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How to Add Upholstery to a Wooden Chair

how to add upholstery to a wooden chair

Spice up an old wooden chair, with some new upholstery fabric. In this guide, we explain how to add upholstery to a wooden chair, that has never been upholstered before.

If you have an older wooden chair that has never been upholstered in the past, you may be thinking about giving it a fresh new look, by covering it with fabric. It’s easy to reupholster a wooden chair that already has upholstery on it, by removing the existing fabric and using it as a template to measure/cut new fabric for the seat.

But, what if the chair has never had upholstery on it before? Is it even possible to upholster a wooden chair that wasn’t originally designed with upholstery on it?

In this article, we answer that question and explain step-by-step how to add upholstery to a wooden chair that has never been covered in the past.

Can You Add Upholstery to a Wooden Chair That Has Never Been Covered Before?

You will be happy to know that it is completely possible to upholster a wooden chair that has never been covered before in the past. In fact, it is a lot easier to work with a bare wooden frame, than it is to reupholster something that’s already been covered. Simply put, you are able to start off with a blank, clean slate that you can redesign in any way you see fit.

how to add new upholstery fabric to a wooden chair
The fabric for your wooden chair must be upholstery-grade, to withstand wear and tear.

How to Add Upholstery to a Wooden Chair – Fabric Selection

Tips for Selecting Fabric

One of the first things you need to do when it comes to upholstering a wooden chair is to select the right fabric for the job. While fabric selection can be daunting, it doesn’t have to be impossible.


Durability plays an important role in fabric selection, especially when a chair is going to be used in a high-traffic area. If the chair will be used for everyday seating, then you will need to choose a fabric such as cotton, linen, or any number of upholstery-grade polyesters. However, if the chair is more of a decorative piece, then you can opt for more delicate options such as velvet or silk.

Color and Pattern

Although some people prefer a solid color, others prefer fabric with a pattern to it. Fabrics for a chair can be both directional and repeating. There are pros and cons to selecting a patterned fabric over a solid color. The biggest downside is that you must purchase additional material, in order to compensate for wasted material between the repeating patterns.


Texture also plays an important role in fabric selection. A fabric texture adds depth and durability to your chair. Are you planning on using the chair in a high-traffic area, or are you looking for something to lounge on after a long day of work? Your needs will dictate the type and intensity of the texture.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Also, make sure to consider the cost of cleaning and maintaining the fabric you ultimately select. Without question, chairs are prone to everyday spills and stains, so it is important to choose something that is easy to clean and maintain. Some fabrics are easier to maintain than others. Some fabrics are simply impossible to clean, and if they are stained, they may need to be replaced completely.

Upholstery Grade

Lastly, take a look at the grade of fabrics that are available at your local store. Fabrics come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, textures, patterns, as well as grades. For use on a wooden chair, you want to select a fabric that has been specifically designed as an upholstery-grade material. This means that the fabric was designed to withstand the wear and tear of everyday use.

how to upholster wooden chairs sanding preparation
TIP: Sand and stain old wooden chair frames before you upholster, for a more impressive result.

How to Add Upholstery to a Wooden Chair – STeps

Essential Tools to Upholster a Wooden Chair

Before you begin to upholster your wooden chair, make sure you have all the proper tools and materials to get the job done right the first time.

Tools & Hardware:

  • Sewing Machine (optional)
  • Staple Gun with Staples – more info here
  • Tack Hammer and Upholstery Tacks
  • Fabric Scissors
  • Pliers
  • Screwdriver
  • Tape Measure
  • Chalk or Fabric Marker
  • Adhesive Spray (optional)
  • Electric Carver or Bread Knife, for cutting foam (optional)
  • Sander (optional)
  • Wood Stain or Paint (optional)

Upholstery Materials:

  • Upholstery Fabric
  • Foam Padding or Cushion
  • Upholstery Batting
  • Upholstery Webbing or Springs (if needed)
  • Cardboard or Chipboard (for creating templates)

Preparing the Wooden Chair for Upholstery

Next, you will need to prepare your wooden chair for the upholstery process.

Disassemble the Chair (if necessary)

Start by disassembling the chair if needed. It is easier to work on the chair seat if it has been removed from the chair itself. However, if it is not possible to disassemble the chair without damaging it, then you will need to work with it fully assembled.

Inspect and Repair

If the chair is older, you will need to also take the time to inspect and repair any damages. Pay close attention when inspecting your chair, and look for loose parts. Try rotating various parts, to see if they are firmly affixed to the frame itself. With older chairs, it’s commonplace for the uprights in the back and arms to come loose with the seasons. If needed, make repairs, then reinforce the frame.

Sand and Refinish (if desired)

When dealing with a wooden chair, you may want to remove all of the old finish by sanding it down to bare wood. Sanding is one of the most time-consuming tasks, but when done properly it can make the chair look simply amazing when finished.

Sanding will remove the finish and in most cases it will require some sort of protective coat, which is normally wood stain or paint. Assess your upholstery fabric and the style you are looking to achieve, and choose a stain or paint color to match. You can find heaps of painting instructionals on my house painting website NestKoo if you need help.

how to upholster wooden chairs preparation
Preparing your wooden chair frame and upholstering will be easier if you pull it apart.

How to Add Upholstery to a Wooden Chair Step-by-Step

Once you are sure that the chair is repaired, it is time to begin the upholstery process. To learn how to add upholstery to a wooden chair and achieve a good finished result, follow these steps in exact order.

#1 Measure and Cut Fabric

Start off by measuring the dimensions of each section of the chair that will be covered by fabric. Don’t forget to add 1 to 2 inches to the measurements, to ensure that you have enough material to compensate for the seams. Once you are satisfied that you have properly measured the chair, you can begin to cut the individual fabric pieces according to those measurements.

#2 Measure and Cut Foam Padding

Since you are covering a wooden chair that has never been upholstered in the past, you will also need to measure and cut the foam padding. Simply covering the chair with fabric will not be comfortable. Just as you did with the fabric, you will need to measure and cut the foam to fit the chair’s seat and backrest accordingly. There are various ways you can cut the foam. If it is just a small piece, you can use your fabric scissors or a box cutter, but for larger pieces you will want to use a speciality foam cutter or an electric carver or bread knife to cut the foam to size.

#3 Attach Foam Padding

The foam padding can be attached to your wooden chair in several different ways, but the most common is to simply use a spray adhesive. Spray the bottom side of the foam, and allow the adhesive to tack up before attempting to place it on the chair. Remember that once it has been placed, it will be very difficult to move around, so you will need to take your time when setting the foam in place.

#4 Attach Upholstery Batting (Optional)

You may also want to use some batting, as this will add an additional layer of cushioning, and help to smooth out the final shape. The batting goes over the top of your foam and forms a layer between the foam and the fabric itself. Batting is generally glued to the foam and then stapled along the edges.

#5 Attach Fabric to the Seat

For most chairs, the fabric itself will be laid over the top of the foam and batting, then stapled underneath. Start by laying the fabric over the seat, and ensure that it is centered and aligned. Then start from the center of the most visible edge, staple the fabric in place then work your way towards the corners. Take your time and pull the fabric tight as you go. Pay attention as you get closer to the corners, to ensure that they are free of wrinkles.

#6 Create Professional-Looking Corners

The corners can be the most difficult part of any upholstery project. In order to make professional-looking corners, you will want to fold the fabric over at a 45-degree angle and then staple it underneath. Repeat this process for all of the corners.

Find out how to upholster corners on chairs and sofas here.

#7 Attach Fabric to the Backrest

Once you have finished the seat, you can begin to work on the backrest. If you are using a repeating pattern, take the time to line up the pattern so that it matches the seat once finished. Likewise, most upholstery-grade fabrics have some form of grain to them, so it is important to ensure that the grain aligns as well. This creates a more cohesive look for the final piece.

#8 Reassemble the Chair (if disassembled)

If you were able to disassemble the chair in order to upholster the chair, then you will need to reassemble it. You should have saved all of the necessary hardware, by placing it in a plastic container. For older chairs, you may even need to replace some of the old, rusted hardware.

#9 Trim Excess Fabric

Once you are satisfied with the overall look and feel of your wooden chair, it’s time to trim off any excess fabric. The reason that this step is saved for last, is to ensure that you have enough fabric to make any final adjustments to ensure that the pattern and grain aligned properly.

There you go, your upholstered wooden chair is now ready to use and show off.


We hope you’v enjoyed this instructional on how to add upholstery to a wooden chair. For more tips on how to upholster wooden chairs, make sure to check out these our articles:

How to Upholster Stools – project instructional

How to upholster around corners (chairs and sofas)

Essential upholstery tools for beginners

Happy upholstering!