How to remove upholstery tacks with Pliers

A tack remover tool is great to have when reupholstering furniture. But if you do not have one at hand, a pair of diagonal wire cutters or needle nose pliers can work just as well. Find out how in this article.

Tack nails are pretty when they are on a piece but they can be a headache if you are trying to remove them, especially without a proper tool. Ideally, a tack puller screwdriver is the best tool for removing tacks and small finish nails from upholstery and wood frame. But when you do not have the tool at hand, you can still get on with your upholstery upgrade project with pliers. However, not all pliers can do the job. The diagonal cutter pliers or needle nose pliers are the best. In this article, I share how to use both types of pliers to remove upholstery tacks and small finish nails from wood and furniture.

Why you may need to remove upholstery tacks?

There are many reasons why you would need to remove upholstery tacks. One of them is when refurbishing furniture and you have to remove the fabric. If the fabric is held in place by tack nails, you will need a tool that will remove them without damaging wood or the fabric.

If your furniture has decorative nail tacks (for example a wing chair), you may want to remove the old tacks and replace them with new ones. To do so, you need a tool that will remove the nails without destroying the fabric or leather upholstery.

If you are an interior designer, you know there is no limit to where you can apply decorative nail tacks. From adding decorative trim to the carpet to affixing beautiful fabric to wood frames. Tack nails accentuate surfaces and their uses are countless.

Likewise, you probably know that the job of decorating interiors involves trying different outfits until you get the right one. The process may involve removing the decorative tacks and pins and reinstalling them in a different way or pattern. To that end, you need to use a tool that will remove those nails without causing damage to the material.

Another instance where you may need to remove tack nails is when laying or replacing a carpet. Some carpets are affixed to the floor using carpet tack strips. When removing such carpets, you need a tool that will lift off the tacks or decorative pin nails from the carpet without destroying the beautiful wood floor.

In a nutshell, tacks have many applications and that is why you need a tack remover tool at hand to easily get them out when you want. If you don’t have a tack puller, you can use pliers to do the job. Diagonal cutters or needle nose pliers are the best for the job and here is how I use them to remove tack pins in my projects.

How to remove upholstery tacks with diagonal cutter pliers

Dykes for removing upholstery tacks
Diagonal cutters for removing tack nails

Diagonal cutter pliers or dikes (a.k.a. dykes or side cutters) are not only good for flush cutting wires. You can use them as a tack removal tool to pull out tack strips from upholstery or carpet. They have sharp wedged edges that get under the nail heads pretty easily. Also, most diagonal cutters have a high leverage design. Here is how to use them to lift off those stubborn tacks in three easy steps.

Step 1. Dig under the tack head with the jaws

The jaws of diagonal cutters have sharp tips. Open them slightly and use them as prongs to dig under the tack head.

Step 2. Pry out the tack nail

Pry out the tack by pressing the pliers against the surface. You can place a piece of wood under the pliers to create more leverage.

Step 3. Pull out the tack

Grasp the tack with the pliers and pull it out. Do not squeeze the handles very tight because the sharp jaws of the pliers might cut the fastener.
Follow the same steps when removing small finish nails from furniture and other surfaces with diagonal cutters.

How to remove tack nails with needle nose pliers

If you do not have a pair of dykes, you can use needle nose pliers to remove upholstery tacks. The pliers have long tapered serrated jaws compared to the stubby jaws of side cutters. Therefore, the steps for pulling out the small nails are a little different. Here is how to do it.

how to remove upholstery tacks with needle nose pliers
Removing old nail tacks from antique furniture with long nose pliers

Step 1. Grip the tack head with the pliers and pull

If the tack has moved up a little bit above the surface, try to grip its head with the needle nose pliers and pull. Simply hold the pliers vertically, bite the head of the nail strongly and pull out the fastener. This might be a little difficult if the tack nail is held tightly by wood grain.

If it is hard to grip, slip a flat screwdriver under the tack nail and pry it out. This will lift off the nail so that you can grip it with pliers and pull it out.

Step 2. Slip the jaws of the pliers under the tack and pull it out

Lifting off stubborn upholstery tacks from the top is difficult and may also cause the head to come off. A better way to remove them if there is a small gap between the tack head and the surface is by sliding the jaws of the pliers horizontally underneath and pry out the fastener.

Simply open the jaws of the pliers slightly and slide them under the tack. Bite the exposed shank of the tack nail and pry out the fastener. If the shank is too long, leverage the pliers by placing a piece of wood underneath it. The fastener should come right off intact and ready for re-use.

Generally, removing tack nails with needle nose pliers is not as easy as using diagonal cutters or a tack puller tool. But if all you have are long nose pliers and you need to detach some fabric from wood, there is no other option than to use them.

So, there you have it. That is how to remove tacks and finish nails from wood and furniture without a tack puller.

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Julio a.k.a Pliersman is the owner and creator of the Pliersman Website. As a handy person, he possesses a variety of pliers (both general-purpose and specialty pliers) which he uses to complete various tasks. When Julio is not blogging, he spends his time in the garage fixing cars or building stuff.