Can You Gold Leaf Wood?

Gilding, or applying gold, silver, copper, or metal leaf to an object, is a timeless art. If you’ve seen beautifully-gilded glass vases, picture frames, or other objects, you may be wondering whether gilding wood is also a possibility. In the next few sections, we’ll explore this question. We’ll also help you learn more about how to gold leaf wood items and furniture pieces for a truly spectacular and brilliant finish.

Can you apply gold leaf to wood?

So, do wood and gilding go together? Can you apply gold leaf to wood? The short answer is that yes, you can apply gold leaf to wood. There are actually a few different methods you can use to gold leaf wood. These include water gilding and using oil- or water-based gilding paste. We’ll take a closer look at these two methods that you could use to apply this precious metal to furniture, picture frames, and other large or small objects made of wood.

Before we move on, though, there are a few other gilding methods that you may have heard of that will not work with wood. These include electroplating, fusion gilding, and mercury gilding/fire gilding—a method that uses mercury and molten gold. This method was used to gild the Palace of Versailles as directed by Louis XIV. However, it is rarely in use today because of its highly toxic process. All of these gilding methods only work on other surfaces, such as glass or metal.

What type of wood can you gild?

You can apply gold leaf gilding to nearly any wood surface. However, while you can apply the gold leafing to just about any type of wood, including exotic woods, you may want to choose more inexpensive types of wood for your DIY projects. If you’ll be covering nearly the entire surface with gold, there isn’t as much need to use a more expensive wood. Some professionals recommend using softer woods that have a straight grain—like poplar or basswood.

19 Tips On Water Gilding

How To Apply Gold Leaf to Wood

If your goal is to create gilded wood, there are two main techniques that you can use. These are water gilding and using a gilding paste. Read through the next few sections to learn more about each of these methods. This will help you decide which one you’d like to try for your project.

Water Gilding

Those searching for traditional techniques for gilding on wood are probably thinking about water gilding. This is a technique that traces back to ancient times. Up until about the 19th century, water gilding was the only method for gilding on wood. 

If you’ve never tried water gilding, prepare yourself for a learning curve. As you’ll see, there are several steps and materials needed to use this technique for gilding wood furniture or other wooden items.

Before starting to apply the gold leaves, prepare the surface. The surface preparation process involves creating a special primer. Ground chalk, rabbit skin glue (previously sheep skin glue was used), and water make up this special primer. Apply this primer over a sanded surface. Multiple layers (between 10 and 12) are necessary to ensure that the surface is ready for the glue. Then, two layers of another substance called bole are applied to the wood where the gold will be burnished. Applying Armenian bole helps provide a brighter finish behind the gold leaf and helps make the gold more reflective.

After these steps are complete, you can begin placing the gold leaves on the item. This process involves applying the gold using water. The leaves are placed over the base layer of glue and covered with an additional layer of highly diluted skin glue. This helps make the gold more durable and leaves it with a matte finish. To increase the shine and brilliance of the gold, you can use an agate stone to burnish the finish. 

Gilding Paste

Starting around the 19th century, some individuals began using a wood gilding adhesive for a process called oil gilding. The adhesive, or gilding size, features dried linseed oil as a main ingredient. The process of applying pure gold leaf to a surface with this oil size was far less complex than that of water gilding. However, when gilding with an oil-based paste, one is not able to replicate the absolute brilliance of the gold you can achieve with water gilding.

In the 1970s, gilders starting using a new type of gilding paste. This water-based gilding past has a thicker consistency than oil-based pastes. This means that the surfaces will remain tacky for about 72 hours. Compare this to the only one or two hours of tackiness with oil-based paste. This allows for more work time and may be a better option for larger projects rather than small projects. Water-based paste may also be the best choice for those who are less experienced and want to have more time to work on their technique. 

However, there is a downside to using water-based paste. The gold finish on the item will not look as sharp and precise as what you’d be able to achieve with oil-based paste.

Other than the different length of time that each paste remains tacky, both oil- and water-based size are applied in the same way. You want to take care to apply a light layer and use even brush strokes to prevent the strokes from showing through on the finished product. When applying the gold leaf sheets, overlap the sheets ever so slightly. Then, once the adhesive has dried a bit, use a scratch brush to remove the excess. Finally, finish the project up with a sealer. The sealed surface will help protect the finished product from damage.

Gilding Wood: Final Thoughts

Gilded wood is timeless and attractive. Applying gold or silver leafing to a piece of furniture, a picture frame, or practically any other object can have a transformative effect by creating a brilliant metallic surface. If you came to this article curious about whether gilded gold can be added to wood, we hope you’ve found the answers you were searching for and understand more about the gilding process. Give one of the methods outlined above a try and see what you can create. We’re sure your gilded object will be magnificent!

FAQs

What is gilding and why is it used?

Gilding refers to the process of applying gold, silver, copper, or metal leafing to an object. It is used for decorative and ornamental purposes. Gold and other precious metals are a sign of wealth and prosperity, so gilding can give objects more of an upscale and valuable feel.
There are various applications for this art form, including gilding for wood, metal, glass, ceramic, and more.

How do you make a surface for gilding?

Before applying gold leaf to any surface, it must first be prepared. The exact preparation needed will vary based on the type of material you plan to gild and the specific gilding method you are using. When gilding wood, for example, the process is quite different from preparing a metal surface. You will need to make sure that the surface is smooth and free of any blemishes by sanding and filling in cracks and divots. Applying a special primer of chalk, rabbit skin glue, and water is one of the first steps to prepare a surface for water gilding. Traditionally, this layer is then covered with two layers of Armenian bole, which smooths out the surface. Armenian bole is also red, which helps enhance the finish look of the gold leaf sheets once they’re applied. With a glass or metal object, preparation will be simpler.