This week, I’d like to walk you through a step-by-step series of instructions, on how to upholster wood furniture. Some people (myself included) don’t like parking themselves on hard surfaces for 100% of their meals. Upholstering is also a good option to consider if you have an ottoman that would be much nicer with a little lift, and a touch of padding for your heels. It could be that you want your ottoman to match your chairs. Maybe you’d just like to cover up an ugly surface.
Whatever your reasons, don’t balk at doing this yourself. It’s easy, fun, and if you’re not happy with your work, you can always tear it off and do it again with different materials.
The first thing you’ll need to do is take the seat off of the frame. This is usually pretty easy—look for screws going up through the underside of the chair.
Once the seat is by itself, clean it off (this can be a messy job if you’re reupholstering, what with old glue and foam), and use it as a stencil, to cut an identically sized and shaped panel from a cardboard box. Using your new template, repeat the process with foam. The choice of foam is entirely your choice, but I’d recommend finding something that will hold up against bony back sides.
When you’ve got the foam cut, spray the top of the seat with a spray-on adhesive (3M makes a good one that you can find pretty much anywhere). The foam can then be glued to the chair. Be sure to read the directions on the spray. Some of these require some time to set before covering them up.
The upholstery itself should be cut so that it hangs about five inches over/past all sides and corners of the seat. Don’t worry about shaping it—you’ll trim it up later. Just a square will do. Set the fabric (pattern side down!) on a flat surface, then place the seat upside down on top of it. Grab a staple gun, and get ready for the tricky part!
The thing that’s hard to get right the first time is stretching the fabric evenly across the chair. The play in the foam makes it easy to get wrinkles in your cloth, especially if the foam is thick. My advice is to trust your fingers more than your eyes…the edge of your rough cut cloth will throw off your visual perception, and the only thing that matters in underneath the seat anyway, so feel it out.
Wrap the fabric around one side of the chair (I start with the longest edge), and at the center of it, put in your first staple. I’d put one or two right next to it, too, if your fabric is prone to ripping. Now wrap the fabric around the opposite edge, and when you’re sure your pattern is straight and your tension is right, put the next staple in. Use the thumb and forefinger of your non-stapling hand to stretch the fabric taut on either side of the staple.
From there on out, it’s pretty easy, as long as you don’t rush it. Keep putting in staples where they’re needed until you have enough of them to apply even holding power around the entire seat. Trim off your excess fabric, reattach the seat to the frame, and you’re good to go!
A couple final hints:
- No stretchy fabric. Fabric sold as upholstery works best because it won’t stretch, and it won’t rip by pulling against the staples.
- A little fabric protector goes a long way to guard against splotches and stains.
- If you’re using something like nagahide, you won’t need to worry about either problem. Just a thought.
Your Woodworking Expert,