling or even broken. Making a new seat is easy: Just lay the old seat on a piece of 1/2-in. plywood, trace around it and cut a new seat with a jigsaw.

Step 2: Reupholster the seat

Cut the foam to size with a scissors. Take the wood seat outside and give the topside a light coat of spray adhesive. Position the seat carefully when you set it on the foam; the adhesive grabs instantly and you may not be able to pull it off. Cut the batting and fabric (Photo 1). Stretch the batting slightly as you staple it into place (Photo 2). Staple the fabric at the middle of all four sides and flip the seat over to make sure the pattern is centered. Tug the fabric toward the corners as you staple the first side. Go to the opposite side and stretch the fabric across the seat as you staple it. Repeat this process for the other two sides.

If your seat has rounded corners, you can wrap them so that no folds or creases are visible from above (Photo 3). If the seat has square corners, crease and fold the fabric as you would when you gift-wrap a box (Photo 4). It's usually helpful to trim away excess fabric as you work on corners. Before you screw the seat onto the chair, consider treating the fabric with a stain repellent if it wasn't treated at the factory.