How To Handle Gold Leaf.

Imitation gold leaf is considerably thicker than 23 carat gold leaf, which is so thin it is semi transparent, this makes a great deal difference when it comes to handling the leaf. But the principles are pretty much the same whether you use imitation gold leaf or genuine gold leaf, the techniques and tools and equipment are the same.

You do not need a lot of equipment to be able to gild successfully, but learning how to handle gold leaf can be a problem for the inexperienced.


A gilding cushion and a gilding knife, are the only major items, the other materials, Vaseline, cotton wool, pumice powder and the imitation gold leaf itself are economically priced.


One hint, if you can find a straight edged cutlery knife from the 1950's you will have found a very good potential gilding knife.


To apply gold leaf you must first learn how to handle it. I have provided here a step by step illustrated method which follows. This subject is also covered in detail in my manual How to Achieve Antique & Other Distressed Finishes to Imitation gold Leaf


how to apply gold leaf

Scoop out about half a teaspoon of pumice powder with your gilders knife and put it on the cushion. It is vital that your cushion is free from any traces of grease and the pumice acts to degrease the cushion





how to handle gold leaf

The gilding knife should not have an extremely sharp edge or it will cut into the leather of the cushion, rather it should be slightly rough. Using the gilders knife spread the powder over the surface of the cushion, use the edge of the knife, not the flat blade, and gently scrape the powder back and forth so that it covers the entire cushion. This will remove any traces of grease from the cushion.


Wipe the blade on the cushion to remove the powder from the knife, then brush of the surplus powder from the cushion again with your gilders knife. Take some care that you remove traces of pumice powder from your knife by wiping the knife on the cushion.


how to apply gold leaf

Open your book of leaf and insert the blade under one of the leaves of gold.


Some gilders learn how to gild using a shield around the cushion to prevent drafts from blowing the leaf around; I prefer to have a space where no drafts can get in. I suggest strongly that you put the cat out when gilding, they can be far too curious.





how to handle gold leaf

Gently lift the leaf of gold over to your gilders cushion and lay the leaf out as flat as you can, practice will make you perfect at this.


If the leaf does not lie down perfectly flat, you can gently blow down onto to the surface of the leaf; your breath should flatten out any irregularities.





 how to gold leaf

I would say that this is flat enough for you to work with. What we do next will depend on what we are gilding; I am preparing to apply gold leaf to the edge of a picture frame so I need small pieces of leaf to work with.


If you are going to gild a large flat surface you may decide not to cut the leaf into smaller pieces, generally I have found that when you apply gold leaf, smaller pieces are easier to handle, but were


I about to gild a large flat surface I might cut the leaf into four to work with or even work with single sheets.



how to handle gold leaf

For this piece of work I am going to apply gold leaf to the edges of a frame so I am cutting up the leaf into smaller pieces, this frame is simple for the purposes of illustration but of course if you are dealing with a complicated surface smaller pieces will help you anyway. Gently draw your knife through the leaf exerting a moderate pressure while doing so, if the edge of your knife is sharpened correctly one cut should be enough to cut the leaf.




how to gold leaf

Here you can see all the separate pieces of leaf cut up and ready to use.











hot to apply gold leaf

Next put a dab of Vaseline on the back of your hand a smear it over your hand in a circular motion to distribute the grease all over the back of your hand, we do not want blobs of grease left, rather a thin film should be distributed over surface.






how to apply gold leaf

Get a small pad of cotton wool and press it lightly onto the back of your hand which has the grease on.









picking up the gold leaf

With the lightly greased pad of cotton wool you will find that you can now easily pick up the pieces of leaf. 


There are other ways to handle imitation gold leaf, but this is easy and predictable.



If you have greasy skin you may find that rubbing the cotton wool pad down the side of your nose will pick up enough grease for you to pick up the pieces of gold leaf. All this did for me was to give me a sore nose, but I have seen it work with some people, I just mention it in passing.



OK, I spent some time illustrating how to handle gold leaf because it is important to be able to do it properly. The rest of the process's are simpler by comparison. Next let's have a look at the adhesives used in gilding.





Hi there, I've been browsing your wonderful website and I can't wait to have a go at some of the techniques you explore on there. Your manuals are definitely the best Iv'e found on the internet. 
Seb Dale 
I just want to salute your generosity in giving away your gilding knowledge. Excellent guide books,  I was not able to find such a simplified explanation in any book at the local library. 
Ghassan Haddad 
After looking at various sites and suppliers on the net, your site is just wonderful - clear, accessible, descriptive and demystifying. Thanks so much for making your knowledge available! Liz 
You did a brilliant job of mentoring me through my project, it turned out very well, I am extremely happy with the results.
Your manuals are excellent. I easily worked my way through your gilded manuscript project and the result is now framed and hanging in my living room. Thank you.