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.

Materials

  • (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

Instructions

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!

Shannon

Woo hoooo!! I got an air compressor for Christmas and have been yearning to use it (but haven’t because a new baby and toddler have been keeping me busy…) This article is just what the doctor ordered!! Thanks!

Stacey Hill

Oh my gosh! I’m so excited. I live in small town Ontario and have wanted to learn how to upholster for a while now but there aren’t any courses close by. This is great. And by Spruce no less!!

Adrienne

I’ve always wanted to learn upholstery. Looking forward to this column! Thanks :)

allison

Thanks for the info!! I have a ton of stuff that i want to reupholster and i really want to figure it out and do it myself but i had NO idea where to start!

Christina

This is EXACTLY what I needed. I have been seriously craving some instruction, and ogling beautiful patterns and yard sale furniture for months without the tools to put the two together. Thank you!

lauran

incredible. you are actually helping me complete my new year’s resolution, which was to learn the basics. thank you, amanda!

Angela

SO excited about this new series- can’t wait!!

Kat

Oh, I’m so excited you posted this. I’ve got several projects that need upholstering. I’ve already used the air compressor for my new paint sprayer. Pretty soon I’ll have more “toys” than my husband! Hehe…

sarah

very excited for this series! i just picked up a FREE wingback chair in need of a makeover but i’ve been putting it off…this will give me the jumpstart i need! Thank you!

Kate O

So excited this series is kicking off! And can’t wait to see next month’s column…

Clare

Please don’t forget about safety! I usually wear safety glasses + ear plugs or ear muffs when working with heavy power tools or anything pneumatic.
I’m excited to see next month’s installment!

Sarah

Oh I am so excited for more out of this series! I’m excited to see I or another man in my family has most of these tools! Can’t wait for Thursdays!

carolyn

Anyone know where I can find that fabric? I have a 50’s style chair that would look amazing with that fabric. Would love some help tracking it down! Thanks!

Tori

I’m very, very, VERY excited about this. Thank you for this awesome tool kit check list!

Laura

Amanda, no way! This makes my day. (Oops, rhyming.) I’m a big fan of Spruce TV and about fell out of (?) my sofa when I saw your post. Thank you, can’t wait!

georgia

I think this is a fantastic and an exciting addition to DS and I like to wish Amanda and everyone embarking on DIY upholstery good luck! Having attended a weekly upholstery course for 2 years now, I’ve discovered it’s a really, REALLY quite difficult craft to master especially with no prior sewing knowledge. I thank my lucky stars I have the expertise of my tutor at hand to advise me. For example, from selecting the correct spring gauges, twine to sew on the springs, webbing, hessian, stretching/pleating fabric down to choosing the correct tack size or staple (who knew there were so many tack sizes and each having a different role in upholstery??) . My only advise to anyone who is about to strip back their old chairs…is to have lots and lots of patience and perhaps buy a book on upholstery to accompany these tutorials as no two chairs are the same. Good luck one and all! We can do it ;)

Amanda Brown

Carolyn, the fabric is a vintage one I found on ebay, so I’m afraid it’s no longer available. I’ve been looking for something similar and will let you know if I find anything.

Thanks everyone for the kind words! Can’t wait for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work next month!

Steph

Yay, I’m so excited! I just bought two books on upholstery and a bunch of upholstery supplies. I’m obsessed with old chairs and I have several waiting to be refinished. I’m so happy to be able to follow along with D*S.

Gosia

Wow, so happy to be the part of this learning. Question though, is the compressor a must-have? Will an electric stapler be of any use? I have pieces of furniture I want to reupholster, but money is rather scarce to invest in this equipment. Regardless, I cant thank Amanda enough for sharing this knowledge.
Thank You.

Amy C.

This is very exciting for me as an Interior Designer working for a furniture manufacturer. Knowing how it’s made and doing it yourself are two completely different things! Great post and I look forward to the how-to’s to come! Thank you!

Krys

I’m super excited about these posts. I’ve been eyeing the upholstery classes at Spruce for a while now, but haven’t found the time, money or perfect chair to do it! Maybe this is the fire I need to try it on my own :)

Sarah

I am SOOOO excited that you will be doing this series. I’ve always wanted to try upholstery…and I have the perfect piece to tinker with. And, thanks to my handy hubbie, I have almost everything on the list including the air compressor and staple gun. Off to got pick up webbing stretcher and needle!

Kirsty

Great! I’m really looking forward to this feature, I have a chair that needs sorting out in mind too!

Jennie

Ooooh…I’m so excited for this series too! I’m dying to fix up my tattered antique couch, but have no idea where to start.

Betsy

YESSSS! I have been thinking about trying my hand at upholstery for the last year and have been just a little too intimidated so I am so excited that you’re doing this series! I will definitely be back for more!

Tina

I will definitely be tuning in. I am so excited to fire up the pneumatic stapler. It really is one of the best inventions ever!

Pammy

Very excited for this, thanks so much for doing this series! I have several things i would like to attempt to reupholster that have been taking up space in my basement for quiet some time… Grandma’s old Wingback, a crazy sofa with wooden detailing with disintegrated foam that we inherited with our house, and a cool upholstered rocking chair i picked up for $10 at the thrift store. Oh, and another chair. Excited to start tackling these so my husband will stop accusing me of hoarding!

Amy B

Perfect! Thanks for the nudge! Time to turn fantasy into reality!

Liz

Amanda your talents are incredible! Everyone should check your store front out! Can’t wait to visit Austin and see your shop first hand. I work as an upholsterer/custom fabricator and I think this is a great column. The more people out there doing this craft the better.

angela

amanda: could you provide an estimate of the total cost for all of these tools? thanks!

Dana

YYYYEEESSS!!! Upholstery on DS! Also, I second Angela’s request of a cost of tool investment. Thank you!

Kate

Please, please, please keep this column going!!! My garage storage space depends on it as I’m slowly accumulating more reupholstery projects than any normal person should have. Really looking forward to next month’s post.

Helen

Thank you! I look forward to further posts. I am a beginner and can use all the help I can get!

Mary

Amanda, how did you train for this career? Did you apprentice? I’ve taken a course but would love to learn more and need advice on how to do it. Thanks!

penny

This is so great! have stuff to upholster and needed a nudge!!

Amanda Brown

Gosia – An air compressor is not an absolute necessity; however, it’s a great item to put on your wish list. Electric staplers don’t shoot with the same force as pneumatic staplers, so the staples don’t consistently go into the wood all the way.

Angela & Dana – Depending on what you have at home already (scissors, carving knife, glue gun, etc.), the hand tools should be $175 – $250. Small air compressors with the hose and attachments are anywhere from $100-$200, and pneumatic staplers are generally $100-$150. Total, you’re looking at around $400-$600 to get the tools you need. Spruce carries assembled tool kits. Click on the “upholstery supplier” link in the blog post.

Mary – I took a series of classes at the local community college in Austin followed by a year of trudging through projects on my own before I felt really comfortable with the skills. Once you have the basics down, nothing is better than practice!

Alie

I’m so excited! The only thing I can’t seem to find is the roll edge cutter. Does it have another name?

Amanda Brown

Try searching for a square point upholstery knife. The exact one I use has a wooden handle and a 3 7/8″ blade.

Jacki F.

I just today got back a totally redesigned and reupholstered couch which Amanda and her girls did for me! It was an unbelievable transformation. It is amazing what they do at Spruce. It has inspired me to want to learn more about upholstery and even take a class! Love that you are doing this column.

Amanda E.

I, too, have been eyeing several pieces of my furniture, wanting to fix them up, and am super excited for this series!! Keep ‘em coming!

Rebecca

Hi. I just wanted to say that I am thrilled that DS is able to offer advice on upholstery. I live in Vancouver BC and have been finding it incredibly difficult to get any advice, training or lessons. I recently contacted a woman in the area who was very negative about my inquiry to learn. I was so dismayed by her response I wanted to share it here in the hope that you point me in the direction of other good/more positive resources.

” I have been approached many times to teach – and have – private lessons for people in the trade or individuals with considerable experience.

Unfortunately, upholstery is not really applicable as a DIY – as it requires practiced skills and hundreds of $$$ of equipment. Finding and renting a premises for group classes can be costly and, frankly, since I run a business as an upholsteress, I am not too comfortable sharing the skills I have toiled for 20 years to accumulate.”

I think it is such a shame that people do not want to pass on their knoweldeg to others. I just can’t relate to this kind of response!

Also – if there were any other readers from Vancouver on DS interested in meeting up to support one-another in an upholstery work-class – we could get something off the ground and use Amanda tutorials as our teacher instead?

Amanda Brown

Rebecca,
I can relate to your frustration with that response. I too was discouraged by the resources for learning how to do upholstery when I started Spruce. I can tell you that you can absolutely master the skills of upholstery with a positive attitude and hard, but rewarding, work. I’m happy to provide you with a little dose of positivity and upholstery training! Don’t worry about the naysayers.

Kristin

Is there a way I can download this and study it while offline? Thank you SO much for this priceless information! :)

kathleen

so thrilled to see this column! I can’t wait for all future installments–this is just the type of reading i was looking for!

Christina L.

I am so happy I found this post, I just purchased an air compressor and I also bought a Porter Cable pneumatic stable gun but I tried it out on the seat board and the staples poked through the backside. It is an 18 GA 1/4 ” crown and 1/2 inch is the shortest staple it will take. I did see that there is actually a Porter Cable Upholstery stapler that is 3/8″crown and takes 1/4 inch up to 5/8 inch. It looks like this may be the one in your picture, is this the one I should get? Also which length staples do you use!
This article was fantastic and walked me through hooking up the compressor, thanks so much!

Amanda

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!

DJ

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!

Cindy

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

Beverly Hayes

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?

Michael

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

Steve Copley

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)?

Joan Holmes

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

eve

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.

Lil

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.

Mr Peter

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.

m.kidder

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

LEAVE A COMMENT