If its your first time at Flawed yet Functional, I’m working through my first upholstery project, a wood frame side chair. Today is the final stage, nailhead trim! Here are the first 5 steps to catch you up.
- Built the structural elements of the seat
- Padded the seat cushion
- Attached the top layer of upholstery
- Protected the bottom of the chair with a dust cover
- Finished off the chair back with welting
I suspected that installing the nailhead trim would be tricky because I used flexible metal tack strips to attach the top layer of upholstery to the wood frame around the chair seat. The metal tack strips are under the edge of the fabric. I knew hammering a nail through the metal wouldn’t be easy, and maybe not possible at all.
During the research phase of this step, I came across this tutorial for how to make a jig out of cardboard to keep the nailheads evenly spaced when hammering them in. Genius! Or so I thought…
First I made the jig out of scrap cardboard following the tutorial’s instructions.
Then I tried to nail the tacks in…things are already looking shaky…
Pull out the jig…
Pinterest fail! Ha! That didn’t go as planned! It was super difficult to hammer the nailheads through the metal, especially when they are only held in place by flimsy cardboard. Also, it is hard to hold a nailhead with your fingers and hammer without the proper point-y hammer. My fingers can attest that this is difficult! (Now looking back at that tutorial, I remember she used needle-nose pliers. Ah! Genius!)
Back to the drawing board! How can I get these nailhead tacks hammered in, evenly spaced, and straight through wood AND metal? I pondered for a few days until the light bulb turned on: pre-drill holes for the tacks to go through! A drill bit can go through metal and wood right?
Energized and thrilled at my brilliance, I ran my idea past my hubby. He thought it would work, but he cautioned the bit might tear up the fabric on its way through. So I bought new bits so they would be as sharp as possible. A quick trip to Lowe’s and $3.08 later, I’m ready to rock this nailhead trim!
Quick note on drill bits, select a bit the same size or slightly smaller than the width of the tack shank so that there is a tight fit. I used a 1/16″ drill bit that can go through wood and metal. Insert the drill bit into the drill so less than the length of the tack is sticking out. The purpose of pre-drilling, is to start the hole so the tack can get through the metal and wood with proper spacing between tacks. The hole should be shorter than the tack shank so the remainder of the tack can be hammered securely into the wood frame of the chair.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way! Here’s a quick tutorial for how to attach nailhead trim through flexible metal tack strips.
- 7/16″ nailhead tacks
- Tape measure
- 1/16″ drill bit for metal and wood drilling
- Small hammer
- Flathead screwdriver
Measure and Mark
Use a tape measure to make a line 1/4″ from the edge of the wood trim. If you are using a different size nailhead than I did, mark the line half the diameter of the nailhead away from the trim.
My nailheads are 7/16″ in diameter, the distance from edge to edge of the tack head. I was lazy and rounded this to 1/2″. Half of that length is 1/4″ which is the distance I drew my line from the edge of the wood frame so that the nailheads would rest right at the edge of the trim once nailed in.
Make hash marks where each tack should be inserted. The first one should be 1/4″ from the edge then mark every 1/2″ across the section. The end tacks will only be 1/4″ from the arm/leg/corner of the chair because the radius of the nailhead is 1/4″. When making the rest of the hash marks, they should be 1/2″ apart because there will be two halves of a nailhead between each tack shaft.
Drill Pilot Holes
Use a drill to make a pilot hole at each hash mark. Make sure the drill bit is shorter than the shaft of the nailhead tack so that you don’t drill too far!
Insert Nailhead Tack into Pilot Hole
Using your fingers, push a tack into each pilot hole. Work only 2-3 tacks at a time for drilling the pilot hole and filling it. The fabric quickly disguises the pilot hole, so I found it best not to drill all the pilot holes at once.
The tacks won’t look straight yet, but don’t worry, we’ll fix that in a minute.
Using a small hammer and screwdriver, hammer the nailhead tacks completely into the wood frame. Hammer them left/right or up/down as needed to tweak them into a straight line. The tacks are a bit forgiving and will bend. If a tack is way out of line, pull it out and drill another pilot hole. The tacks will only move about 1/8″ in any one direction.
While not perfectly straight, the end result is SO much better than when I tried to hammer through the metal tack strips!
The front of the chair does not have metal tack strips. The top layer of fabric was secured using cardboard. I continued with the same method, and it was a thousand times easier. The metal tack strip made my drill slip and slide, and it offered quite the resistance to the drill bit! The front of the chair was the last section I tackled, and it was smooth and easy!
Now I need a new home office where my desk faces out into the room because the front of the chair is clearly the best side of the chair!
After 7 years of procrastinating, this dream to try upholstery on my own has come to completion! Let’s take a look at some before and afters, shall we? Scroll down to see the picture from when I first brought it home to completely refinishing the chair frame and upholstery! What a change! The wood is so much more yellow than I remembered.
Now for an updated look at my home office area!
There you have it, my rather unconventional way to install nailhead trim: measure and mark the insert points, use a drill to make pilot holes, insert tack and hammer in completely. I have not seen a drill pop up in the upholstery tutorials I’ve read/watched, but the result looks good enough to me! Like I said before, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Be creative! Ponder different ways to solve your problems with the tools and resources you have! Not only will you finish your project, but you will get a great amount of satisfaction from using your brain to problem solve.
It feels so good to finish a project! Particularly one that’s been hanging around for 7 years! What have you tackled lately that you finished? Did you let your project hang over your head for 7 years??