Yes, I definitely have an obsession with tools! How can you not?! There is nothing better than bringing home that new shiny addition to your arsenal of equipment and putting it to use.This is a helpful guide containing Tools of the Trade. Don’t worry, you won’t need all of these tools to get started, I just want you to know what tools are available, to make the job easier! My advice is to accumulate the tools over time as you need them. As you add tools to your collection, don’t be afraid to look at both new and used options. I buy many of my tools used and am often scanning second hand selling websites for the best deals. I even have a video about this: Buying Tools on Craigslist: How to Find and Make Great Deals!
I have included photos of all the tools I talk about in this guide and if you click on the image, they are linked to a site that has more specific info and pricing so that you can get an idea of the cost. We have tried to include links to all of the items listed, but those that do not have a link are items we could not find a reliable online source for, or items that will make much more sense to source locally due to shipping costs!
This is the first and most important tool you will need to start learning upholstery. When you are shopping for your first machine, you need to make sure it is a WALKING FOOT MACHINE. The walking foot feature is what allows an upholster to sew multiple layers of fabric and foam together with ease. The non-walking foot machines are meant for light weight applications and will not work for the types of projects we are doing. For more info check out this Lucky Needle Video:
Industrial sewing machines come with two motor options; clutch type and servo type. The most common is the clutch type motor. Clutch type motors work by using a clutch that engages the motor to the machine when the pedal is pressed. While they are considered to be the more powerful of the two options, the sewing speed can be difficult to control because the clutch motor spins full speed all the time. If your machine has a clutch type motor, I would suggest getting the smallest pulley available to reduce the speed and make it easier to control. I use a clutch type motor in The Lucky Needle Course Videos, as it is the most common and most likely what you will be starting with.
Above is a servo type motor. These motors are electronically controlled and don’t start spinning until you press the pedal. The best feature about this type of motor is that you can control the speed with a dial on the motor, giving you much more control over your machine. They are thought to have less power than the clutch type, but I personally have not found this to be an issue. I actually prefer servo motors over clutch type, but it’s not likely to find a used machine with a servo motor for an affordable price. If it is in your budget, I recommend getting a machine with this type of motor. In recent years, servo motors have become much more affordable. One good option that has become very popular, is finding a well priced used machine and then fitting an aftermarket servo motor to the used machine. This is a pretty easy thing to do and you can find new servo motors for around $150.
Here are two examples of popular options:
Shears are another important tool you will need. You will use these for cutting everything, so make sure to get nice heavy-duty shears. I prefer the heavy-duty style, as seen in the picture, compared to the lighter, more expensive styles. This is because the weight of the shears actually helps cut through material, so you are not using as much of your hand strength. This makes a big difference when your cutting fabric for long periods and for larger projects! You don’t need to spend a lot on top of the line shears, around $40 will get you shears that will last your lifetime. It’s also important to keep your shears sharp so you can cut accurately. Most large upholstery supply shops will sharpen them for a few dollars and once you’re a regular, usually for free!
I use Spring Clamps a lot for holding things in place when I need a few extra hands. Get a few of these, you will use them all the time!
A Hot Knife is used for cutting canvas, webbing, rope and any synthetic materials. Hot knives melt whatever you are cutting so the edge will not fray. We like both this Hot Knife (orange, pictured on right) and this Hot Knife (grey, pictured on left).
A Heat Gun is a handy tool to have around. You will find many uses for it, including tasks like removing wrinkles from leather.
You will see me using a Pick Tool like this in many ways in the videos. This is a great tool to have on hand.
These Small Bolt Cutters are a great tool for removing hog rings. Most people use side cutters to do this, but your hands will be killing you after removing just one seat cover. Using small bolt cutters makes the job much easier and they are inexpensive at the hardware store!
Staple Pullers are an important tool to have for removing old upholstery. They are inexpensive and come in a few different styles. I recommend trying a few out, and see what works best for you. I have a few different types that I use for different jobs. The Staple Puller on the left, is the type that I use most often. You will have to grind this style to a sharper point, as these are originally meant for a different purpose, but once modified they work great!
You will be using rulers all the time for marking, layout and measuring anything square, pleats and other designs. I suggest getting a 16” ruler, 36″ ruler, 48” ruler, 72” ruler and also a large carpenters square. You will see me using all of these rulers in different ways throughout different videos.
An Air Compressor is a great tool to have. You may even already have one! You will see me using a few different air tools in The Lucky Needle Course Videos. I recommend having at least a 30-gallon air compressor, in this case bigger is better if you have the room. Anything smaller will not be able to keep up with your glue gun and you will run into problems when trying to glue larger sections.
A Fabric Steamer is a must have tool when it comes time to installing your upholstery. We use this to relax the fabric, steaming the covers making them much easier to install. It will also remove wrinkles from covers once installed. You can even use a fabric steamer to bring the life back to old foam and wrap shapes you wouldn’t think possible. Once you learn all the ways to use this tool, it will be your best friend!
You will be using contact cement a lot, so it’s important to have a spray gun to spray it with. I recommend using the style of glue spray gun pictured on the top left. This Spray Gun is made for spraying thick material like house paint, it’s easy to use, very easy to clean and is only about $25-$30. I have been using this style of spray gun for years, and it always works great! The style of spray gun on the bottom is called a Pressure Pot. These guns are a lot more expensive, but they do hold 5-10 gallons of glue at a time. This can be nice, so you don’t have to refill your glue in the middle of a job. I only recommend using a pressure pot if you will be using a large amount of contact cement every day, because I have run into problems with the cement drying in the lines and it’s impossible to clean once this happens. You’ll also probably need some glue for your spray gun, I like using Weldwood Landau Top Contact Adhesive.
Above is an Electric Carving Knife that you can buy in the kitchen section at most home stores. This is what I use in The Lucky Needle Course Videos. They are inexpensive and work surprisingly well for cutting and shaping foam. This tool is what I recommend.
This is a Foam Saw designed specifically for cutting foam. They do work very well, but I only recommend purchasing one if you are going to be cutting a lot of foam because they are expensive.
This Press N’ Snap Tool makes installing snaps and grommets fast and easy. If you have a project that requires installing snaps or grommets, I recommend getting this tool. It is a huge time saver compared to using the hammer and die alternative.
Baker Clip Pliers are used to install baker clips. Baker clips are used to repair spring seat frames.
Thread Snips work great for cutting thread, removing stitches and many other things. You will see me using this tool all the time!
You will be using a Staple Gun a lot. I strongly suggest buying a quality air staple gun because you will literally be using thousands of staples on some projects. This is one tool where you do not want to buy the cheapest you can find, as you will be using it so much! I have had a lot of issues with cheaper staple guns malfunctioning and it’s very frustrating when you have to remake something all because of a bad staple gun. I also suggest getting an Inline Regulator so that you will be able to adjust air pressure on the gun. Most air staple guns list a minimum of 1/4 ” staples, including the BEA gun we recommend, but I have been using 1/8″ and 5/32″ staples in it for ten years without problem! 1/8″ staples have recently become hard to find, so now I always use 5/32″ staples. When choosing a staple gun, I recommend getting a gun that shoots 3/8” crown staples, because this type of staple is easier to find and typically comes in a variety of length options.
This should be common sense but most people in the industry forget to use respirators (myself included)! You should use a respirator whenever you are grinding or sanding, as it will protect your lungs from all the particles that get released into the air. Definitely make sure you use one when sanding and shaping foam. Foam dust is highly attracted to moisture and will go right into your nose and mouth. It’s not fun! While you should always spray glue in a well-ventilated area, if you ever have to spray glue in a closed area, I recommend getting a set of charcoal filters for your respirator. These will protect you from the fumes.
Sanding Blocks and Sanding Boards are really nice to have for sanding things and keeping things flat. Sanding with a tool like this will keep your project much smoother and level, as these tools back the sandpaper with an even, hard surface, unlike just using sandpaper in your hand. I recommend having a small sanding block and a long sanding block, as they are both handy to have around. You will see me using these a lot in The Lucky Needle’s “Door Panels & Kick Panels” Course!
A Button Machine is used to wrap buttons with any fabric you are using. You won’t need to own one of these unless you are doing a lot of projects with buttons. Most upholstery supply stores will make buttons for a small price or will let you use their machine if you buy your supplies from them. If you do decide to buy one of these machines, you need to make sure you buy the proper size die for the thickness of fabric you are using. This is a very common mistake that can be very frustrating if you are unaware. Each size button die is sold in three different types for different materials. Trying to cover very thin and very thick material with the same set of dies will result in poor quality buttons. For more information check out Button Covering Dies and Cutter from the C.S. Osborne website.
Most of the time you will be fine using normal safety glasses, but I highly recommend having a pair of these Safety Goggles that actually seal around your face for sanding and shaping foam. The foam dust created when sanding is highly attracted to moisture and it will go right into your eyes like a magnet. With just safety glasses on, the foam dust will get around the edges of the frame and into your eyes. Take it from me, it’s not fun getting foam dust in your eyes!
This Tucking Tool is used for pressing fabric into corners, channels and under panels without damaging the fabric. You will find many random uses for it as well. This is a good tool to have around.
Hog Ring Pliers are used to install hog rings, a very common fastener in upholstery. You will need these to install most seat covers. They are inexpensive and are an important tool to have.
A Hole Punch is a tool that allows you to select different size holes to punch in fabric. You won’t use this all the time but it’s inexpensive and is handy to have when you need it.
The Point to Point Layout Tool is a fantastic tool that I recently found. It makes really quick work of plotting out screw holes evenly without having to calculate and measure each one. This also makes very quick work of plotting out your pleat lines.
Plastic Pry Bars work really well for removing interior trim panels without scratching or damaging the cars paint or the trim pieces themselves, as they are plastic, not metal. You will find many uses for these once they are in your toolbox.
This Accuscribe Tool is a really helpful tool that I have just recently started using. It makes it very easy to mark out a profile when making patterns for trim panels. In The Lucky Needle’s “Door Panels & Kick Panels” Course, you will see multiple instances where this tool would have sped up the process, had I known about this tool when the course was filmed.
The Perfect Butt Tool is another great tool that I have recently started using. This scribing tool is great for accurately transferring profiles to a pattern.
Welt Feet, shown on the top left, are sewing machine feet that are used to make welted seams. If you plan on doing any welted seams you are going to need a set of welt feet. I recommend purchasing 3/16” and 1/4″ welt feet for difference size welt cords and fabric thicknesses.
Zipper Feet, shown on the top right, are sewing machine feet that have part of the foot missing so that you can sew closer to the zipper. These feet are optional, but I like to have them around for different uses, mostly for sewing windlace. I typically sew zippers using regular flat feet, but zipper feet can be useful at times. The bottom picture shows the difference between Flat Feet, Welt Feet and Zipper Feet.
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