Introduction to Upholstery and Fabrication Tools
Professional upholsterers and fabricators rely on a variety of tools to not only make their work easier but more effective also. Some tools are common to most households and shops — a hammer, a good pair of scissors, a tape measure, etc. — some, however, are very specific to upholstering. Regardless, all of them make quality upholstery work possible, from bimini covers and other marine fabric applications to home decor applications, outdoor furniture seat covers, sun sails, and more.
This guide will cover the essential upholstery tools and upholstery supplies needed to work with marine, performance, contract, and other commercial- and professional-grade fabrics.
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Hand Tools and Supplies
Even in the 21st century, a lot of fabrication and upholstery work requires hand tools. Because variations of many of these tools have been in use by upholsterers and other craftspeople for centuries, it’s easy to imagine upholsterers of the future will still make use of them as well. Here is a list of what we consider to be essential hand tools for fabrication and upholstery projects.
For stitching on heavy fabrics, an automatic awl is a must-have. Scratch awls can be used to make marks, to create holes for fasteners or grommets, to hold fabric in place, and more.
Perfect for making creases, smoothing fabric, adhesive, welding tape, and more. A silicone hand roller can save your wrist and finger strength throughout a long day working with stiff fabric.
Used to secure fabric or canvas when sewing or making a pattern, T pins are sturdy enough to hold thick fabric and multiple layers of fabric in place without doing any damage.
While it could easily be argued that a pneumatic stapler is not a hand tool, the fact that you need your hands to use it coupled with the reality that furniture upholstering is nearly impossible without it demands its inclusion here. While an electric staple gun or manual stapler can be used when upholstering a chair or reupholstering a couch, there’s a lot of room for error because those tools require so much muscle and force to utilize in furniture upholstering. An air-powered tool increases precision, while saving your hand, wrist, elbow, shoulders, and back. When you’re selecting a pneumatic stapler, be sure to choose one that feels natural in your hand with a weight that won’t become cumbersome across a day of work.
Designed to be used with DOT® Durable™ Fasteners, the #169N Phillips Head Screwdriver works for both plastic and metal applications.
If your fabrication work involves sheet metal, such as with awnings, a hand notcher will make it possible to create an arch.
Almost indistinguishable from an ice pick to the untrained eye, a regulator’s sturdy steel point comes in handy as a tucking tool when trying to secure upholstery fabric and get it to lay flat. An essential furniture upholstery tool, if you're in need of one, C.S. Osborne's regulators are well-made and inexpensive.
This hole cutter tool can create precise holes in your fabric for fasteners, washers, and grommets. Use with a mallet or dead blow hammer to create holes in outdoor fabric, furniture upholstery cloth, marine canvas, metal tubing, and more.
A urethane cutting pad or block will protect your work bench or table while you’re working with fabric. It will also increase the longevity of your punches, hole cutters, and dies.
While you can use a hacksaw, a portable tubing cutter will make an easier and a cleaner cut in aluminum or stainless steel.
For fabrication and upholstery jobs that require stretching leather, canvas, or jute webbing across frames, these stretching pliers are invaluable.
Soft-faced dead blow hammers like these are used with grommet dies for hand installation. Rawhide mallets can also work.
Tack hammers are, in general, highly useful in securing upholstery fabric to frames with tacks. They become even more useful when magnetized, improving tack placement accuracy.
Presses and Dies
Setting hardware in fabric is part of nearly every upholstery job, and the better your presses and setting dies, the more exact and durable your hardware placement will be. Here is a sampling of some top-quality presses, dies, and setting tools that can be used in almost any fabric upholstery application.
This bench-mounted mulit-duty hand press uses dies and a lever to set grommets and fasteners.
Setting dies make working with grommets a breeze. Use with a hammer or a grommet press tool.
A high-quality hand press will incorporate many of the same features of bench and foot presses but in a much smaller, more portable, and lower priced tool.
These Pres-N-Snap® setting tools work with different dies to install grommets and fasteners. Use it as a hand tool, or mount it to a bench to reduce hand strain.
Scissors and Shears
A good pair of fabrication-specific scissors or shears — or multiple pairs — are essential in an upholsterer’s tool bag. Using the right pair of shears will make it easier to maintain good edges and trim thread exactly where you want to. Perhaps even more important, utilizing specialty shears can save you precious time and stave off frustration throughout the many varieties of jobs and projects upholsters take on year after year.
The thick, heavy-duty blades on these Wiss® shears make it possible to cut through tough materials and multiple layers of fabric. They come in the 10-¼” length, which makes a cut 4-¾” long, or the 12-¼” length, which makes a cut 6-⅛” long.
High-quality and durable, these 10-½” German-made pinking shears will help to minimize fabric fraying along cuts.
Thread nippers make accessing and trimming excess pieces of thread in hard-to-reach places a breeze, provided they are sharp (and sharpened regularly). These thread nippers by Clauss feature a quick action spring return and an ergonomic design and built-in thumb rest, making them remarkably easy and efficient to use.
Fabrication work can be hard on your hands. A pair of ergonomic shears can help ease strain. Designed with a larger bottom ring that allows all four fingers or three gloved fingers to fit inside it comfortably, these shears allow you to use your whole hand when cutting, which adds cutting leverage and reduces wrist strain.
When you need to make cuts of almost surgical precision in fabrication and upholstery work, Kretzer trim shears are the right tool for the job. These trim shears can be used with the right or left hand and feature a curved blade for even, perfect cuts. They come in a 10” length or a 12” length.
While not a pair of scissors or shears, the electric hot knife is, nevertheless, an essential cutting tool for the fabricator and upholsterer. Designed to cut and then seal the edges of synthetic fabric, the hot knife can simplify the process of cutting large pieces of fabric with precision.
Odds and Ends
Some essential fabricator and upholsterer tools don’t fit neatly into any category because their usefulness is so broad. Here are a couple of them.
While it’s technically an upholstery supply more than an upholstery tool, Seamstick’s usefulness in fabrication is unparalleled. Use it to baste hems in place before sewing for drapery, marine applications, shade sails, sun sails, and more.
Also called “spit pencils,” these pencils make it easy to see your marks on a wide variety of fabrics. They also come right off with water and a cloth.
Cleaning, Care, and Storage of Upholstery Tools and Fabrication Supplies
Most upholstery and fabrication tools come with specific cleaning, care, and storage guidelines. Follow these as closely as possible to extend the life of your tools. In general, however, upholstery supplies and tools should be stored out of the reach of children and in a dry, ideally climate-controlled environment. Because dirt and dust can affect some tools’ wear and performance, maintaining a clean and dust-free workshop environment is helpful. Sharpen blades and oil hinges as needed. For all other considerations, see manufacturers’ recommendations.
If you need a tool or upholstery supply you don’t see here, check our full site. Trican has the tools and supplies today’s fabricators and upholsters need, including tool kits like our Home Grommet Kit, and our Quik-Fit™ Tool Kit that makes it easy to hold fabric in place without clamps — an especially useful kit in windy conditions. We're always adding new products regularly, to help ensure you're successful in all the jobs you do.