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  • Writer's pictureKelsey

Updating Ugly Old Chairs! Refinishing Dining Chairs DIY

Level: Easy

Time: 6-8 hours (more or less depending on drying time of paint/stain)

Materials: Sandpaper, stain, polyurethane/polyacrylic, fabric, staple gun, drill

For the last few years we've only had 3 dining room chairs. It normally isn't a huge deal, but we'd like to be able to have more than 1 person over at a time so we thought we should get some more.

Turns out, chairs are crazy expensive! Even cheap or used ones are way more than I'm willing to pay. I spent months looking for chairs I could afford and I finally found some at a secondhand store that was going out of business. Five chairs for $5 each!!

The only problem is the chairs were fairly ugly. They were a worn, light brown and the pad was covered in a gross, smoky-smelling striped green fabric.

And thus began our chair makeover project.


Take them apart.

The seat of these chairs had a foam pad covered in fabric and attached to a wooden base. I had to take these apart before I could start sanding and staining.

The first step in taking them apart is unscrewing the seat from the chair base.

I removed the seat and popped off the staples that were attaching the padding and fabric. It was super easy with a screwdriver, just wedge it under the staple and pop it right off!

Here's what they look like with just the padding (fabric removed), the padding removed, then the seat removed. The chair base (last picture- no seat) is what we need to start sanding!



Thankfully these chairs were old and worn, so the sanding wasn't super difficult. If your chairs have stain or paint on them it will be a much more difficult process.

I took some regular sandpaper (I think it was a coarse 80 grit) and sanded each chair down. Just a quick sanding to remove any buildup and help the stain stick.



I chose Minwax Jacobean stain (it's my favorite stain color!) because we wanted a nice, dark color to hopefully hide all the damage that will inevitably be done to these chairs via Leo.

For staining I usually just use an old rag, but I also used a foam brush for some of the smaller, tighter spaces on these chairs. I did 2 coats of stain, letting it dry for a few hours in between.

I finished up with a Polycrylic top coat to help protect the chairs from bumps and nicks and toddlers.

After that dried, I went over each chair one more time with an extra fine sandpaper to smooth them out.



I bought this fabric to use for the chair padding. I had 5 chairs and bought 4 yards of fabric and it ended up being the exact right amount!

The first step is to lay out the fabric (face down) on a large, flat surface. Then lay your padding and wooden seat on top. Make sure you have at least 3-4 inches of fabric all the way around your seat. You'll need plenty to wrap it around and staple it. It's better to have too much (you can trim it later) than not enough (you won't be able to secure it properly).

This next step is the tricky part.

You need to fold the fabric up over each edge and staple it down with a staple gun. You want to pull it tight, but not too tight. If it's too tight it will create puffing and dimpling. If it's too loose it will be wrinkly.

I suggest doing just a few staples per side to begin with. That makes it easier if you need to remove them to make it tighter or looser.

The corners are the trickiest part. I tried to wrap them sort of like a present, keeping the lines as close to the corner as possible.


Put the chairs back together!

Screw the seats back to the chair base and that's it! You have brand new fancy chairs!

This project's imperfections: The chairs were wobbly when I got them and I haven't been able to un-wobble them yet. I wish I would have done that before the staining and re-upholstering. Some of the sanding was uneven so the stain looks uneven in parts. I pulled some of the fabric too tight which caused some tufting on a few of the seats.

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Apr 29, 2020

The chairs look great, Kelsey, it's fun to see the step by step process and the products you used.


Apr 29, 2020

They look really good, Kelsey! Great job! With each project you are learning so much and getting better and better at all your diys!

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