I’ve you’ve never heard of cold gilding before, you aren’t alone. While gilding in general has existed for many years, cold gilding is a technique that has long been lost in history. So, what is cold gilding and is it used today? Join us as we unpack this not often talked about subject in today’s post.

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What Is Cold Gilding

Cold gilding is a technique that is often overlooked and for good reason. It is a technique little known to many whose detailed process can be found in old manuscripts dated back to the 1700s. The process of cold gilding is unique and requires that you dissolve gold, burn it to ashes, and rub a thin layer on a silver surface.

This gold gilding technique is different and unique to gilding processes used today. It renders a dull yellow color that can be deposited using a linen rag. Modern gilding techniques require wet or oil gilding processes which require sizing, brushes, and various tools. Alternatively, gilding wax can be used for some projects as it provides an easier but no less dazzling way to add a hint of glint to items.

Cold Gilding Technique

Cold Gilding Technique

Although much has been lost in terms of how the cold gilding method was actually used, we do at least know the general process for the technique.

The cold gilding method used the following steps to achieve a shiny gold surface on polished iron, small delicate figures, and other diverse surfaces:

  • Step 1:  Aqua Regia is used (also known as “royal water” fuming liquid) to dissolve gold.
  • Step 2: Once the gold is dissolved, it is then sopped up with a linen rag.
  • Step 3: The linen rag is burned.
  • Step 4: The result of the burned rag is black and heavy ashes that are used to deposit fine gold color on silver surfaces.

Again, although the final result of cold gilding produces gilding of pure gold, the final application is rather thin. Because of this, it is safe to say that a gilt surface using this ancient gilding technique may not last long. Thus, it isn’t recommended that this technique to achieve a gilded surface is used on items that will be placed outdoors or handled often. This is due to the thickness of the gold being so thin and, therefore, very temperamental.

What Are the Different Types of Gilding?

There are multiple types of gilding including gold leaf gilding, fire gilding, wet gilding, oil gilding, mechanical gilding, and chemical gilding.

These other methods for gilding metallic objects or extensive ornamental gilding can be used for numerous and diverse surfaces. For example, applying gold leaf to an item can happen in a multitude of ways. Gold leaf gilding often involves using a fine brush for application to reveal a remarkably brilliant gilt surface.

Ways gold leaf can be used to gild surfaces include:

  • Decorative painting
  • Metallic surfaces
  • Ceiling coffers and other architectural uses
  • Statues
  • Elegant cuisine
  • Hardware
  • Furniture
  • Picture frames

What Is the Purpose of Gilding?

The purpose of gilding is to lay thin plates of gold (or deposits in the form of fine gold powder) over a surface to achieve a high-end, regal, or overall elegant look. As mentioned, gilding is often used for items like furniture, hardware, picture frames, statues, and more, although the techniques for each use will vary.

Each gilding technique produces a slightly different outcome and uses different tools for successful application. Because of this, it is recommended that you do your research before choosing which technique you’ll use, as approaching these gilding methods the wrong way may lead to undesirable results.

Know that other methods of laying gold also exist. If using loose leaf gold or transfer paper feels too intimidating, you can also try using gilding wax. No matter which method of gilding you choose, you can bet that it will add an extravagant touch to whatever you apply it to.

What Is the Difference Between Gilding and Gold Leaf?

Gilding and gold leaf are closely related. However, the terms don’t refer to the same thing. Understand that “gold leaf” is a noun and specifically refers to gold that is pounded thin to be used for overlay on a particular surface. “Gilding ” on the other hand, is a verb and is the act of laying the gold over a surface to yield a stunning and eye-catching result.

Remember also that gilding operations don’t just involve pure gold. While you can use all the gold you want when gilding, you should also note that other metal leaf types are available to produce a metallic surface that comes in a variety of shades. Of these metal leaves include (STORE PLUG) copper, silver, platinum (FOREXCHANGE), and for an inexpensive option, even imitation gold leaf.

Cold Gilding: A Historically Complex Way to Lay Gold

Laying gold particles onto a prepared surface using cold gilding techniques isn’t common anymore. This type of gold laying seems to have been more prevalent in the 18th century and prior. Still, the method was seemingly complex and did not produce lasting results.

If you want to add a glint of gold to a surface, you need not bother yourself with complex traditional techniques such as cold gilding. While interesting to learn about, there are now modernized techniques that last longer and are easier to work with.

Be sure that when choosing the method that is best for your project, to do your research ahead of time. Approaching the gilding process the wrong way can lead to disastrous results and, as such, may render your efforts lost and unprofitable.


What are the 3 methods of gilding?

In modern times, the three main methods of gilding include wet gilding, oil gilding, and chemical gilding. Other gilding techniques include fire gilding, wax gilding, and yes, cold gilding.

Why should I build a surface?

Gilding surfaces lends itself to a unique, attractive, and elegant way to make an object stand out. By gilding surfaces you draw attention to them and can highlight details you want to see. Some gilded surfaces can even involve food, although you must ensure that the gold leaf used for gilding food is indeed food-grade. Otherwise, you may end up ingesting harmful substances that were never meant to be digested by the human body.

Do people use cold gilding methods today?

Cold gilding is not a very common way to lay gold today. Not only is it not common, but it also isn’t very durable when compared to other long-lasting methods of gilding. Oil gilding, for example, is one of the easiest ways to lay gold leaf, and it also has proven to have the most longevity even when exposed to the outdoors.

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