Gold Leaf gilding is an ancient art that has
remained through Modern times.
Covering a surface to give the appearance of
metal goes back to antiquity-and continues as a
desired decorative method.
Gilding with gold leaf is a process in which
tissue-thin sheets of real or imitation gold are
applied to a surface. This may be as a complete
covering a stripe or an ornamental design.
Gilding is easy to do if it's done the right way,
but if the gilder is careless, or forgets to follow the
basic rules it can cause headaches for him and
his customers too.
SURFACE GILDING - Surface gilding is the
name applied when gold leaf is laid on the outside
or "reading" surface instead of on the back, as in
glass gilding. It applies to all such jobs, whether
exposed to the weather or not, except truck or
wagon lettering.
On all surface gilding jobs, the feasibility of
gold leaf in rolls should be considered, since the
speed and ease of roll application can result in
great time savings (Surface Preparation is the
same for roll and book.)
Surface Prep - Preparing the surface properly,
as suggested elsewhere, is particularly important
with surface gilding that is to be exposed to
weather. As a final preparation just before sizing,
smooth the sign surface down with sandpaper. The chief differe6ce between surface gilding
and glass gilding is in the size used. For surface
gilding "slow" size should be used whenever
practicable. Depending on atmospheric and
surface conditions, Slow Drying Oil Size,
excellent for this type of gilding, is usually ready
for gilding in 10 to 12 hours. It holds its tack for
many hours thereafter.
Application of Gold Size may be by brush,
spray or roller. Full, even coverage is necessary.
Any skips or misses will leave open spots where
leaf will not adhere. Japan color may be added to
size when background is needed.
Size is applied to the prepared surface with the
same brushes and in the same manner used
when applying paint. After you have applied size,
and after it has become dry enough to be gilded.
It should possess a barely perceptible sticky
feeling. Test the tack with a knuckle. You have
the proper tack when the size does not stick to
your knuckle, yet when you feel a slight pull and
hear a slight “tick" as your knuckle is pulled away.
If gold leaf is applied to size that is too wet, the
gold will be drowned and the burnish killed. The
burnish of gold depends largely upon the
accuracy with which tack is judged.
When proper tack has been reached, lay the
gold leaf, and make certain that all sized surfaced
are well covered. When the letters are all
covered, and when all spots or cracks, caused by
broken places in the leaf have been patched, the
sign is ready to be rubbed down and burnished.
First, batten down with cotton to insure the gold
sticking even7l before you wipe off surplus gold
and burnish. To burnish, rub the gold briskly and
lightly with absorbent cotton until all laps and
wrinkles are removed.
OUTSIDE GILDING - To re-gild signs in place, or
to gild in places where it may be windy, proceed
as in ordinary surface gilding, with this exception:
Use gold leaf in rolls or "patent" gold leaf. Trying
to gild with loose gold in outside locations is apt to
be unsatisfactory and cause an undue loss of
gold leaf. Each leaf of patent
gold is adhered to a thin sheet of paper which you
can handle with your fingers. Lay the gold from
the paper, smoothly and evenly. Before removing
the paper, rub the back of it to make sure the gold
is thoroughly adhered to the size. After laying,
burnish with absorbent cotton and finish as usual.
Where the job is so small that it would be too
costly to wait f or slow size to dry; where there is
a good deal of dust; or when the likelihood of
inclement weather makes it inadvisable or
impracticable to use “slow" size, Quick-Drying
gold size may be used instead. This will dry to a
tack in from I to 2 hours. The addition of a few
drops of fat oil size will slow up the drying
according to amount used. Always remember,
however, it is much easier to obtain a good
burnish with a slow size, which is also more
durable on exterior work.
On a fairly good-sized job where it is
necessary, for one reason or another, to use
quick size. it is advisable to burnish the first letter,
gild the third letter and then burnish the second,
gild the forth and burnish the third, and so on.
Quick Rubbing Varnish is a quality varnish. This
material can also be used as a size when quick
surface gilding is desired. Tack time for this material
is approximately 10 to 30 minutes on average.
Except where it will be subject to abrasion
through much washing or other causes. 23K gold
leaf needs no protective covering. Do not,
therefore, varnish over the gold in surface gilding,
it kills the brilliance. Where gold leaf is to be
varnished over, as in truck lettering, use a quick,
hard-drying size.
TRUCK LETTERING - The method of gilding on
truck bodies varies somewhat, depending upon
the type of "paintjob" on the truck. Methods that
are satisfactory with a varnish job, for example,
are not so suitable as others with a synthetic
No wax, grease or oil should be on a surface to
be sized. Wax that may have been polished with
a mechanical buffer is very difficult to remove with
solvent. The only sure method of obtaining a
clean surface in this case is to sand the entire
panel before application of the size.
Polish can be removed by gasoline or benzine
but great care must be taken to be sure the Polish
has been removed and not just smeared around.
It is best to go over the surface several times,
using a clean rag each time. It is usually possible
to determine the presence of wax or polish by
rubbing a finger on the finish. A streak will show
up if grease is present.
Always use a quick, hard-drying size where the
lettering is to receive a protective coating. On
modern finishes, best results will be obtained by
using a size designed for this use, such as Quick
Drying Size. If no protective coating is to be
applied, either a quick or slow-drying size may be
used. As in all exterior surface work greater
durability will be obtained with the more elastic oil
Remember using Gold Leaf on Rolls can save
time on many jobs.
Never apply a protective coating over leaf until
the sizing is hard dry.
The best assurance of long life is when the
panel has been sanded to a clean surface to
receive the size and leaf. For this surface a clear
coating or varnish compatible with the finish of the
panel must be used.
When lettering, applied to a highly finished
panel, is pencil varnished, His also advisable to
use a varnish for clear coater similar to the liquid
used as the base in the panel finish. Satisfactory
results can be obtained by using a long oil
exterior type varnish, providing it is not brushed
out too thin. A flow coat or even two coats are
advisable to prevent early breakdown. SOME
Gold leaf of good grade is one of the very few
sign materials, which, by its very nature, cannot
contribute to the premature breakdown of sign or
lettering work. When breakdown occurs with its
consequent dissatisfaction, the trouble is always
found in one, or both of two causes: (1) improper
or insufficient preparation of the surface, or (2)
faulty methods of laying.
Of the two, particularly in outside work,
improper preparation is by tar the more common
and serious. Adequate preparation of the proper
kind is absolutely essential to good gold work. It is
the basis of everything. Without it,
signs cannot hope to stand up or look well. The
following suggestions will help you to start your
signs right.
Galvanized Iron or Zinc - Put one-half ounce,
each, of copper chloride, copper nitrate and sal
ammoniac in a glass jar. Add one-quart soft
water. Stir with wooden paddle until dissolved.
Then add, slowly, one-half ounce of muriatic acid.
Apply to metal surface with a broad flat brush.
When the first tone, black, has changed to gray,
the metal is ready for the priming coats. This
treatment will kill corrosion and keep it from
working through the paint and gold leaf. It will also
remove any traces of grease on the metal.
Apply one coat of red lead, brushing out well.
Then apply one or, better still, two coats of white
or yellow lead. Allow each coat of lead to dry
thoroughly before sizing and laying. There are
many new synthetic lacquers and primers suitable
for the above work, but in any case these
surfaces should be prepared in exactly the same
manner as you would for a permanent paint job.
NOTE- Some sheet metals require special treatment as a preparation for painting. When working
with any "trade name" sheet metal, therefore, you
should get the advice of the manufacturer or
dealer as to what treatment is necessary to insure
good results.
Lead - All lead surfaces should be washed with
a very weak solution of muriatic acid or sand
blasted to give it "tooth." Apply slow oil size
directly to the lead. Gild when proper tack is
Aluminum - Cast aluminum letters and plaques
should be coated both front and back.
Satisfactory results may be obtained with any
good commercial metal primer as a first coat and
one or two coat5 of white lead and oil paint.
Slow-drying oil size is to be applied to the dried
final coat.
Utmost precaution must be taken during sanding
to preserve primer and, finish coat on sharp
edges! And points.
Wooden Surfaces and Wooden Letters - The
essential object here is to seal the wood thoroughly so that moisture cannot get in from any
direction. If moisture gets into the wood, it will not
only shorten the life of the wood itself but will work
under the paint and gold and literally "push them
To prepare a wooden surface, prime it with one
coat of raw linseed oil. Avoid shellac, except