How to Apply Gold Leaf to Wood

Applying gold leaf, or gilding, is a tradition that dates back to the Egyptians. It is a skill craftsmen have developed to decorate frames, chairs, sculptures, leather and fabric. Real gold leaf, which is as light as air and is difficult to touch without folding and tearing, retains its beauty and richness for centuries without tarnishing. Inexpensive versions of synthetic gold leaf are available on the market. Though they are as beautiful, they require a topcoat to prevent tarnish. Copper and silver leaf, as well as other metallic colors available on the market, can all be applied in the same manner.

Things You'll Need

  • Fine-grade sandpaper

  • Sealer or gesso

  • Acrylic paint in red, yellow or black

  • Glue

  • Gold leaf

  • Squirrel's hair brush

  • Gilding brush (optional)

Step 1

Sand the wood so there are no blemishes and apply varnish or gesso. Once that dries, sand it down again with a fine-grade sandpaper.

Step 2

Apply the under color, also referred to as "bole," which can be acrylic paint in red, yellow or black. Each color complements the gold leaf differently for various results.

Step 3

Apply water-based or oil-based adhesive glue, also known as "sizing," to the surface you would like to adhere the gold leaf onto. Allow it to dry until it is tacky.

Step 4

Slowly and carefully apply gold leaf to the tacky surface. A gilder's tip brush can be used to transfer the leaf to the tacky surface or petroleum jelly can be dabbed onto a cotton ball to lift the leaf from its glassine paper to the surface it will be glued on.

Step 5

Brush each piece of gold leaf down with a squirrel's hair brush, making sure to fill in all crevices and remove excess gold leaf.

Tip

It is recommended to varnish gold leaf that is under 22kt or synthetic if it will get a lot of contact, such as arms on a chair.

If you use an oil-based adhesive glue and a water-based varnish top coat, the oil will take longer to dry, creating a "crackle" effect in the gold leaf.

Twenty-five leaves of gold are sold in a book, and 20 books come in a pack. One pack of gold leaf will cover a flat surface of 64 square feet.

Save the excess gold leaf to fill in "holidays," areas that are missing gold leaf because of glue drying or where the brush may have torn the leaf off.

Clean up oil-based glue with mineral spirits and water-based glue with soap and water.

References & Resources

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