Do you want your book to look like it just turned up on a time machine penny farthing gilded to the straps with gold leaf? Would you like to learn how to gild book edges?

Then step forth and tally ho, as we unleash upon you the time-worn knowledge of gilding as an art form.

Table of Contents

how to gild book edges

What You Will Need

To learn how to gild book edges, you will need the following:

  • Butcher paper (or wax paper)
  • Tape
  • Dust cloth
  • Fine-grain sandpaper
  • Primer
  • Bole color
  • Water-based adhesive
  • Gold leaf
  • A small soft-bristled paintbrush
  • Two clamps (to hold book pages together)
  • Sealant (optional)

Step 1

Cover the surface upon which you are working with butcher paper (or wax paper) and then tape down the edges so that it does not become dislodged at any point. This is the part of the process that is going to save you a whole bunch of time and money later down the line.

Step 2

Clean the book with a cloth, removing all excess dust with a cloth that is itself free of dust. This stops any of this dust from getting in the way of the gilding process later on. This has the potential to be disastrous for the finished result of the gilt edges.

Step 3

Sand the edges of the page lightly with a light grade of sandpaper. This is purely to render the surface ready to receive the book edge gilding, so go easy.

Use your breath and the cloth to remove any excess dust left behind from the sanding process. This residue in itself can cause some issues later down the line.

Step 4

Clamp the page edges together along the long side of the pages. This is where there is likely to be the most traction, so it is best to clamp them to these paper edges to ensure that the clamps do not come loose at any point during the gilding process. Who knew creating gilt edges could involve so many different steps?!

Tip: Clamping the pages together will also help prevent any of the applications from seeping into the pages of the book.

Step 5

Apply the primer with a soft-bristled paintbrush to fully prepare the surface for the real gold leaf. It may be necessary to move the clamps in order to reach the entire paper edge, so be prepared to do so at your own discretion.

Once you have prepared the gilt edge, clean the brush thoroughly and allow the primer to completely dry before proceeding.

Step 6

Now it is time to apply the bole. Clay bole ground is one of the essential gilding terms as it refers to a pigment traditionally used as a base color for the gilding process. This is to be laid in a thin layer over the primer.

It is best to follow the specific instructions of the manufacturer with regard to its application and drying time. Ensure that you allow the bole to dry completely before proceeding as it could very easily make a mess.

Tip: Primer colors are usually red, yellow, or black.

Step 7

Now, apply the adhesive using the same paintbrush (or one that is very similar). Allow this adhesive to dry until it is tacky, whereby it will appear but will still pull at your finger when touched. The optimal tacky stage can be found by following the manufacturer’s recommended drying times.

Tip: A water-based adhesive is highly recommended. Oil-based adhesives can actually discolor and deteriorate the book pages, though this might be preferable for you. Remember to prevent the adhesive from drying completely and to keep the gilt from the adhesive while it is still wet.

Step 8

Now we can finally get to applying gold leaf to the fore-edge. Gently remove the gold leaf from its packaging. It will usually come in a paper backing of some kind. Take the utmost care in removing it from this backing as this is an incredibly delicate bit of kit.

Tip: Pages can of course be gilded with other metals and materials. Synthetic gold, for example, is even sturdier than real gold leaf.

Step 9

Now you’ve reached the perfect starting point, you can carefully lay the gold leaf over the edge of the page. Cover as much of the surface as you can with each piece and do not be afraid of a little bit of overlap. As an entry-level introduction to applying gilding to paper, this should not be too difficult so far, eh?

Tip: If any small flecks of gold leaf fall off during this stage of the process, save them for later as you can use them to patch up any gaps in the gilt when you are done.

Step 10

Press the gold leaf into the adhesive using the paintbrush with light and smooth strokes and gentle taps. When the gold leaf sheets reach past the edges of the page, gently fold them over the edge with the brush and sweep them away, tearing the sheet as gently as you can muster.

Step 11

Repeat these steps until all the adhesive that you previously applied to the paper is covered with gold leaf. Do not be afraid to move the clamps around the page edges as required so that you can get a better feel of certain parts of the page.

Allow the adhesive to dry completely and ensure that you do not move the book while the leaf is setting (relative to your local time zone).

Step 12

Apply the sealant over the gold leaf with the paintbrush, allowing it to dry completely before in any way removing the clamps and opening the book.

When the sealant is completely dry (as per the manufacturer’s instructions), flip through the pages a few times to loosen them and prepare them to be used properly.

Tip: Though the application of a sealant is only optional, it is highly recommended, especially if you intend to use this book a lot. Heavy use will wear away the gilding over time.

Final Words

So, there you have it! Hopefully, you have been able to learn something new today and will now be able to gild your own book edges.

FAQs How to Gild Book Edges

How do you gilt book edges?

The process is rather involved and will require the use of the following items: butcher paper, tape, dust cloth, fine-grain sandpaper, primer, bole color, water-based adhesive, gold leaf, small soft-bristled paintbrush, two clamps, and sealant. By sanding down the edges of the book and clamping the pages together, the process should be fairly self-explanatory as long as you follow the specific instructions from the manufacturer of each product above.

How do you color the edges of a book?

You can color the edges of a book through the gilding process, a method of decorating items with gold leaf (or another metallic leaf for that matter). Though the process is a little involved, it is not beyond the realms of any layman.

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