15 Furniture Repair Skill Levels

Repair -

15 Furniture Repair Skill Levels

It can be difficult and frustrating to understand how to build skills for furniture repair work.  After publishing more than 50 videos dedicated to furniture repair on our Fixing Furniture YouTube channel and responding to many viewer questions, I have developed a list of 15 skill levels for repairing furniture.

According to the North American Industry Classification System, the Reupholstery and Furniture Repair industry (NIACS code 811420) is described as follows:

"This industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in one or more of the following: (1) reupholstering furniture; (2) refinishing furniture; (3) repairing furniture; and (4) repairing and restoring furniture."

What is the common element of these different parts of the reupholster and furniture repair industry?  Wood.  Wood is the most common building material for furniture.  It forms the foundation for upholstered furniture so that staples and tacks can be used to attach the upholstery.  It's the material that finishers apply finish to.  Wood is used for the structure of most residential furniture.  I like to call it a perfectly imperfect building material.

So if wood is the foundation for most furniture, then woodworking is an important skill for the furniture repair industry.  For upholsterers and finishers, they may only need basic woodworking skills to address the most common issues they face.  To repair and restore furniture, woodworking skills are essential.  Perhaps you watched some YouTube videos and you're interested in learning how to repair furniture.  But where do you start?

I've developed this chart showing the levels of repair skills for various types of repairs.  Each skill builds upon the other with increasing complexity.  Let's look at Finish Repair as an example.  A Level 1 finish repair is touching up a small color defect.  It could be a mark on the corner of a chair.  This can be repaired with a touch-up marker.  It's a very common repair that is done by upholsterers and woodworkers in their workshop.  That is very different than stripping off an existing finish and refinishing the piece, which is a level 3 skill.  It's unlikely an upholsterer, or even a woodworker, would take on this type of work, but instead outsource it to a local finisher.  Why?  As the skill levels increase, so do the need for specialized tools, knowledge, and a specific workshop setup.  A professional finisher uses a dedicated spray booth and is an expert in the various types of finishing products, stains, and application techniques.  They have a very different workshop setup compared to a woodworker, which is very different from an upholsterer. For the purpose of this blog post I will be focusing on Level 1 repairs.

Repair Level

Finish Repair

Wood Repair

Woodworking Repair

Upholstery Repair

Level 1

Touch up a small color defect

Fill a minor defect with a filler product

Glue loose joinery

Remove and reinstall the existing upholstery

Level 2

Apply an additional coat of finish

Fill a void with a filler product

Glue broken parts

Remove the old fabric and replace with new

Level 3

Strip the old finish and apply a new finish

Replace the damaged area with a wood patch

Replace the part by reproducing the part

Reupholstery replacing

all foundation materials including the foam and/or batting

Level 4

Repair a color defect and the finish


Restore broken antique parts

Reupholstery with all new materials plus replacing the spring system

 Level 1 Furniture Repair Skills

The key to learning furniture repair skills is to start with Level 1 repairs.  This is the entry level.  You start by building your knowledge so you understand the tools, supplies, and techniques required to successfully complete the furniture repair.  The second part is to get hands-on experience.  The formula for building a skill is:

knowledge + experience = skill

The knowledge about furniture repair can come from several sources.  YouTube videos are a great way to watch and learn from experts in their field.  Some YouTubers explain what they're doing while others just show their work.  I'm a YouTuber that shows and explains what I do, so viewers can learn step by step how to complete the repair successfully.  Another way to build your knowledge is to read magazines dedicated to the area you're focussed on.  For example, Fine Woodworking is a magazine I've read since the 1990's to build my knowledge of best practices in woodworking.

To get hands-on experience, you need to find some old furniture and practice.  Maybe it's an old piece you have kicking around or something you can repair for a family member.  You can find used furniture at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore or other thrift shops.  You might even be able to find some furniture at the curb in your neighbourhood on garbage day or at your local dump.

Once you've obtained the knowledge and experience to build the skills for Level 1 repairs, you can grow by focusing on the next skill level.  Here are videos that include segments of the Level 1 skill levels:

Level 1 Finish Repair - Touch Up Markers for Wood Furniture Repair

Level 1 Wood Repair - Bad Furniture Repair and How to Fix It

Level 1 Woodworking Repair - How to Repair Loose Chairs

Level 1 Upholstery Repair - Repairing an Upholstered Chair

Build Your Furniture Repair Network

Regardless of what skill you're focussed on, you will encounter a repair that needs some specialized skills you don't have.  Find a local Upholsterer, Woodworker, or Finisher to work with when you need their skills.  Since the mid 2000's I've worked with a professional finisher as my go-to resource I use for finishing projects and questions.  I've sent him dozens of pieces to finish and in return, he also sends me woodworking repairs to complete for him.  We each have our talents and we have a great working relationship to help each other solve problems.

I also have a relationship with a local upholsterer.  I sometimes get customer inquiries about upholstery repairs that are beyond my skill level so I refer customers to him.  We sometimes collaborate on projects that require both of our skills to complete.

Our hope is that more people will learn this disappearing skill.  Furniture repair can be a rewarding hobby and a profitable business.