Is your gold leaf lacking its true luster? Why is it not boasting that signature shiny brilliance? Want to learn how to burnish gold leaf so that you will never need to learn another way?

Then step right up and listen closely – today we will be exploring precisely how to burnish gold leaf and to do it right so that it sports a lustrous shine that is the envy of all who see it.

How To Burnish Gold Leaf

Step 1: Cover Working Surfaces

First up, you are more than likely going to want to preserve the sanctity of the environment you are working in by laying down some material to protect it. No matter what metal leaf you are working with – silver leaf, gold leaf, or imitation leaf – you are likely not going to want to destroy your home and working environment for it.

So, lay down some newspapers or other pieces of cloth you have lying around and tape off any exposed areas that you are not otherwise going to cover with gold leaf or burnish.

Try checking this link for all the things you will need as part of the process.

Step 2: Sanding

Next up, you are going to want to sand the surface of the gilded object. To do this without doing some serious damage, make sure to use sandpaper that is a maximum of 220-grit.

The point of this step is to remove any blemishes in the area that might otherwise ruin the finish of the burnish or the gilding. Make sure to remove any of the dust produced by this part of the process with a tack cloth, lest it get all up in the gold leaf later on.

Step 3: Priming & Sealing

Next up, you are going to want to apply a primer and/or sealer to the metal surface using a paintbrush or other soft brush of some kind. Make sure the primer/sealer is specifically designed for gilding, lest it do some unforeseen damage later down the line.

Once the item has been completely coated with a flat brush, allow curing and drying out a little for around 24 hours. Better yet, follow the specific guidance on the packaging as this will be more specifically catered to the sealer/primer in question.

Step 4: Adhesive

Before laying the leaf to a surface of any kind, apply the adhesive (sizing in gilding terms) to the cured and primed metal with a paintbrush – not a soft cloth. This adhesive will adhere the gold leaf to the surface when it is ready. Allow the adhesive to dry for roughly 3 to 4 hours.

Better yet, follow the specific guidelines on the adhesive that you are using (and make sure that you are in fact using adhesive specifically designed for this purpose). You could be in trouble later down the line if not.

Step 5: Applying the Loose Leaf

Remove a single sheet of genuine gold leaf – no imitation gold leaf is preferable – from the packaging that it came in. Apply the gold leaf as gently as you possibly can, using a gilder’s brush specifically designed for the purpose to rub over the back of the paper and mesh the gold leaf into the metal or other material.

No matter the gold size, you will want to remove the tissue paper part very carefully from the prepared surface, ensuring that you only take away the paper and not the gold leaf itself (which should stay on the surface).

Step 6: Burnishing

Now comes the all-important part of the process where you actually burnish the material in question.

Using the same gilder’s brush as before remove the excess gold leaf from the surface and polish it into itself to give it the signature brilliance (you know the one).

For real brilliance in that final burnish, you can use a cotton ball or other such item to rub it in.

Step 7: Topcoat

Finally, you will want to apply a top coat of acrylic with a paintbrush, so that the gilded and burnished piece of material can be handled as often as it might. This is not always necessary though is advised to ensure the durability of the leaf once it has been applied.

Final Words

So, there you have it! Hopefully, this exercise has been of use to you in your burnishing journey. Godspeed!

FAQs How to Burnish Gold Leaf

What can you use to burnish gold leaf?

At the burnishing stage of the process, you can use anything containing cotton. Cotton balls, cotton wool, and q-tips (cotton buds) have all been known to give gold leaf its signature brilliance in the latter parts of the process of applying it, hence why it is so often called upon to do the job. In water gilding, a bole is used underneath the gold that is slightly compressible. Applying an agate stone to the gold leaf, then, will burnish it, polishing it into a smooth and highly reflective surface. Want to learn how to gild on stone? Try this.

What is burnishing in gilding?

To burnish is essentially to polish with the aim of giving something a shiny and smooth brilliance. In the process of gilding, burnishing is usually one of the last steps, called upon at the very least to provide the seal of smoothness and finesse necessary to say that a job is done. This is often mostly done with an item made from wool, at least in instances where the burnishing is being done at home. In the process of water gilding, is instead done with an agate stone that, once applied to the gold leaf, will provide it with a smooth and last brilliance.

How do you get a smooth finish with gold leaf?

Getting a smooth finish when applying gold leaf yourself requires much care and attention at each step of the process. Lift the loose gold leaf and carefully place it over the area of the object that you would like to gild. Place wax paper over the top of the loose leaf and gently rub it in to smooth it into place. You can also place wax paper on top of the leaf and rub it in to create a static to lift and stick the leaf onto the paper. Both are perfectly valid ways to go about it.