I think of steel studs as adornments on high-end furniture -- not the kind I own. Steel studs, furniture nails or upholstery tacks all boil down to the same thing: small, metal nails that were traditionally used to hold the fabric onto furniture. These days, the fabric is usually fastened with staples or glue, so those once-functional tacks and studs have become more decorative than anything else. They come in a wide variety of finishes, sizes and designs. Often, they're used on luxurious, upholstered pieces to give them a classy, finished look.
Once the DIY movement took hold, people realized that even if they weren't interested in fully reupholstering their furniture (which requires considerable skill and probably isn't worth it if you're like me and have inexpensive furniture already), they could still use the tacks as a way to change the look of their existing furniture without spending a lot of money. All you need is a box of tacks, a mallet, a pair of pliers and a dream. The pliers hold the studs in place as you gently tap them with the mallet (to avoid damaging the pretty finish on the nailhead, if there is one). A ruler might come in handy, too.
A conservative way to proceed would be to follow the curves and lines of an upholstered chair or sofa. But if you're feeling a little bolder, you could create double lines, mix different types of tacks or make swirls and patterns. If you're already the artistic type, you could freehand it. If I were going to try my hand at decorating with steel studs, though, I'd look for a template before picking up the mallet.
Adding the studs to upholstered furniture is all well and good, but the latest trend is to employ these tacks in totally nontraditional ways and on all kinds of surfaces. A quick search online turns up crafty people trying out steel studs and various types of furniture tacks on walls, wooden furniture, picture frames and even shoes. The real trick is getting those nails into the surface because they're designed to penetrate soft wood, fabric and padding. To stud up a piece of furniture like a nightstand, if it's made out of a hard wood like oak, you'll have to drill guide holes. It'll probably take the tiniest drill bit you own. Just be sure not to go all the way through so the tacks won't fall out.
The best thing about decorating with steel studs is that it's so cheap to do. You can get some of the plainer tacks for less than $10 for a box of 100 (or you can buy them in strips if you just want to make straight lines). It takes more planning and time than anything else, but if you persevere, you'll end up with some really stylish-looking stuff.