Gilding is the craft of applying thin layers of gold or silver leaf to a surface, a technique dating back to ancient Egypt. Before we begin we must select leaf. Gold purity is measured in carats, with each carat representing 1/24 purity by weight. Twenty-four carat gold is pure gold, 18 carat is 75% gold, and so on. For interior surface gilding, 22 carat is sufficient. Below, we break down leaf types for you.
Gold: 92% gold leaf; 22 carat, sufficient for interior surfaces
Silver: Pure 100% silver; like all silver, it will tarnish
Copper: Pure 100% copper leaf
Aluminum: Pure 100% aluminum leaf
Dutch metal: Imitation gold leaf made from copper and zinc
Veriegated: Metal leaf chemically treated to create colored patterns
Step 1: Prepare the chair
Sand the chair lightly, then apply two coats of oil-based primer/sealer. When dry, apply two coats of oil-based gloss paint. Red is often used as a base for gold and black for silver, but either color can be used.
Step 2: Create a sticky base
Apply the size in smooth, even strokes. It quickly becomes tacky as it dries. It’s ready for leaf when a knuckle pressed lightly on the surface makes a clicking sound when removed.
Step 3: Prepare the leaf
Metal leaf comes separated by sheets of paper. Wear cotton gloves to prevent tarnishing and lift each leaf slowly with as little contact as possible. Don’t crumple, fold or tear the sheet.
Step 4: Apply the leaf
Carefully wrap a sheet around the leg of a chair, then continue applying and overlapping sheets.
Step 5: Wrap the entire frame
Continue wrapping the leaf around the frame until it’s totally covered. Don’t be concerned with the finish now; at this point, it should resemble a poorly wrapped roast.
Step 6: Smooth the leaf
Use a soft, round artist’s brush to gently work the leaf into the nooks, crannies and hollows. Use a circular, dabbing motion for best results.
Step 7: Burnish and fill gaps
Rub a gloved hand gently over the surface to remove surplus leaf. Use scrap pieces to fill areas where the base coat shows through.
Step 8: Give the final burnish
Give the entire frame a final rubdown with a gloved hand to create a shiny surface. Work slowly, continuing to patch any holes or gaps with scrap leaf.
Step 9: Protect the surface
Use a brush to apply clear shellac over the entire surface. Begin at the top and work down, taking care to cover all areas.