I've learned that taking out staples is a lot more difficult and time consuming than I thought! No wonder people charge so much to reupholster!
Last night I finally got the last pieces of fabric off the chair. I only managed to cut or stab myself 3 times. In diving into a large upholstery project, there are a few tips I've discovered along the way.
First, there is an order of operations for removing the old upholstery fabric. For a chair that has fabric on the front and on the back, you'd want the remove the center back panel first. This will also be the last panel of fabric that goes on to the finished chair. It's important to remove all the staples. Instinctively, you would start at the top and work your way down, which is fine, but it will actually be easier if you remove the bottom row of staples first. If you wait to remove the bottom row last, all the fabric will be flopping all over the place and getting in your way. After you get a good handful of staples removed, you will be able to pull the fabric, but mostly likely the staples will remain in place. Pulling on the fabric in some instances does help to loosen the staples, but you want to make sure not to rip the fabric because you will be using it as a pattern later on.
After the outer back and the outer sides have been removed, you can start working on the inner sides and back. For the chair that I was working on, there were a lot of tufts and buttons, so I had to remove the cushioning on the back and on the sides (on the outside of the chair) in order to cut the knots that were holding the buttons in. You could, I suppose, cut the buttons off from the front side, but if you were to be re tufting when you reupholster than you'd have to remove the batting from the back anyways when you tie the new buttons in.
When you start removing the fabric from the arms of the chairs, it can get pretty disgusting, especially where the fabric from the arms is stapled to the fabric of the seat cushion. At this point I would definitely recommend having a vacuum on hand, and you may want to consider wearing rubber gloves. Just to get some perspective, I found about a dollar worth of change, a cereal bowl worth of old Cheerios, pretzels and hardened cheese, a half a cat worth of fur, and an old fishhook.
After I removed all the fabric and staples from the chair, it was time to remove all the hot glue remnants from where the previous owner (or upholsterer?) had hot glued all the welting to the junction of the fabric and the wood. I choose to sand the hot glue off because I was going to be painting the chair anyway. This would also be a fine way to go if you were going to refinish the furniture. If you were trying to avoid painting or refinishing, I would carefully remove any glue or fabric remnants with pliers. You'd also want to be careful when removing the staples because it's very easy to get a row on indented lines from the staples remover all along the edge of the wood.