How to Build Frames for Upholstered Furniture

Upholstered furniture is an art form dated back to the 17th century. It involves creating a well-crafted wooden frame that provides comfort and solidity before topping it off with a beautifully padded and upholstered covering. However, a brilliantly made frame makes all of the difference.

To build frames for upholstered furniture, you must start with the basics. With practice and imagination, building furniture frames will become intuitive. It is an art form with endless choices, limited by only your creativity.

Consequently, to learn how to build your own furniture frame, this article will review common materials and tools, ideas for projects, and a big picture overview of step by step instructions on how to create your own basic masterpiece. Furthermore, upholstery options are discussed and defined, so keep reading.  

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Build Your Own Furniture

It may seem like a huge undertaking if you are a beginning woodworker, but building your own frames for upholstered furniture has huge benefits. In addition to being a practical skill to learn, consider these complementary reasons to begin framing:

  • Customization of your own creation.
  • Valuable and fulfilling learning experience.
  • The beautiful pieces are enduring and can be handed down for generations.
  • Repurpose or upcycle discarded objects and materials.
  • Enlist help from significant others for a bonding experience.
  • Valuable woodworking skills can be utilized for a side business.
  • If carefully budgeted, the savings are enormous.

Common Materials for Frames

Several items are ordinarily necessary for making furniture. At the bare minimum, safety goggles and gloves are useful, as well as an open and clutter-free area to work. 

  • Lag screws require a pilot hole to be drilled and are recognizable by the hex head. Lags are large and anchor loads that are heavy. Other screws in assorted sizes are useful, too. 
  • Dowels are pegs that fasten the wood together.
  • Shim, either wooden or plastic, used to position the frame before fastening in place.
  • Lumber has various sizes depending on the project. Use kiln-dried hardwood. 
  • Plywood can be used for the seat of a chair. Some alternatives are springs and webbing. 
  • Tools are needed, depending on the project, but usually include a drill and bits, various screwdrivers, hammer, table saw, and a jig, like the Kreg K5 Pocket-Hole Jig from Amazon.
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Kreg K5 Pocket-Hole Jig
  • The new Kreg Jig K5 is packed with features your are sure to appreciate. The clamping method is Toggle clamp on benchtop base
  • It comes with a convenient front-mounted clamping handle, and it's connected to a ratcheting clamp mechanism that adjusts without tools or lock nuts
  • The quick-release Drill Guide Block makes set up simple

Last update on 2022-12-06 at 22:43 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Design a Project Plan

Plans for projects are plentiful for free on the Internet or can be purchased if you find a specific design that you prefer. However, a great plan is crucial so as not to make a costly mistake in the process. The elements of the best project design plans include:

  • Project dimensions
  • Materials list
  • Cut list for wood and any other materials you may need because sometimes, if you don’t have the tools, you may need to outsource the cutting at the hardware store
  • Tools including the smallest details to avoid an unplanned interruption as you run to the store
  • Step-by-step instructions, with pictures
  • Finish prep and completion directions and pictures

When deciding, think about the height, length, and depth that will work in your space and choose the hardwood that you enjoy. Common lumber choices are oak, maple, or poplar because they are sturdy, plentiful, and reasonably priced.

If you are short on ideas, some pieces of furniture frequently upholstered are listed below. These are basic pieces with a never-ending variety of options:

  • Chair
  • Sofa
  • Headboard
  • Ottoman
  • Bench
  • Stool
  • Pet bed

If you need a plan, Ana White’s website is a favorite for detailed designs. For example, this Modern Outdoor Chair also includes skill level. A few projects list an estimated cost for materials, assuming you already own or borrow the tools.

Budget

Don’t forget the importance of a budget. Decide beforehand how much you can afford to spend on the project instead of getting caught up with all the store’s shiny new objects. Realistically estimate your expenses and track all receipts. 

To save money, borrow tools when you can and purchase materials on sale. Remember to measure carefully to avoid waste and reuse or repurpose existing supplies. 

Build a Simple Upholstered Chair Frame

The Seat

  1. Cut the pieces of lumber and plywood into the appropriate size as instructed in the project plan.
  2. Fasten the wood in the seat frame’s shape with epoxy wood glue and then pre-drill the lag screw holes and put them in.
  3. Pre-drill dowel pin holes and put wood glue inside, then hammer in dowels.
  4. Glue plywood onto the frame and nail into place. Drill three or four holes in the plywood to allow air to escape as you sit down.

The Legs

  1. Next, secure the legs onto the frame by gluing, inserting dowels, and lag screws.

The Back

  1. Build the frame for the back by gluing, inserting dowels, and lag screws. Attach to the seat. 
  2. Join the plywood to the back by gluing and nailing into place.

An alternative to plywood is to add springs, cover them with twine using a pneumatic air gun and staples, and then cover with material such as burlap and staple into place. Cushioning and upholstery fabric is then attached over the seat. This is more comfortable due to the flexibility the springs offer. Still, it is also more expensive and time-consuming to master. 

Westside Custom Upholstery demonstrates how to develop a wooden frame, although not a chair. It is interesting to see how the joints are joined. This video is less than a minute long and gives beginners a quick look at the process:

A more detailed example is a 20-minute video by ALO furniture. The creation of a sofa frame is demonstrated:

Upholstery

The material covers the frame and cushions to beautify the decor and provide a comfortable and cozy home. But upholstery also includes padding, springs, and webbing. It makes a big difference in the long-lasting comfort of your treasured piece.

For material, both natural and woven fabric work well on upholstered furniture. Pay attention to the thread count for durability. Remember that a higher count means the material is more tightly woven and stronger. Typically, the following fabric works well on upholstered furniture.

Natural Fabric

Synthetic Fabric

Cotton – the canvas is heavy-duty and informal, and damask is less substantial and formal

Acetate – imitation silk

Leather – tough but can be scratched or torn

Acrylic – imitation wool

Vinyl – inexpensive, long-lasting, but not indestructible

Microfiber – soft, velvet texture made from polyester

Wool Blend – rugged and sturdy

Nylon Blend – strong and durable

To construct a safe and solid frame that is useful and is created with skilled craftsmanship is exciting, but choosing the appropriate upholstery is also thrilling. The book by David James entitled, Upholstery: A Complete Course, offers guidance for this important finishing piece. In particular, the book offers an unabridged version of the traditional techniques and materials compiled in a format that will take a beginner to an expert very quickly. 

Upholstery: A Complete Course: 2nd Revised Edition
  • James, David (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 07/05/2016 (Publication Date) - GMC Publications (Publisher)

Last update on 2022-12-06 at 22:43 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Conclusion

So there you have it, an overview of how to craft a simple piece of furniture, ready to be upholstered, and a realization that the options for creativity are endless. The build’s components include deciding on a comprehensive design plan, buying and budgeting for tools and materials, and learning about options for upholstering your new piece.

To start is easy, but with anything worthwhile, to skillfully build furniture as a true craftsperson may take years to practice and refine. However, the outcome is an attractive and solid piece that will last a lifetime. 

Sources

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