Basic Upholstery Tools
Combined with the technical experience, having the Right Tool for the job can make all the difference of the world between a mediocre job and a very precise professional job. It can also make the difference in a professional making money on his work, or just barely surviving. This section is set aside for giving information and instructions about the tools used in the upholstery trade. See below for the table of contents. More items will be added in the future.
Basic Upholstery Tools
Here is a suggested list of minimum starting tools. Whether you are a beginner, or a professional, we'd suggest that you only purchase the tools that you know you have a use for. It is so easy to get into the fever of buying new tools, and end up with a toolbox full of tools that you might never use. Tools are important, having the right tool for the right job is very helpful and can save you a lot of time. But, just make sure you know what you will be using a tool for before you buy it.
Minimum Set of Hand Tools
- Hammer: 16 oz, straight claw, with almost sharp claws, which can be used to strip the old cover off.
- Inexpensive upholstery tack hammer ($5 to $15) only if needed.
- Heavy-Duty Sharp Scissors: 9 or 10 inch: If you plan to do more upholstery than just one project, get a good quality pair, as described below.
- Pliers: standard 6" to 10"inch
- Staple remover: Recommend Berry's style (can be Osborne brand) (You can use a small flat sharpened screwdriver and a pair of pliers instead of the Berry's, if necessary). Used to correct mistakes (you will make plenty, that is normal.) Having the Berry's style will make taking out staples much easier.
- Ripping Chisel: (can use a straight screwdriver as a replacement if necessary.) Used to remove the old fabric.
- Straight slotted
- Curved Needles: 4 inch & 6 inch: used to stitch the deck divide down, or to hand sew fabric joints together (i.e. Inside wing to inside arm, OB to OA, to edge of skirt, etc.)
- Button needle: 10 to 16 inch (if the furniture has buttons)
- Seam ripper
- Electric carving knife: to cut foam (a "make-do" substitute for a foam saw, see below)
- Tape measure: 1/2" X 12' (small enough to keep in one's pocket or purse)
- Improvised Webbing Stretcher: You can substitute a 1 x 4 board that is about 8 inches long to use as a webbing stretcher) only if needed.
Additional Hand Tools
- Wood clamps (you should get several of most/all sizes as you can arrange it.)
- Wooden clamps (10" & 12" or longer)
- bar clamps (16", 28", 40")
- Pipe clams (Several sizes, aprox: 60", 72", 96")
- Upholstery tack hammers: in the old days, these were used to attach the covers in place. Nowadays, many upholsterers use air staplers in place of the tack hammers. However there are some tight areas (especially on antiques) where the stapler won't reach. The upholstery tack hammer is especially useful in these situations.
- Scissors: 9 to 12 inch: get a good quality, such as Wiss brand, 10" (#20W) to 12" (22W) . I use a Wiss 12" 22W that I've used daily for possibly 20 or 30 years. A good quality of scissors will last a long time, if you take good care of it.
- Safety Glasses to protect your eyes. Things can go flying, such as anytime you hammer nails, cutting off old hog rings, etc.
- Webbing stretchers
- Webbing Pliers: Useful for stretching canvas or webbing that has already been cut. Also good for pulling fabric evenly when needed.
- Needle nose pliers: to pull fabric through tight areas.
- Regulator: used to stick through some types of fabric to move padding around to stuff corners, etc.) Only use if it won't leave a hole in fabric.)
- Duck bill pliers: used for pulling fabric in tight spaces or for pulling fabric evenly.
- Hog ring pliers
- Non-Marring Mallet
- Rawhide Mallet.
- Hard Plastic Mallet: good for hammering tack strips in place.
- Rulers: 60" X 1 1/2", 48", 36", 12"
- Combination Square. : used for marking and measuring bands to attach to the furniture frame.
- Carpenter's Framing Square, 24" : used for squaring up and marking fabric.
- 30" X 36" roller cutting mat (from a craft store): great for square up and marking larger pieces of fabric before cutting.
- Fine Tipped Marking Devices (Used to mark fabric before cutting. The type of marker used depends on the color and type of fabric, and the color and type of marker)
- Tailor's chalk
- Carpenter's pencils
- Fabric Marking Pencils
- Don't use felt tipped markers, such as Sharpies. The may bleed through the fabric with time, use, and cleaning.
- Masking Tape: apply to the back of fabrics and mark client's name or furniture part ID on it.
- Antiseptic spray
- band-aids: In upholstery, there are numerous things to give you tiny knicks or cuts. Use a bandage on ALL cuts and knicks, no matter how small. Even the tiniest cut can bleed a drop of blood that can make have redo a large part of your furniture project. The band-aid keeps you from bleeding on the fabric.
- First Aid Kit: You get to figure this one out.
- Fire Extinguisher
- Fine steel wool
- Old English Scratch Cover Polish
- Carpenter's yellow wood glue
- Single edge razor blades
- Hog rings
- A good selection of nails and screws
- Button Molds (sizes 22, 30, 36, 45, 60)
- Disinfectant spray: used to kill bugs and ... inside the old furniture.
- Roll of 9' wide X 400 ft painter's plastic (good for covering up stuff when you use foam glue. Also good for putting down on a dirty table when you want to keep stuff clean. good for wrapping finished jobs in.
- Roll of 30-36" wide flooring paper: good to make patterns (any type of paper would do, butcher paper, maybe newsprint paper.)
- Staplers: One or more of the following (recommended preference in the following order)
- upholstery air stapler - (Buy one from an upholstery supplier. They are smaller and more powerful than the cheap ones.) and/or
- upholstery quality electric stapler (buy one from an upholstery supplier) and/or
- heavy duty electric stapler - and/or
- heavy duty hand stapler (don't use lightweight hand staplers. Use a Duofast or other heavy duty hand stapler)
- Air Ripping Chisel: Read about using them here: Using an Air Ripping Chisel.
- Air nozzle: great for blowing lint and dirt off finished jobs.
- Electric drill - variable speed : used to drill holes and to use as an electric screwdriver
- Steamer - Get a floor model. : useful to steam wrinkles out of fabric, to shrink certain fabrics to make it fit better, to steam up old foam, to separate previously glued joints at other foam or at wood.
- Heat gun - only recommend one with a metal body that uses high heat. See information here.
- Skill saw
- Jig saw - variable speed with an orbitle blade
- Foam saw
- Hot glue gun
- Shop vac: besides vacuuming the floor, it can also be used to stuff cushions. (wrap cushion completely in plastic, put vacuum nozzle inside plastic at back of cushion, turn on vacuum and let it suck all the air out of cushion. Stick cushion inside of cushion cover. Turn off vaccuum and guide cushion filling as it fills the cover. Tear out the plastic. Zip up cushion.)
- Walking-foot sewing machine
- Air compressor
- 14" floor model Band saw - useful for cutting specially shaped wood braces for furniture. Also good for cutting foam.
- Button Press & dies (sizes 22, 30, 36, 45, 60)