How Do I Gold Leaf Metal?

Written by roxanne mchenry
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How Do I Gold Leaf Metal?
Exterior metal gilded in 24 carat gold will not tarnish. (old golden wethervane image by thomas owen from Fotolia.com)

Applying gold leaf to metal is called "gilding" and is an age old process from the time of the Egyptians. (reference 1) Gilding metal uses either 24-karat gold leaf or less pure gold leaf made with other metals or alloys, depending on whether the gilding will be applied to an interior or exterior piece. (reference 2) Gilding is an easy process that requires careful handling of the gold leaf to apply it without waste, but otherwise applying gold leaf to metal does not require any special skill. (reference 3)

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Newspaper or dust sheets
  • 220 grit sandpaper
  • Metal gilding primer/sealer
  • Paintbrush
  • Patent gold leaf
  • Gilder's brush
  • Gilder's mop
  • Acrylic topcoat

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Cover the work surface with newspaper or use dust sheets if you are gilding a large piece.

  2. 2

    Sand the metal with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth the surface, if necessary, and remove any dust when finished.

  3. 3

    Apply a metal gilding primer/sealer to the metal in the selected colour (red, ochre or grey) so the piece is completely coated, then allow to cure for 24 hours.

  4. 4

    Apply the sizing or adhesive to the cured metal with a paintbrush, then allow to dry just until tacky (about 3 to 4 hours) or according to the sizing instructions.

  5. 5

    Remove one sheet of patent leaf paper and apply to the sized surface; rub the back of the sheet with a gilder's brush or your fingers.

  6. 6

    Remove the paper from the surface, leaving the gold on the piece, then continue adding gold leaf until you have a small area covered in gold leaf.

  7. 7

    Burnish the applied gold leaf using a gilder's mop to remove excess gold leaf and polish the surface, then use a cotton ball for a final burnish.

  8. 8

    Apply an acrylic topcoat to the gilded and burnished piece if it will be used indoors or handled often.

Tips and warnings

  • 23.5 carat or purer gold leaf is recommended for exterior metal gilding, and it does not need a top coat as it will not tarnish.
  • Less pure gold leaf alloyed with silver or copper is recommended for indoor use; the type used will depend on the gold colour desired for the final results.
  • The metal primer/sealer colour (red, ochre or grey) has a specialised use to cover imperfections or to slightly change the tone of the gold leaf applied.
  • Patent leaf, or transfer leaf, is gold leaf with the gold mounted on a sheet of paper for easier handling than gold leaf sheets alone. (reference 2)
  • Do not apply gold leaf in a room with the window open or any fans operating.

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