How To Gild Crafts For The Home

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You don’t have to be King Midas to turn things to gold with your touch. You can practice the centuries-old craft of gilding to change household décor from everyday to spectacular by applying thin layers of gold or other metals to their surfaces. Gilding is not difficult, but does require a steady hand and patience.

What You Will Need

Gilding requires a few supplies, most of which you will find at a large crafts store. If you do not have a store near you, an internet vendor such as www.gildedplanet.com will carry all the supplies you need.

    • 220-grit sandpaper: You will use this to sand and prepare the surface of the item you plan to gild.
    • Tack cloth: This roughly textured cloth is used by painters to remove grit or dust before painting.
    • Foam paintbrushes: These inexpensive brushes are perfect for applying your primer and adhesive.
    • Primer or bole: Though this step is sometimes skipped, your results will have more depth and luster if you use a colored primer, or basecoat called a bole underneath your metal leaf. You can purchase specialty products for gilding, or use an acrylic paint. The usual colors of bole are warm red for a glowing, warm result; gray or black bole under silver leaf or if you desire a cool appearance; and yellow bole for general use whenever an even, bright appearance is the goal.
    • Adhesive size: This adhesive will hold your metal leaf in place. Size is available in oil or water based formulations. Water-based size dries more quickly than oil, and is suitable for most household projects.
    • Gilder’s tip brush: Though not always necessary, a gilder’s tip makes it much easier to work with the gold leaf. A gilder’s tip is a wide, short brush with a very short handle. It is used to lift sheets of metal and apply them to the item being gilded. If you are using sheets of leaf with paper backing, you can make do without a tip brush.
    • Mop brush: The mop brush is very soft, and is used for smoothing and burnishing the metal leaf.

how to gild crafts  how to gild crafts

  • Gold leaf: Extremely thin sheets of gold used in gilding. Real gold leaf is usually 23 karat. There is artificial gold leaf available, which is much less expensive. You can also find silver, aluminum, copper and bronze leaf. Leaf is usually sold in books, each containing 20 to 25 leafs of thin metal. The typical sizes are between 3 and 5 inches square.
  • Acrylic sealer: A clear, acrylic spray used to protect your finished piece.
  • Antiquing glaze: If you desire an aged finish, antiquing glaze gives a worn, softened look.

The Gilding Process

Like most hobbies, gilding takes practice to master. Though you can gild just about anything around the house, for your first experience with this craft it is best to start with something fairly simple, such as a wooden box, picture frame, mirror or serving tray.

Before starting, make sure to close any windows, turn off ceiling fans and make sure children and pets are not going to interrupt you. Metal leaf is extremely thin, and any breeze can make your gilding process very challenging. Wash your hands thoroughly before handling metal leaf to avoid oils from your skin tarnishing the metal.

Gilding Instructions

  1. Prepare the item you will be gilding by sanding it to remove any old finishes, rough areas or imperfections. Remove all surface grit with the tack cloth.
  2. If there are parts of the item you do not want gilded, such as glass in a mirror, use painter’s masking tape to cover those areas.
  3. Use a foam paintbrush to apply a smooth coat of your gilding primer or basecoat to the item. Cover all surfaces that will be gilded. Let the basecoat dry.
  4. Use a clean foam brush to apply the adhesive size. Depending on the weather conditions and the type of size you use, the surface should be ready to apply the gold leaf in anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. When the size is no longer wet, but has a slightly tacky feeling, it is ready for the leaf. Test the size by very lightly touching it with your knuckle. You should feel stickiness, but not wetness or transfer to your hand.
  5. Open the leaf book, and lift a sheet of metal from the pack. You can use your fingers or a gilder’s tip brush. Be extremely gentle with the metal leaf.
  6. Lay the sheet of metal on the item you are gilding. Use your mop brush to smooth the metal in place, gently pushing down over nooks and crevasses to achieve a smooth surface.
  7. Carefully peel away the paper backing from the gold leaf. Brush over the metal again with your soft brush to adhere it completely to the adhesive size.
  8. Continue applying gold leaf in this manner, slightly overlapping the squares of metal, until your item is completely gilded. Gently brush over each sheet of gold to smooth away any wrinkles or imperfections.
  9. When your piece is completely covered, use the mop brush to remove any flecks of excess metal or rough edges. Burnish the entire piece with your soft mop brush.
  10. Spray on the acrylic sealer, and let dry according to the product’s instructions.
  11. If you want an instant antique, brush on antiquing glaze, then rub and buff the glaze around all surfaces of your gilded piece, especially into any ridges or crevasses. Wipe away any excess antiquing glaze with a soft rag.
  12. Remove any masking tape that was in place, and display your gilded item proudly in your home.

With practice, you can take on much more challenging projects, such as gilding statues, architectural findings, curved or ornately decorated items or even natural items like leaves or flowers. Your gilded masterpieces will make beautiful décor in your home, or wonderful gifts for friends and family.

Last Updated: June 7, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening and home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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