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How to Reupholster Bar Chairs- The DIY Wife
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How to Reupholster Bar Chairs

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Hi, all! I’m back again with a project that came about suddenly this week. My sweet baby is turning into a toddler. When he learned how to toddle, he could suddenly reach more, touch more and ultimately chew on more stuff. I keep a really close eye on him, so it’s not that big of a deal. Then, I noticed that he got ahold of our bar chairs. The bottom part of each cushion was starting to come off from him chewing on it. I wasn’t that upset about the bar chairs being chewed up, more worried about him ingesting the vinyl material from the seat. I needed to make an impromptu trip to get some new upholstery fabric, and reupholster my bar chairs as soon as possible. That should solve the problem!

Materials:

  • Upholstery Fabric (I chose Shason Textile Pro Tuff Outdoor Fabric in black, two yards of fabric covered four seats with plenty to spare)
  • Cordless Screwdriver or Phillips Head Screwdriver
  • Leatherman Multi-tool or Pliers and a Flat Head Screwdriver
  • Box Cutter
  • Heavy Duty Staple Gun with Staples (one row of staples per bar chair plus a few extra rows)
  • Sewing Pins
  • Fabric Marker (permanent marker, or pencil will work too)
  • Scissors

Before Picture

This project was unexpected. After noticing some black material on my toddler’s face and investigating, I saw the damage to the bar chairs. I just couldn’t let him keep eating the vinyl. Who knows what is in that?! Is it toxic? How much did he swallow? It’s much easier to just reupholster the bar chairs so I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

Let’s start off with a before picture so you can see the damage. 

Before picture showing damage to upholstery.

Image showing entire bar chair before upholstering.

Planning

A few years ago, I reupholstered a bench that I found on the side of the road. It turned out great! I have used it in my bedroom for years, and have since reupholstered it when I changed the theme. I also reupholstered a set of dining room chairs that I got from my in-laws. So, I have plenty of experience. I didn’t need to plan very much. I knew that I had all of the materials on hand, except the fabric. During my toddler’s nap time, I could pop over to the store to get the fabric to get started when I got back.  We have four bar chairs, so I thought I could get it done in a day. 

If you need help planning your project, head over to my Free DIY Project Planning Template post. There you can get some great tips and tricks for planning your upcoming DIY projects and download the free printable planning template. 

Image of handwritten project plan using the Free DIY Project Planning Template.

Remove the Seat

After picking up the upholstery fabric, and gathering my materials, I was ready to get started. First, I used my Dewalt Cordless Screwdriver to remove the four screws on the bottom of the seat. The four screws were the only thing holding the seat to the frame, so it popped right off when they were gone. I put the screws in a storage bag and put them in the cordless screwdriver bag, so they stayed together and were easy to find later. 

Image showing bar chair seat bottom.

 

By the way, if you are in the market for a cordless screwdriver, I would definitely recommend the Dewalt Cordless Screwdriver. This thing has been a life saver! I have used it in nearly every project I have done since I got it (several years ago). The model I have is a 12V Max model. It has plenty of power to do all of the small maintenance tasks that you will need. I have used it to drill pilot holes, hang curtains, screw and unscrew, clean my grout and much more! Yes, I made my own power drill grout cleaning brush, but that is a story for another time!

If you are in the market for a new cordless screwdriver, you can check it out here

Remove Gauze Backing

Next, flip the seat over. Most seats come with a fragile gauze backing. If you are trying to save money, you can reuse the backing. Just make sure that when you remove it, you are taking your time so that it doesn’t rip. If it gets a small rip, you should be able to cover it up with a staple. Remember, most people never see the chair backing, so it shouldn’t matter too much. If you end up with a big rip, you have a few options. You can use it anyway, go without, or replace it. If you are a bit of a perfectionist, you might want to cut new backing. I reused mine, so I didn’t need to buy more. 

Image shows Leatherman ruler tool prying staples off of the seat bottom.

Tools for Removal

To remove the backing, I used my Leatherman multi-tool.

Funny story, I actually recently got a Leatherman multi-tool as a surprise gift from my husband. I bought one for him several years ago as a birthday present, and he loved it. He carried it everywhere. One day, it fell out of his pants. We searched the house top-to-bottom, but couldn’t find it. So, for his next birthday, I got him another one. Then, he lost that one. In the process of searching for his new Leatherman, he found the OLD one. Side note, he also found the new one later that day. So, he cleaned up the old one and gave it to me. It was the perfect surprise for a crafty gal!

I use my Leatherman all the time, now that I have one. It comes in handy for opening jars, removing lids, breaking down boxes, and prying staples out of chair backing. If you want one, you can get one here!

Now, back to the subject at hand, I used the metal file/ruler tool to pry out the staples. I dug the corner of the tool under the corner of the staple and twisted it until it popped up. To save time, use the file tool to pop up all of the staples before removing them. That way you aren’t flipping back and forth between tools. 

Then, I used the pliers to pry the staple out. Make sure you are using the leverage of the wood. It will make pulling the staples out much easier. Also, when removing the staples, try different strategies until you find one you like. I ended up prying up as much as I could, and rolling the pliers to the side to get the staple the rest of the way out. Keep in mind that after a while, you might want to switch it up if your hand is getting sore. 

It looked like this when the backing was removed:

Image shows the bar chair seat without the backing.

Remove the Upholstery

After the backing is off, you will find a ton more staples. Don’t get discouraged. It takes some time, but you can get them all out. If you are persistent, it will go faster than you think. You can see how many more staples the fabric had than the backing in my previous picture (about 3x more). I followed the same procedure that I used before to remove the staples from the backing. It took about an hour to remove all of the staples from the first chair seat. Plan accordingly, and save a piece of the old upholstery so you can use it to make a pattern. 

Image showing staples being pried off of the upholstery.

Of course, you could always just cut the fabric off and pound the staples flat. Then you could technically just staple the fabric over them. I don’t like to do this because it is messy, and doesn’t always allow the fabric to lay flat. It can also cause problems when screwing the seat back on the frame if the screws aren’t long enough to cover the difference of thickness from the staples. I have also cut my finger when I was stretching the fabric for my bench seat because I left the staples in the wood. I prefer to remove them, but you can leave them if you are short on time or energy. 

If you prefer to the leave the staples, I have found that the best way to remove the fabric would be to cut it with a box cutter around the edge. It will leave a circle of fabric under the staples. You can peel the rest of the fabric off easily with a pair of pliers. Using the pliers, pull the fabric up, around the staples and the fabric should rip and leave the staple behind. Note- this doesn’t work with all kinds of fabric, it might pop the staple out with it.

When all of the fabric is removed, use a hammer to pound the staples as flat as you can get them. Again, this is not my preferred method.

Image shows alternate way to remove upholstery, leaving the staples.

Making a Pattern

The old seat upholstery was vinyl backed cork. When picking your fabric, you need to think about how you plan to use it.  I didn’t want anything my toddler can easily destroy, so most of the decorative fabrics were out of the picture. I needed something durable. My new fabric is outdoor upholstery. I love heavy outdoor fabrics when I’m reupholstering things. Not only do they seem to look better, but they last longer and show less wear. Whichever kind of fabric you decide on, make sure that it’s good quality and fits your needs.

After you are down to bare cushion and wood, it’s time to cut some new fabric. I used the piece of old upholstery that I saved to make a pattern. The old material had a bit of stretch, but my new material didn’t. A slight stretch is great for round seat cushions, because it helps you get out the wrinkles. If your fabric doesn’t stretch, like mine, you will need to pleat the fabric when you staple it. Just keep this in mind.

Also, the stretch of the old fabric makes tracing the pattern a bit tricky. I used sewing pins to hold the stretchy fabric to the new fabric. It helped a ton! First, pin the old fabric to the new fabric. I ended up using about 8 pins. Then, trace around the old fabric. When I traced the pattern, I left about 1/4 inch of extra material. You can always cut away extra fabric once you have secured it. I chose to use a metallic permanent marker to trace the pattern, so it would be easier to see. A pencil, or fabric marker would probably work too. Just use what you have, it doesn’t have to be fancy. 

Image shows old upholstery on top of new upholstery with a trace around it, creating the pattern.

Cutting Out the Pattern

After you’ve traced the pattern, remove the sewing pins and old fabric. Now, you can start cutting. I didn’t use special scissors. Any pair should do fine, especially since the edges will be covered up. The important part to remember here is to err on the side of caution. Like I said during tracing, it is easy to cut off the extra fabric, but you can’t add more once it is cut. So, make sure you leave extra fabric. 

After it’s cut out, try it on the seat. Make sure it will cover the top of the cushion and wrap around the bottom. Check to see if there is enough fabric to staple it easily. Also, keep in mind where the old staple holes, or staples (if you didn’t remove them), are. You will want to make your fabric long enough that you still have room to staple it without running into more staples. 

Once you are sure it will fit nicely, trace it again, and cut it again until you have enough fabric cuts for all of your chairs. I find working in stages saves more time than doing each seat individually. 

Image shows traced pattern that is cut out.

Upholstering the Bar Chairs

Center the seat and cushion bottom-side up on the new upholstery fabric. I stapled the top and the bottom first. Then, I stapled each side once. Make sure you are pulling the fabric so it is snug before you staple it. Next, I started at the bottom and stapled the fabric tight and flat between each staple. I worked in a circle to make it easy to see when I was back around to where I started. Then, I repeated the previous step again.

If you are a visual person, you can check out this tutorial from The Craft Patch. In the post, Jennifer breaks down the process step-by-step. This is especially helpful if you have never had to make a pleat before. 

You should be able to tell where the pleats need to be at this point. They should be evenly spaced around the bottom of the cushion. Working in a circle, staple the remaining fabric down, creating a triangle pleat. Work in the same direction all around the cushion. I didn’t do mine exactly like Jennifer’s. 

Image shows the back of the newly upholstered cushion.

Add Backing

If you saved the old gauze backing, bust it out. If not, you will need to make a pattern and cut some more. I find that reusing as many materials as possible saves me time and money when doing a DIY project. 

This is the easiest part. You only need a staple every few inches to hold the backing on. Try to staple the backing in the same general area it was before. Chances are, the place it was stapled before is hidden by the chair frame. If you stick to the same spot, it will look cleaner when it’s finished. 

Image shows the newly upholstered cushion with backing being stapled on.

Reassemble the Bar Chairs

Grab your handy dandy Dewalt Cordless Screwdriver and get started! I found it easiest to flip the cushion bottom-side up and lay it on the edge of the table. Then I flipped the bar chair frame over and aligned it. I pulled my bag of screws back out and started screwing the seat back on. This part only took a few minutes, and boy was I happy when I was finished. 

Image shows chair being flipped upside down, with teh cushion in place for reassembling.

Final Thoughts

Since I had so much experience reupholstering furniture in the past, I thought this project would be a sinch. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. There were a million more staples than I thought there would be. It took forever to remove them. Then, my fingers and hands started getting sore. I got half-way done before deciding to call it quits and finish the next day. Luckily it went faster the next day, but I still ended up with some sensitive nubs at the end of it all. 

I am really happy it’s finished. Not having to worry about my toddler eating the fabric is worth having sore digits for a few days!  I’m not in love with the look, but functionality is more important than looks right now. In a few years, when we are past the baby phase, I can reupholster the bar chairs again. Next time, I will use a more decorative fabric. For now, this is perfect for us. 🙂 

Image shows finished bar chair.

Image shows before and after for the reupholstered bar chair.

-Happy DIY-ing!

signing off- Kimberly

 

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