How to Gold Leaf on Metal Surfaces

Featured Image_APPLYING GOLD LEAF ON 3D OBJECTS_Barmabas Gold

Would you like to learn how to apply gold leaf to metal? You may be surprised to find out that this project is one that you can do on your own with just a few key supplies and materials—and a little bit of time and patience. Adding gold leaf to a metal surface can help you create an impressive home décor item, a lovely gift for a friend or family member, or a variety of other beautiful items. If you’re ready to learn how to apply gold leaf on metal, keep reading. We’ll outline the necessary steps in the next few sections.

Prepare Your Work Area

Before getting into the process of applying gold leaf to metal, make sure that your area is prepared. Lay out a drop cloth or some newspapers over your work surface to limit the mess and prevent accidental damage to anything else in your home.

You should also note that gold leaf is very thin and lightweight. Because of these properties, it can blow around very easily. When you are working with gold leaf, it is a good idea to leave the windows closed and turn off any fans. This will limit the chances of the foil-like material from blowing around while you work.

Another important pointer before getting into the steps for applying the gold leaf is to be purposeful about where you set up your work area. Choose a location where you can work without disruptions from pets or children to further reduce the chances of something getting knocked or blown as you’re working.

Tape Off Sections You Do Not Wish to Gild and Apply Primer

After preparing your work area, you’re ready to get the metal object ready. When gilding on metal surface, you want to make sure that the metal is clean. 

If you are not planning to gild the entire metal object, use painters tape to tape off the sections you do not want to apply the gold leafing over. This will help keep these areas free of adhesive and gold leafing.

After cleaning the metal and covering any areas you do not wish to gild, apply a primer over the rest of the item. If you’re gilding over stainless steel, use an etching primer. Rust-inhibiting primers are best for gilding over cast iron. 

The primer helps prepare the item for gilding and ensures a smooth surface for the gold leafing to adhere to.

Apply a Thin Layer of Adhesive Size

The next step for metal gilding is to apply a thin layer of adhesive size to the areas where you want to place the gold leaf. When applying gold leaf to metal, you can choose to use either an oil-based or water-based adhesive size. Oil-based sizes will allow you to burnish the finish of the gold, but water-based sizes will remain workable for longer periods of time (over 24 hours), making them a better choice for some beginners.

Apply a thin and even coat of adhesive to the entire surface you want to gild.

Gold Leaf on Metal

Wait for the Adhesive Size to Turn Tacky

Once you’ve finished applying the adhesive size, wait for it to reach tack. For water-based sizes, this may only take a few minutes. Oil-based sizes can take longer to reach tack—typically 2 to 10 or 12 hours depending on the product. You’ll know that the size is ready when it feels sticky.

Lay Gold Leaf Sheets Across the Metal Object

Now, you’re ready to apply the gold leaf on metal. Use tweezers, tissue paper, or white gloves to pick up one sheet of genuine gold leaf or imitation gold leaf and lay it over the adhesive. Gently press it down against the gold.

Repeat these steps to cover the rest of the metal object with gold leaf sheets. Overlap the sheets ever-so-slightly to ensure full coverage.

Work the Leafing Into All the Crevices

After the gold leaf sheets are laid out over the adhesive, the next step in the process is to use a dry (and clean) paintbrush to press the gold leaf into any creases. If there are any gaps in coverage, apply more adhesive, wait for it to reach tack, then apply more gold leaf.

How to Apply Gold Leaf on Metal

Let the Adhesive Dry and Then Remove the Excess Gold Leaf

Leave the metal object to dry overnight. Then, use a soft brush to remove the excess gold leaf not stuck to the adhesive. Work using a back-and-forth motion to loosen the leafing. If you used painter’s tape to section off the object, you can remove it now as well.

Seal the Gold Leaf

Your gilded metal masterpiece is almost complete. To keep the gold leaf protected, you’ll want to apply a thin layer of varnish or shellac to seal the finish. Ensure the sealant dries completely before handling or moving the gilded metal product.

Give Metal Leaf Gilding a Try!

Now that you know how to gold leaf metal, do you think you’re ready to give it a try yourself? Which metal item in your home would you like to upgrade with a brilliant gold leaf finish? Gather all the supplies you’ll need, and plan out your project. You’ll be impressed with what you can accomplish with some time and effort.

FAQs

Does gold leaf stick to metal?

Yes, gold leaf will stick on metal if the appropriate adhesive size is used. Both oil-based and water-based adhesive sizes will work on metal. However, if you’re adding gold leafing to metal that stays outdoor, oil-based products are the best option.

How do you adhere gold leaf to metal?

Water gilding on metal typically isn’t the best option. Rather, to adhere gold leaf to metal, you will want to use an adhesive size for leafing. Apply the adhesive size in a very thin and even layer. Then, wait for the adhesive to dry slightly and become tacky (a few minutes) before applying the gold leaf sheets.

Can you put gold leaf on silver?

Yes, you can apply gold leaf to silver following the steps shared above.

How do you do metal gilding?

To apply gold leaf to metal, you need to apply a thin layer of adhesive size to the metallic object. Let the adhesive become tacky, then place the gold sheets over the sections of the metal you want to gild. Work the leaf into all the crevices to ensure full coverage, then remove the excess leafing and seal the finished product.