How to Gild the Edges of Pages in a Book

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Gilded page edges can make a book feel more special and like a family heirloom.
Gilded page edges can make a book feel more special and like a family heirloom. (Image: Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Gilding the edges of a book not only makes it appear special, but gives it the appearance of an older book. Gilding the edges of a book is simple, and the necessary supplies can all be found in an ordinary craft store.

Things You'll Need

  • Butcher paper or wax paper
  • Tape
  • Dust cloth
  • Fine-grain sandpaper
  • Primer
  • Bole color
  • Water-based adhesive
  • Gold leaf
  • At least one small soft-bristled paintbrush
  • Two clamps, correct size to hold book pages together
  • Sealant (optional)

Preparing the Page Edges for Gilding

Cover your work surface with butcher paper and tape down the edges.

Clean the book with a cloth, removing all excess dust.

Sand the page edges lightly with sandpaper. Use your breath and the cloth to remove any excess sanding dust.

Clamp the page edges together along the long side of the pages.

Apply the primer with a soft-bristled paintbrush. Move the clamps as necessary to reach all the page edges. Clean your brush thoroughly. Allow the primer to dry completely before proceeding.

Apply the bole, a pigment traditionally used as a base color for gilding, over the primer in a thin layer. Allow the bole to dry completely. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for drying time.

Apply the adhesive, again using the paintbrush. Allow the adhesive to dry until it is tacky. The adhesive will appear dry but will still pull at your finger when touched. Follow the manufacturer's recommended drying times to find the optimal "tacky" stage.

Applying the Gilt

Gently remove the gold leaf from its paper backing.

Gold leaf is very delicate, so be patient when applying it to your book.
Gold leaf is very delicate, so be patient when applying it to your book. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Carefully lay the gold leaf over the page edge, covering as much surface area as you can with each piece.

With light, smooth strokes and gentle taps, press the gold leaf into the adhesive using the paintbrush. If the gold leaf sheet reaches past the page edges, gently fold it over the edge with the brush and sweep it away, tearing the sheet gently.

Repeat these steps until all the adhesive is covered with gold leaf. Move the clamps as you work around the page edges. Allow the adhesive to dry completely. Do not move the book while the leaf is setting.

Apply sealant over the gold leaf with the paintbrush. Allow the sealant to dry completely before removing the clamps and opening the book. When the sealant is completely dry, flip through the pages a few times to loosen them.

Tips & Warnings

  • Primer colors are usually red, yellow or black. Clamping the pages together will help prevent any of the applications to seep into the book pages. Pages can be gilded with other metals and materials, such as synthetic gold, which is sturdier than real gold. If small flecks of gold leaf fall off during application, save them to use as patches if there are any gaps in the gilt when you are done. Follow manufacturer's instructions for drying times on all products used in this project. Applying sealant over the gold leaf is optional but recommended, as heavy use of your book will wear away the gilding over time.
  • A water-based adhesive is recommended: oil-based adhesives can discolor and deteriorate the book pages. Do not allow the adhesive to dry completely, and do not attempt to apply the gilt when the adhesive is still wet.

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