Upholstery Basics: Tool Time

It’s about this time every year that things come back to life. Flowers are in full bloom, and kids spend their hours out of school in the pool. You’ve probably completed your annual spring cleaning and noticed that a few pieces of furniture are beyond the capabilities of the vacuum and 409, so isn’t it about time you bring them back to life, too?

I’m Amanda Brown, and I’ve resurrected countless pieces headed for the dump into showstoppers at my Austin-based upholstery shop, Spruce. Before I became an upholsterer, I was mystified by the skills of upholstery. “Where do you hide all of the staples? How do you make cording?” It is amazing to me how much time I spent with my furniture yet how little I actually knew about putting it together.

Step into the sunshine and spend some time with me the second Thursday of every month. I’ll shed light on the skills I’ve learned from my professional training and tricks I’ve picked up along the way that will have you creating your own Before & After beauties. Today we’re making a shopping list of the tools we need and learning how to set up an air compressor and pneumatic staple gun so they’re locked and loaded for our upcoming activities. — Amanda

Read more about the tools you’ll need to start upholstering after the jump!

Image above: 1. Pliers; 2. Staple Remover; 3. Webbing Stretcher; 4. Curved Needle; 5. T-pin; 6. Rubber Mallet; 7. Magnetic Tack Hammer; 8. Edge Roll Cutter; 9. Carving Knife; 10. Square; 11. Hot Glue Gun; 12. Scissors; 13. Button Needle; 14. Regulator; 15. Yardstick; 16. Screwdrivers; 17. Measuring Tape; 18. Utility Knife; 19. White and Yellow Chalk; 20. Permanent Marker

I can see your wheels turning already. Don’t worry; you’ll be properly introduced to this group as we use them. For now, just be sure they’re in your tool bag and ready for action next month. Items that can’t be found around the house or at a local hardware store can be ordered through an upholstery supplier.

One of the best investments in upholstery is pneumatic tools. It may be intimidating to make the switch to an air-powered staple gun, but I guarantee you’ll be kissing your old staplers (and worn out hands) goodbye with one pull of the trigger.


  • (2) pliers
  • air compressor (6-gallon pancake-style tank is best for one user)
  • 1/4″ polyurethane air hose with threaded ends
  • pneumatic upholstery staple gun
  • (1) 1/4” industrial male sleeve coupler
  • (1) 1/4” industrial female sleeve coupler
  • (1) 1/4” industrial female plug
  • (1) 1/4” industrial male plug
  • Teflon tape


1. Cut a 2” piece of Teflon tape, and wrap it in a clockwise direction around the threaded end of the industrial male sleeve coupler. For every attachment, we’ll be wrapping the threaded end with Teflon tape to get an air-tight connection.

2. Screw the coupler into the outlet on the air compressor. Use your pliers to get it really tight.

3. On the air hose, attach the industrial female sleeve coupler to one end and the industrial female plug to the other. Use one pair of pliers to hold the air hose stationary while the other pair tightens the attachment.

4. Now that we have the attachments on the air compressor and the hose, screw the industrial male plug into the bottom of the staple gun. Some guns may come with this attached already.

5. It is important for your safety and for the longevity of your tools that you operate within the air pressures recommended by the manufacturer. For this gun, the maximum air pressure is 100 psi. The lower limit can be determined by the minimum amount of pressure that will operate the tool. The lowest pressure at which my staple gun will shoot staples is about 65 psi, so I operate my tool between 65 psi and 100 psi.

6. Once you’ve determined the correct air-pressure range, you can hook up your tools and get to work. Hold the sleeve back on the air-compressor coupler, tightly push in the plug end of the air hose and release the sleeve. Repeat these steps between the other end of the air hose and the staple gun.

7. Power on the air compressor and allow the tank to fill up (it will stop automatically). Turn the pressure regulator knob to the right to send air from the tank into your hose and tools. There are two pressure gauges: one tells you the pressure in the tank, and the one closest to your hose tells you how much pressure is going to your tools. A slight turn to the left will stop the flow of air from the tank, and a sharper left turn will let air out of your hose, lowering the air pressure in your staple gun. Adjust the knob until you reach the desired air pressure. The compressor will turn on automatically when the pressure in the tank dips below a certain psi. Some machines have the option of setting automatic start and stop levels, but a small compressor like this one comes with these levels preset. Your only job is to manually regulate the air pressure going into the hose.

8. At the end of your workday, always drain the air out of your hose and the water out of your tank. Turning the pressure regulator knob all the way to the left will slowly release all the air out of the hose. Moisture can cause the inside of the tank to rust and ruin your tools, so loosen the screw on the bottom of the tank to let it all drip out.

Assemble your goodies, and meet me back here next month as we begin our first transformation. Your furniture is waiting!

  1. Amanda says:

    Hi Christina,

    I use a few different types of staplers: BeA, Primestitch, Fasco, which are all made for upholstery. I would suggest any of these. You should vary the length of your staple based off of what you are stapling. For that thin board, you’ll probably need 1/4″ staples, so they don’t poke through the back side. 3/8″ crown is appropriate for upholstery. Hope that helps!

  2. Kathy says:

    What color paint in on tge wall?

  3. DJ says:

    I’m in the Vancouver area as well, and this has been one of the most informative and helpful articles I’ve found. I’m wanting to start reupholstering vintage chairs and am very disappointed by the lack of courses in this area so this will be an enormous help!

  4. Cindy says:

    Hot dang! Great posts – especially this one re the tool basics!

    Like many others here, I have searched high and low for upholstery classes, but there don’t seem to be any in my area. I’m thrilled to see you have an ongoing series of upholstery tutorials and techniques. This site is awesome! I’ve just become a loyal (and repeat) visitor. :-)

    BTW, I found your blog from a link on CentsationalGirl.com. Her ‘Best of the Blogosphere’ post for this week has your piped box cushion project listed.

    Great blog! I’ll be back…often. LOL

  5. Rachel says:

    Where did you get that fabric?! So cute.

  6. Beverly Hayes says:

    I got a smaller compressor and it seems like it has to refill constantly to work. My stapler needs to be at at least 40 psi to work. The pressure of the tank goes to 85 psi and it kicks ON again, and stays ON. Is that how most compressors work?

  7. Michael says:

    Thank you for the information and because of that i have a lots of ideas in doing project about upholstery corporation.

  8. Steve Copley says:

    Do you use galvanised steel or stainless steel staples (the latter being about 4 times the price of the former, but less likely to rust I guess)?

  9. Joan Holmes says:

    Fantastic site! Am getting kind of old … 77… And losing strength in hands. I have never understood the blight in upholstery info all of my life. What welcome onto. Even the DIY shows on popular decorating shows, would show how to upholster something and when they got to the hard parts like finishing off they would switch away, like we were just supposed to be able to figure it out. Now that they are mixing fabrics onone piece of furniture, how hard is it to reupholster just the arms on a traditional sofa? Probably harder than starting from scratch. Thanks, Amanda! Joansie

  10. eve says:

    I would like to respond to Rebecca from Vancouver. I live in Whistler and spend 2-3 days in Vancouver every two weeks. I have been wanting to learn to upholster for years and have good style ideas, good sources for fabric, able to refinish the wood but no upholstery skills. Please email me if you have a chance at evewexler(at)gmail.com so we can connect and exchange information.

  11. Lil says:

    Amanda, I have a Lewittes Hollywood Regency club chair that I’m reupholstering. It has “channels” that the upholstery tucks into (a patented design from what I understand). I think I need a long nose stapler to get into the channels. Would the nail gun you recommend do the job? Please and thanks.

  12. Mr Peter says:

    The setting up process of the air compressor and the staple gun together is never been easy but you made it in a more easier way for the fast work.

  13. m.kidder says:

    How do you pick the best crown size and gauge for staples? We have six dinning room chairs stripped, and refinished ready to upholster but we don’t know what size gun to buy.
    We have been looking at the Surebonder which does 18 gauge-1/4″ crown staples or the one that does 22 gauge with the 1/4″ crown

  14. James Smith says:

    Hey great post. I love the Porter Cable air compressor that you are using. Very efficient piece of machine!!

  15. Ann says:

    Hello Amanda, Love your willingness to share with us. I am about to redo four dinette chairs with a suede upholstery. It has the white lining attached that extend beyond the edges ( as you can see I am new at this). I live alone so there will be no heavy use of the chairs. I really like this fabric and do not want a professional outcome,I’m patient. Can you suggest a size staple to use in my PowerShot Pro Electric Staple & Nail Gun. The guide that came with it suggests 1/4″ for “light upholstery” and 5/16 ” for “upholstery” . I would love to tap into your experience in this area since I am a beginner. Thanks, Ann

  16. Ann says:

    Sorry about that I meant to say “I want a professional outcome”.

  17. Lindsay says:

    what is the name of this fabric?! Do you know where I can find it?! I’m in LOVE!!

  18. Ben Davis says:

    Is there a specific reason why you opted for Porter Cable variety? I am asking if it has something to do with the portability and ease of handling that this compressor offers?


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