Tools, Machines, & Fixtures of the Upholstery Trade

Learn what type of tools and machinery you need for your shop

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Shop Fixtures



  • Sawhorses and/or work table on which to put the sofa while working on it.
  • Cutting table or large flat surface to roll out the fabric while cutting. Upholstery fabric is about 54" wide, so a fabric cutting table is generally about 60" wide. It can be anywhere from 8 ft to 12 ft long, or longer, depending upon the amount of space you have.
  • Shelf for fabrics that you are or will be working on. I have a shelf under my cutting table to hold the fabrics.
  • Tables to go around your sewing machines
  • Thread racks
  • Shelves for tools and supplies
  • Tool racks or holders

Upholstery Cutting Table

One of the most important tools of any upholstery shop is a cutting table. A cutting table is used for many things beside just cutting fabric. Here we will look at some of the ideas behind the sizes and how it is used. Because the tables for upholstery is very specific, and it's not very easy to find one the right size, most upholsterers build their own tables. But, how big should you make it?

Table Top Size

A 10 to 12 foot table is a good size, but it depends on your use and the amount of space you have.
Because most upholstery fabric is 54" wide, plus the selvage, having your table 60" wide is very efficient. You want the table to be wide enough to hold the fabric width, but you also want to be able to reach the middle of the table from either side. For the table length, you need it long enough to hold the roll of fabric plus the full length of the cut-lengths of the sofas (inside back, outside back, etc.). But, it you only have room for an 8' table, you can make a hinged section for the ends that folds down to the floor. Then, for the times when you need the length, you can fold it up while you are using it, then fold it down again.

Some people have their tables 48" wide, while others may have their tables 8 foot by 8 foot. Some tables are very short 6', 8', or 10', while others may be very long. The size depends upon your space, needs and preferences.

I use a 5' X 10' table. If I had the space, I'd rather have a 12' table. But the 10' table does the job. In my last house, when I had even less space, I made the last 2' of the table fold down (on hinges) for the times when I needed a longer table. I'd recommend you having at least a 10' table, if at all possible.

Table Height

Having your table the correct height can make your job of cutting much more enjoyable. You will spend long hours spend bending over this table, so make sure you build it the correct height. How do you figure that out? One way is to to your kitchen table (or another utility table) and bend over it, as though you were cutting fabric on the table. Get some blocks of wood and put under the table legs and try it at various heights. Or, if the table is too high for you, stand on various thicknesses of wood until you find the right height. Then measure from where you stood to the top of the table. As a note, I'm 5'11 and my cutting table is 34" high. It could even be up to a couple inches higher for me.

Another consideration of height is that sometimes some of us climb on the table to cut some of the fabric. In this case it helps to not have the table too high to climb on (although having a stool handy is also helpful)

A third consideration is your correct ergonomic height* (see note* at bottom of page), which says that the table height should 1" below your elbow.

A fourth consideration is: Will you be using the table for anything besides a cutting table? In my little shop, the cutting table has many uses. Sometimes I put a chair or footstool on the table to work on. If the table is at the correct ergonomic height*, then the chair will be too high to work on comfortably. So, in planning your height, consider how you will be using your table.

Building the Table

You can make your cutting table any size you want. Figure that you'll need to have room for your roll of fabric and whatever you'll be putting on your table. The cutting table is only one part of the equation. How much other tables and equipment will you have in your room.

Before I laid out my shop, I made a "to scale" layout of where each item was going, like this:

(click on drawing to enlarge)

When you do a layout, measure you room, doors, windows, etc. Then measure the floor size of everything that needs to be in the workroom. I used a drawing software to make the drawing. (the software needs to be able to draw to scale) Then you can keep rearranging until everything fits. This will also help you to see how large your cutting table can be. Putting in the effort to plan it out at the beginning can save you a lot of grief in the end.

The Table Top

How you make the top of the table depends upon how you will use it. The table top is often make out of plywood. If I remember correctly, in the past I have been able to get 5' X 9' plywood sheets. Nowadays, when I'm building a cutting table, because other sizes are much harder to find, I usually use 4' X 8' plywood sheets. Depending upon the length of my table, I cut 2 or 3 sheets off at 5' length, and then run the 5' length across the width of my table.

Because I also use my cutting table as an ironing table, and I also use it to pin fabrics in place, my cutting table has a pad, with canvas over the pad..

(Note, the drawing only shows the padding and the top.
The drawing doesn't accurately represent the construction of the table itself.)

Then, over the top of the canvas is a vinyl slip cover that slides on and off. Whenever I have something to iron, I take the vinyl cover off and do my ironing. Then I put the vinyl cover back on. So, you can say I have a 5' X 10' ironing table. However, most of the time when I have something small to iron, I'll just lift up a corner other the vinyl to expose a corner of my ironing surface.


Table In Use

My cutting table is well used essential part of my shop. It always has stuff flowing on and off of it. From my perspective I prefer to have the cutting table be as large as my small shop can handle, because it is the most used area of my shop.
My big table does often get cluttered with stuff, but it's mainly with the parts of the job that I'm working on. Here's how I use my table.

  • Firstly, I thoroughly clean off my table (and my shop) between jobs. When I'm finished with a job, I put everything back into the cupboards, shelves, and tool racks where they belong
  • Next, while my table is clear, I measure all the cuts needed and do a layout.
  • Then I roll out the fabric and cut all the pieces needed, As I cut them I lay the pieces aside.
  • When all the pieces are cut, I organize them, by laying each group together on various piles on the table. For example all the cushion pieces (welts, cushion tops, zipper pieces) all go in one pile, etc., the arm pieces in another, the IB pieces in yet another pile.
  • Then as I do the job I'll grab each pile and put the pieces together as needed, and, if needed, trimming any pieces down to an exact size.
  • Sometimes, if my shop is full, after the fabric is cut, I'll put a chair or a chair seat on the table and work on it there.

Cleaning the Table
One thing to keep in mind, if you have a large shop, you might want to have two cutting tables, which is very handy. However, if you only have ONE table, as I do, it's much easier to keep it clean because you have to keep it clean for the next job. There is no place else to do your cutting.


Thanks to Dede, Jan, Bern & Bob at for some of the ideas and inspiration used in this article.


*Table Height

Optimum Height of the Workstation

In developing an industrial workstation, a designer shouldtake into account the height of the workstation. When the area is too high,workers must frequently lift their shoulders up, and this may cause painfulcramps near the shoulder blades, and in the neck and shoulders. On the other hand, when the working height is too low, the back must be excessively bowedand this causes backache. Therefore, the work table height must be compatible with worker height, whether standing or sitting. Konz (1967) found that the best working height is about 2.5 cm (1
below the elbow, however, the working height can vary several centimeters up or down without any significant effect on performance. For determining proper workstation height Konz (1990) has recommended three
different approaches; (1) make available several work surface heights, (2) adjust the operator’s elbow rather than the height of the workstation, which can be adjust by utilizing an adjustable chair or providing a platform to stand on if necessary, and (3) adjust the height of the work on the workbench.

(Advances in Industrial Ergonomics VI, Editor F.Aghazadeh, pg 279)


Upholstery Machinery

Upholstery Sewing Machines

Suppliers for Upholstery Sewing machinges Parts and Supplies

  1. Ultimate Sew & Vac1 has a large online listing of parts for both household and commercial sewing machines

Sewing Machine Repair

  1. wefixit · Sewing Machine "Shade Tree" Mechanics. this is am email list for people who like to repair sewing machines. They exchange tips & tricks, advice, etc.
  2. HowStuffWorks.com1 has a page that shows How Sewing Machines Work.1






1Thanks to Ted Howard of Howards Upholstery for supplying this info.

Upholstery Tools

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

  1. Hammer: 16 oz, straight claw, with almost sharp claws, which can be used to strip the old cover off.
  2. Inexpensive upholstery tack hammer ($5 to $15) only if needed.
  3. 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.
  4. Pliers: standard 6" to 10"inch
  5. 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.
  6. Ripping Chisel: (can use a straight screwdriver as a replacement if necessary.) Used to remove the old fabric.
  7. Screwdrivers
    1. Philips
    2. Straight slotted
  8. 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.)
  9. Button needle: 10 to 16 inch (if the furniture has buttons)
  10. Seam ripper
  11. Electric carving knife: to cut foam (a "make-do" substitute for a foam saw, see below)
  12. Tape measure: 1/2" X 12' (small enough to keep in one's pocket or purse)
  13. 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

  1. Wood clamps (you should get several of most/all sizes as you can arrange it.)
    1. Wooden clamps (10" & 12" or longer)
    2. bar clamps (16", 28", 40")
    3. Pipe clams (Several sizes, aprox: 60", 72", 96")
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Safety Glasses to protect your eyes. Things can go flying, such as anytime you hammer nails, cutting off old hog rings, etc.
  5. Webbing stretchers
  6. Webbing Pliers: Useful for stretching canvas or webbing that has already been cut. Also good for pulling fabric evenly when needed.
  7. Needle nose pliers: to pull fabric through tight areas.
  8. 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.)
  9. Duck bill pliers: used for pulling fabric in tight spaces or for pulling fabric evenly.
  10. Dikes
  11. Hog ring pliers
  12. Non-Marring Mallet
    1. Rawhide Mallet.
    2. Hard Plastic Mallet: good for hammering tack strips in place.
  13. Rulers: 60" X 1 1/2", 48", 36", 12"
  14. Combination Square. : used for marking and measuring bands to attach to the furniture frame.
  15. Carpenter's Framing Square, 24" : used for squaring up and marking fabric.
  16. 30" X 36" roller cutting mat (from a craft store): great for square up and marking larger pieces of fabric before cutting.

Shop Supplies

  1. 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)
    1. Tailor's chalk
    2. Carpenter's pencils
    3. Fabric Marking Pencils
    4. Don't use felt tipped markers, such as Sharpies. The may bleed through the fabric with time, use, and cleaning.
  2. Masking Tape: apply to the back of fabrics and mark client's name or furniture part ID on it.
  3. Antiseptic spray
  4. 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.
  5. First Aid Kit: You get to figure this one out.
  6. Fire Extinguisher
  7. Fine steel wool
  8. Old English Scratch Cover Polish
  9. Carpenter's yellow wood glue
  10. Single edge razor blades
  11. Hog rings
  12. A good selection of nails and screws
  13. Button Molds (sizes 22, 30, 36, 45, 60)
  14. Disinfectant spray: used to kill bugs and ... inside the old furniture.
  15. 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.
  16. Roll of 30-36" wide flooring paper: good to make patterns (any type of paper would do, butcher paper, maybe newsprint paper.)


Power Tools

  1.  Staplers: One or more of the following (recommended preference in the following order)
    1. upholstery air stapler - (Buy one from an upholstery supplier. They are smaller and more powerful than the cheap ones.) and/or
    2. upholstery quality electric stapler (buy one from an upholstery supplier) and/or
    3. heavy duty electric stapler - and/or
    4. heavy duty hand stapler (don't use lightweight hand staplers. Use a Duofast or other heavy duty hand stapler)
  2. Air Ripping Chisel: Read about using them here: Using an Air Ripping Chisel.
  3. Air nozzle: great for blowing lint and dirt off finished jobs.
  4. Electric drill - variable speed : used to drill holes and to use as an electric screwdriver
  5. 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.
  6. Heat gun - only recommend one with a metal body that uses high heat. See information here.
  7. Skill saw 
  8. Jig saw - variable speed with an orbitle blade
  9. Foam saw
  10. Iron
  11. Hot glue gun
  12. 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.)



  1. Walking-foot sewing machine
  2. Air compressor
  3. 14" floor model Band saw - useful for cutting specially shaped wood braces for furniture. Also good for cutting foam.
  4. Button Press & dies (sizes 22, 30, 36, 45, 60)

Staple Removers

Although there many types of staple removers that have been or are still being made, this article is about the Berry Staple Remover, and its look-alikes.

I have been using Berry staple removers (now copied by Osborne) for as long as I can remember. I've tried other types, but have always come back to the Berry.
However, in recent years I had thought that the Berry's Staple Removers had been bought out by Osborne, and I thought that I couldn't get the genuine Berrys anymore. The points of some of the Berry (look-alike) Staple removers have been changed and they don't work as well for me. As you can see from the pictures (If you look really closely at the pictures) the points are different. (
Not all of the Berry look-alikes have the blunted tip. Another upholstery, who had purchased an Osborne look-alike staple puller, sent me the new one. It had a relatively sharp point, just like the Berry. Whenever you purchase a new Berry or a look-alike, check the tips before you use them. Make sure that it has the thin blade with the sharp point, as shown below.)
Berry Staple Pullers

In the above picture, the top staple puller (which is on the right in the below picture) is the most recent one that I got. The bottom staple puller, with the broken point, is one that I've used for many years. The points on it work great, they are smoother, longer, stronger and come to a finer point (and it obviously has lasted many years). After getting the new staple puller, I went back to my old broken point one. It just works better. I'll be really sad when it finally wears out or breaks



staple remover pointsCloseup Picture
Here is a close up of the tips of those two staple pullers, and a third (in the middle), with yet another shape of tip.
The middle staple puller has a shorter thinner tip. While better than the one on the right, it still doesn't work as well as my broken tip Berry staple puller.

Notice how the newest one, on the right, has the points filed down. It came this way from the supplier manufacturer.


sharp-blunt pointsCloseup of Sideview
This side view shows thinness of blade, with the sharp tip, of my broken  Staple Remover, on the right in the picture. This thinness is part of the reason that this Staple Remover works so much better for me. I've used this very Staple Remover for many years. It has held up through a lot of rough use. I've never filed the points. Except for normal wear and tear, the point is the same as when it was new.

In comparison, as you can see on the tip of the other Staple Remover, it's blades is much thicker and stubbier. In addition, you can see that the tip of that one was ground at an angle to give it a point (It came that way from the supplier). But that point wasn't sharp enough and just didn't seem to help much for me.

I would like to see the wholesalers selling good quality staple removers  instead of the blunt tipped Staple Removers.

Bazooka Filler and Baffled Ticking


On one of our upholstery jobs the client had a sofa with down feather cushion. He liked the down, but cushion didn't have enough body. When he sat on the cushion, it didn't support him enough. After discussing the problem, we decided to put a foam core in the middle of the cushion. This provided some challenges. Besides figuring out the design of the cushions, we also had to figure out how to transfer the down feathers from the old ticking cover to the to yet to be made new ticking covers. I had seen pictures of a bazooka that transfers the feathers. Not wanting to purchase one, I decided to try to make an air bazooka.

 Here is a picture of the homemade Bazooka Filler and a couple pictures of the Down ticking cover. This ticking cover is based upon  the drawings that are at Pillow Ticking Covers.


When the client who wanted this cushion on his sofa first talked to me about making a down cushion with more body, we initially talked about adding more down/feathers. While he was here I gave him a test of what that would feel like by squishing the cushion to one side of the sofa. As a comparison test, I got a piece of 2" foam and put in under his old down cushion. He liked that feel. So we talked about making a down cushion with a foam insert. Although I've made a down ticking cover with baffles before, I had never made a down ticking cover with baffles AND a foam insert. The drawings at the top of this thread were a result of my trying to figure out how to do it. Even with the drawings, I still thought that I would have to finish sewing the edge seams from the outside. Tacky!!!, especially since I don't have a working serger. I kept thinking about it, and just as I was ready to start on the ticking cover, an idea came to me (which I'll describe later). The  result is that I was able to sewit all up from the inside, and have a nice finished exterior (which is nice, because I called the client to come out and do a pillow test. She really liked it  

The Home Made Bazooka Works
To figure out how to make the Bazooka, I followed the message threads that lead to a instructions at another forum. (I forget the name right off had, but it's not the I took pictures of how I made it, and, if there's any interest, I may write something about how to make it. Anyway, the focus of this message to acknowledge that it works.
Here is a movie showing the Bazooka in action. This movie (3 minutes and 24 seconds) also shows this finished pillow ticking cover.


P.S. I didn't have time to write a script for the whole movie, but I did add a script at the beginning to kind of let you know what is going on. The rest of the movie just has the normal shop noise.

In making this ticking cover, I also discovered a new way to close the hole affter using the Bazooka to fill each pocket: Velcro closures, which are shown in the movie. With these velcro closures and the Bazooka, there was hardly any feathers that escaped.  That was nice.

Channel Stuffers


I've never had real channel stuffing tins, nor have I used the plastic. But this is what I have done.

  • Using a band saw I've cut the cardboard tubes that the fabric comes rolled on into stuffing channels. Since the cardboard tubes come in various sizes, they can be cut into various sizes of stuffing tubes.
  • I've wrapped the cotton in lining fabric and pulled them through with some button string.
  • I've used several rulers to put on each side of the cotton and then slid them into the channel.
  • I've used Stacey's Method of doing Channel Backs that is shown here on the website with good success. The channels have turned out very nice and the padding is smooth. . I'm surprised that Stacey didn't mention it.

To see a slideshow using Stacey's method shown on this website, click here: Channelback Slideshow

(click on picture of the chair to see the slideshow)
(Also, to see all the pictures individually, click here.)

Foam Cutter

Stopping foam glue from sticking to the foam cutter blade.

Sometimes you may need to use a foam cutter (or an electric carving knife) to cut foam after it has been glued. If you cut the foam before the glue has dried, the glue tends to stick to the cutter blade and gum it up.

In this case I would suggest that  you spray some silicone on the blade before you cut the foam

It helps to prevent the glue from sticking to the blade.

Best Wishes,

Heat Gun

My Old Heat Gun

We all may have different opinions and thought as to what a "real" heat gun is. Just to let you know where I'm coming from, many years ago I had a metal heat gun that I really loved. But through many moves and challenging life situations, that heat gun is not longer with me.

Making Do 

 hair dryer

I've just been "limping by" with a hand-held hair dryer, we have two, and this is one of them:

I've been getting by with it, "kind of", but it has been slow. It just doesn't get hot enough to work very fast, and when I am just beginning to get the vinyl hot enough, the hair dryer goes through a "cool off" cycle.






Time to Get New Heat Gun

Well, I have 11 dining chairs to do in a 50 oz vinyl. I finally decided that I should get a real heat gun. Because I really liked the one I used to have, I wanted to get another one just like it. But, after calling around and looking at several different stores, all I could find were the plastic ones like this:



Found Desired Heat Gun!

metal heat gun



After doing a lot of looking, I was about to give up and just get the first one that I had look at (because it was only $39.95). However I went to one last store, Home Depot, and they had just what I was looking for, this metal one, for $59.95:









It gets HOT:

 Hot Heat Gun

Now I'm one happy camper. Now, realistically, I know that probably most of you are probably using the plastic one (similar to the one shown at the top of this message), and they do the job just fine. But I really wanted one like I used to have. It's funny how just little things like this can impact me to much. I feel like it's a "real" heat gun (my perception). To be honest, no matter how good of a job the plastic ones would do, inwardly I wouldn't have been satisfied with any of them. God knew what I really wanted, and allowed me to find it just when I was about to give up. Isn't God good?


 Controlling the heat

Now  a word about controlling the heat. Some Heat guns have hi and low switches, some have temperature controls, others only have a air flow control. Even with these "temperature controls" the vinyl can still get too hot and get scorched or damaged. So the user needs to learn "heat management" methods.

Area Heating
  In using this heat gun (or even the hair dryer) I do what I refer to as “area heating”, rather than “spot heating.” As a comparison, in spot heating, you keep the heat gun focused mostly on or near one spot. With a "hot" gun this could be too damaging to the vinyl and would not allow for stretching of a whole area.

Heat-Distribution Movement Pattern
So, what I do with a "hot" gun is “area heating”, in that I move the heat gun back quickly while going slowly up and down, like this

This movement pattern can vary anywheres from several inches square to a foot square, depending on  how hot the gun gets, how thick the vinyl is, how big of an area you are working with. While I am heating the vinyl, I frequently touch the vinyl to check for temperature.  I also keep a close watch on it to check for any signs of overheating. With a little practice, and with a big dose of awareness, I rarely damage the vinyl.

Temperature Controlled by Distance
Another note, even with a heat gun that doesn't have a temperature control, the temperature can be controlled by distance. The closer the gun is to the vinyl, the hotter it gets, the further away from the vinyl, the cooler it is. As a matter of practice, I start out a farther distance from the vinyl and gradually come closer until I find the proper distance.

Finished Seat
    Here is the finished dining chair seat:

And here is a close up of one of the corners.

These chair seats were covered in a stiff 50 oz vinyl (most upholstery vinyl is 28 oz to 32+ oz). The heat gun really helps to be able to stretch the corners around without any folds.

Upholstery Staple guns

(This article needs to be completely rewritten.)


How to Choose an Air Stapler

Hello All!I am a beginner, having been doing upholstery of vintage furniture as my hobby at home, have done about 10 chairs and armchairs.I started with using a mechanical, then electric, staplers which did not make me feel really comfortable, mainly because they only work smoothly when put 90 degrees against 100% horisontal and flat surface. When doing a piece of furniture with a lot of small carved lines e.g. a rococo armchair, a stapler of this kind does not allow to access many of the places. I have been solving it by putting nails to places which could not be reached by my staplers.Surfing in internet, I have found out that there are air staplers with long noses specially made for upholstery, which I understand should be the right thing for furniture with fine lines and small carved details. The country where I live is very small and there are no specialized upholstery shops here, therefore I cannot get a live demonstration or advise here and would have to order an air stapler remotely. I would very much appreciate your advice on the matter: which one to choose, to be able to upholster curved-lines furniture like rococo.Thank you very much,Kind regards,Tatiana

Submitted by Stephen Winters on 

 Upholstery staple guns had a nose (where the staples come out) that projects out about an inch. the covers most upholstery applications

.    Here is a link to several upholstery staple guns. On this web page it has both an air stapler and two electric staples. I use a staple gun similar to the FASCO 71 SERIES STAPLE GUN
I have used the ELECTRIC DUO-FAST STAPLE GUN 50 SERIES in the past
Both Electric guns work well and do a good job. I have used both types shown on the above link. While not as powerful as the air stapler, they provide enough power for most upholster applications. Once in a while the larger body of the electric stapler will be harder to fit into some tight areas, but that isn't a problem very often.
Here is another web page showing upholster staple guns:
the Air Staple Gun BEA Brand Short Nose has a 1" nose and is also very similar to my regular air gun.
The "Rainco Air Staple Gun Long Nose" has a 2" nose. While I've never used a gun with a 2" nose, it seems like it would occasionally be quite useful, especially when stapling down into the deep crevices in some antiques. since I only occasionally have that need, I use a regular tack hammer to put tack into those deep crevices.
 I mainly use an air stapler, connected to an air compressor with an air tank.  Air staplers are lighter, smaller, and more powerful than the electric stapler. But you need to have an air compressor that will supply 90 to 110 lbs of pressure to the stapler.
I must give you a a note of caution when purchasing air staple guns. A good quality gun will be more expensive the the cheap guns. However, if you will be doing very much upholstery, I would strongly suggest that you buy a good quality gun, such as in the links above. I mainly purchase either a Rainco or Fasco gun, but others (such as a Senco) will also work well.  Besides the quality, one of the main differences between a cheap air gun and a good quality gun is that the good quality guns will be a LOT smaller than the inexpensive guns. The smaller size of the good quality guns is very useful when getting into some of the tight corners of upholstered furniture.
I hope that helps.
Best Wishes,

Upholstery Steamer



  A Steamer is great for

  • shrinking fabric a little to get rid of wrinkles, or
  • for steaming foam back up to size. When foam has been mashed down with years of use, sometimes you can steam it back to shape. this won't work on all foams, and it will only keep it's shape for a short time.
  • for steaming glue joints to separate the foam, such as if foam is glued to a wood base. Using a steam is a great way loosen the grip of the foam glue to get the old foam off the wood.

Click here to see 3 Types of Jiffy Steamers. I use a steamer similar to the "Jiffy Apparel Steamer",  shown at the top. Only mine is called the "Jiffy Junior Steamer", I think.
When I didn't have the Handy Junior steamer, I've used on similar to this hand-held steamer, which costs less than $40.

Using a Heat Gun in Upholstery

Heat Gun

  A heat gun is great for "carefully" heating up vinyl to make it stretch easier around curves and corners, such as this:

The red vinyl on this job was a "heavy" 50 oz. vinyl (as compared to 26 oz to 32 oz. of most average vinyls.) This smooth corner would be very difficult without a heat gun, but was realatively easy with the heat gun. A steamer would not be of much use in doing a corner like this.

Now, if you won't use a heat gun very often, or if funds are tight, and you have to decide which to get, you can get by with a hand-held hair dryer, such as this:

Click here for a Click larger picture of hair dryer.
It is much slower since it doesn't get nearly as hot as a real heat gun. This would get you by if you don't  do much vinyl work. However, if you are going to do a lot of vinyl, a real heat gun will do a much quicker job.
After using this (above) hand-held hair dryer for quite a while, I finally got this heat gun. It gets "hot", so be careful using it:

Click here to enlarge picture

After using it I ask myself, "Why did I wait so long to get a "real" heat gun.

Note: When using this "real" heat gun, I use a method I call "heat and touch". As I heat up the vinyl, I repeatedly touch the are of vinyl that I'm heating. If the vinyl gets hot enough to almost burn my hands, it's plenty hot. It is very easy to scorch viny if you don't watch it carefully as you are heating it. I keep the
As I'm heating the vinyl, I keep the heat gun moving, in a pattern similar to this:

Using this movement pattern, I heat an area of at least a foot square. By keeping the gun moving in this pattern, I can use the gun as closely as 6" to 8" from the vinyl. This way the heat gun quickly heats a wide area. Careful, if you get this close and just aim the gun and heat the vinyl without moving the gun, it would be pretty easy to damage the vinyl. You would need to experiment and test out what would work for you.

I learned this from papasage: To protect the heating element of the gun from burning out, I'll let the heat gun run in "cool" after each time of heating the vinyl. For example, as I'm heating the vinyl, I'll switch the heat gun to high, heat the vinyl using the above pattern. When the vinyl is hot enough, I'll switch the heat gun to cool, set it down on its built in stand, and let it run as it cools while I'm pulling and stapling one section of the vinyl. Then, when I'm reading to heat the next section of vinyl, I'll pick up the gun, switch it to high, and heat another section of vinyl. When that section is hot, switch gun to "cool" and set it down on it stand again. I'll repeat this pattern all lthe way around each section of the seat I'm working on. When I'm finished with the gun, I'll let it run on cool for a bit until it has cooled own.

Heat Gun Stand

Note: if you look in the picture at the above red heat gun, you will see that it is setting upside down on the table on its built-in stand, which is connected around the motor. If you are going to buy a new gun I highly recommend that you find a gun that has some type of stand. This stand keeps the "hot" nozzle up in the air while it cools down. Additionally, because of the long cord, the gun easily tips over. While using the gun, each time you set down the gun, carefully position the gun on it's stand at an angle so that the cord won't pull the gun over. You might want to experiment with finding whiich way to set the gun down (without falling over) before you start using it. (You don't want to have the gun fall over while it is hot and posibly burn your table, etc.)

A word of Caution. Many vinyls have a embedded grain pattern on the surface. If you get the vinyl too hot, the grain will smooth out and dissappear. then you would have to replace that piece of vinyl. So, be careful and watch what you are doing.

If you are new to using a heat gun of this sort, you might want to practice on a piece of scrap vinyl first. As a side note, the hand-held hair dryer doesn't get nearly as hot and takes much longer to heat up the vinyl, but it might be safer to use for a novice.

Yes, You Need Both

So, the answer is "Yes", you should have both. But, from personal  experience, I know there are times when you simply can't afford "everything". So, if you can afford to get both, and would have use for both, do so, and get a good quality ones. But, if you will only use one or the other very little, you can get by with the cheap models until you see that you really need the better ones. Anyway, these are just some thoughts. I hope that they are helpful to you.

Using an Air Ripping Chisel


Additional Comments

Since I originally wrote this article I have since aquire a Bantam Upholstery Remover, decribed at the bottom of this article. I am impressed with it and use it for many jobs. I also use my regular hammer and chisel (when I want peace and quiet), and I still use the Harbor Freight Air Chisel below. The Bantam is gentler and quieter, which works good in lots of situations. The Harbor Freight Air Chisel is rougher and uses more force, which is needed in some places. However, you have to be more careful with it and watch where you use it. It is a little more difficult to control than the Bantam. For more information about Tear Down Methods, click here.

Trying it out

Nowadays I often use air ripping chisel. Many years ago we tried one and didn't like it. Recently, this last year, I purchased one at harbor freight for about $7. When the conditions are right, it can save me anywhere's from 50% to 100% of time (tearing something apart up to twice as fast. 

Note: since I first wrote this article I have since purchased the Bantam Ripping chisel (see bottom of this page). I use it more often than the inexpensive air chisel shown immediately below. However, the inexpensive air chisel is still useful at times. It has more power than the bantam and can detach some of the tough areas that the Bantam can't.

How To Use The Air Chisel

Chisel Using Air ChiselAs I mentioned above, using the air chisel, some times I can tear down a chair or other piece twice as fast. But it doesn't work in all applications. Here are some general guidelines:

  • You have to hold the angle so that the blade is almost level with the wood, going along the grain of the wood, or aiming it a little towards the middle of the piece. If you aim it from the inside outward you can very easily chew up the edge of the wood frame, causing extra time in repair.
  • Don't use the air chisel next to finished woodwork, it can very easily damage it, cause much addition repair time and expense. When using the air chisel hold it firmly with both hands (in some applications, such as on the bottom of a dining chair seat you can use only one hand while guiding the frame with the other hand.)
  • The air chisel seems to work best for me when I keep a tight grip on it, guiding it precisely (as mentioned above) and pressing the blade tight against the wood frame. Having the right angle is important.
  • And, Oh Yes, watch those springs around the bottom of the chisel(see B in top picture), they can sure hurt :o when they pinch your fingers ,so keep your fingers away from the springs, or wear leather gloves.

When To Use The Air Chisel

 I find that when applicable, the air chisel really speeds me up. But, there are also times when I just don't want the extra noise. And there are many times when the conditions are not right, I don't use the air chisel when:

  • too thin of fabric
  • too many staples
  • delicate wood
  • finished wood pieces.
  • I'm listening to a special program on the radio
  • my family is in the workshop with me

I am more prone to use the air chisel when:

  • the frame is very solid and has a heavy fabric.
  • on dining chair bottoms
  • I'm not listening to anything interesting on the radio
  • my family is not in the room with me

Remember: Safety FirstAir Chisel Head Protection



Wear Protective Head Gear

 I'm very safety conscious nowadays. Whenever I use the air chisel, I wear ear protectors (that look like large headphones that go over the top of my head). That makes that noise more bearable, and saves my hearing. I also wear eye protectors.

There's A Reason For Wearing It

 Years ago, when I was first starting into upholstery (and not as careful), I had a nail go into my eye. I was hammering a nail into a hard furniture frame. It bounced off the frame and the point of it went right into the pupil of my eye. I pulled the nail out and wore a patch over my eye for months. This carelessness has caused me countless ongoing visits to the optometrist. I have had eye surgery to repair a detached retina. I have to use eye drops for the rest of my life. Yes, Safety, Safety, Safety.



Air Ripping Chisels2 air chisels

Low Cost Air Chisel

 As an experiment I purchased a cheap Taiwan version from Harbor Freight Tools when it was on sale for something like $6. I wanted to try it out without spending a lot of money, and the one I bought seems to work OK. Someday I might try the blade from Burch fabrics though, or I might try the Bantam (below).


 Parts  Of An Air Chisel
 A  Blade
 B  Spring
 C  Trigger
 D   Barrel
 E  Handle
 F  Air Fittings 
 Cost  About $10 


Burch Air ChiselThe Pnuematic Hammer Air Ripping Tool

From Burch Fabrics

Burch fabrics has a ripping blade (see picture) made especially for the air hammer.  

Stock No.  Description   Cost*
 A1075 Air Ripper (no Chisel)   $86.30 
 A1030 Chisel Only   $12.00
   Replacement Parts  
 A1070  Retainer Spring  $17.50 

Available from Burch Fabrics   Phone 1-800-841-8111 

*Actual cost may vary, check current prices

Bantam Upholstery RemoverBantam Air Chisel

From Van Dykes "The Bantam is half the size of the Harbor Freight mentioned above. The Bantam has less noise as well. There are two attachments with this chisel. One is for staples and the other is for tacks. Changing the tips is easy with a quick connect as with any air coupler system. There is also a hexagon connection , so you can adjust the position of the tips for about any angle. The tips are smaller so getting into areas that have show wood can be stripped of tacks or staples and no damage done with show wood. There are no springs as with the Auto body air chisel. "(Stacey) (See Stacey's Message Here) (For more about the Bantam Upholstery Remover, click here. Cost: About $178* for the body, plus about $25 for each blade)

Using The Bantam

     "I think you would enjoy working with this Chisel a lot more. I would say I use it every day and on every tear down job. Being that this chisel is only 1 pound. It is easy to hang onto. One hand operation is all that is needed. Unlike the larger chisel that you have. The bouncing around is not present with the Bantam. There is no knob for controlling speed. It's not needed. I hook mine up direct to an air line with 80 or 90 pounds pressure. It can be hooked up with a adjustable pressure and would run on 40 to 60 pounds air as well. The regulated air pressure would be a personal choice. I never have considered it as it works just fine for me at 90 pounds. There is less vibration with this smaller chisel ,than with the larger chisels out on the market. As for the cost, I purchased mine some 5 or 6 years ago from Redrum Fabrics at a cost of 175.00. Found that the use everyday justified the price. My hands thank me for that. Time saved with tear down is half compared to hammer and staple or tack removers. Figuring a time log on doing any item will show a high accumulation of minutes just with the tear down. Any time saved at this will produce enough profit in minutes to spend in time fabricating the end product." (Stacey) (See Stacey's 2nd message here

 "It took me about one day of practise to become proficient with the air chisel. Honestly though, I had used the larger chisel like what Stephen has now and talked about using it. Dropping down from that larger size to the Bantam (that is half the size and weight )made for quick proficiency with it's use. Karol, on your second question with compressor running all the time. I have a large up right 5 horse stationary compressor with maximum air storage of some 40 to 50 gallon capacity. On a sofa tear down, my compressor will run once to refill to a cut off at 90 psi. Your third question on how long to tear down a Wing back chair. I spend 2 hours if I were to tear down with a hammer and tack or staple remover. With the Bantam air chisel I cut the time down to 40 minutes. Less hand damage, cuts ,scrapes, band-aids. I 'm working on a sofa at the moment and that was tore down in 1 hour with the chisel and some minor hammer and staple remover work as well. With the smaller Bantam chisel Karol, damage inflected is less and the design of it and it's multi position options of the blades cuts down wood or frame damage. Unlike the larger one position bladed chisels." (Stacey) (See Stacey's 3rd message here)

    (This article originally started in the Carrscorner message Webboard with this message  about  Air Ripping Chisels.)

"*Prices are aproximate and for comparison purposes only. Check current prices from your suppliers.''

Your Upholstery Shop

Upholstery is one of the trades that can be operated from many types of buildings;

  • a retail store building
  • A commercial type garage
  • your home
  • your garage
  • from an outside shed
  • a temporary building
  • a mobile home

In this section we will discuss the layout of the shop and the fixtures and machines that are used in an upholstery shop.