If you’ve heard of oil gilding, but aren’t completely sure how the process works, you’re in the right place. Oil gilding is an easier alternative to water gilding and allows you to add gold leafing to a variety of surfaces. It can transform the appearance of everyday items and make them look distinguished and absolutely brilliant. Continue reading to learn more about oil gilding, as well as the steps you’ll need to take to tackle your own DIY oil gilding project.

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What is Oil Gilding?

Oil gilding on stone, wood, metal, and other surfaces is a process the produces a brilliant finish by adhering gold to the item. In addition to using this technique with genuine gold leaf, it also works when applying imitation gold leaf, silver leaf, copper leaf, metal leaf, and other metals to an object. 

Oil gilding was developed as an alternative to water gilding. While water gilding is a centuries old process that is still used today, it is also quite tedious. Moreover, items gilded with the water gilding process will not hold up as well if left outside. They are more likely to quickly become damaged by the elements, compared to oil gilded objects, which are more resistant to the elements or moisture.

Oil base gilding requires an oil size. Size is another word for a gilding adhesive. Linseed oil is a traditional component in oil gilding adhesives.

23k Gold Leaf Close Up Black

Oil Gilding Techniques

Whether you’re looking to learn oil gilding on glass techniques or how to use it on a range of other surfaces, there are some common steps in the process to understand.

Prepare Your Work Area

First, you need to prepare your work area for the task. Choose an area where you’ll be able to work without disruptions. Close all windows and turn off any fans to avoid blowing the lightweight gold leafing around.

You should also lay out a drop cloth to catch the excess gold pieces or any other mess you’ll create.

Prime the Surface of the Object

Next, if you’re working with wood, you will need to prime the surface of the object. Begin by sanding any rough areas and filling in any cracks. Then, apply a burnish sealer to the wood. 

Apply a Base Color

Also when working with wood, you should apply a base color (if it wasn’t already integrated into your primer). The color of the base color will impact the finalized look of the gold.

Red and yellow are popular options to apply under gold leafing because they help bring out the brilliance and give the gold a reflective quality.

Apply Oil Gilding Size

Next, you’re ready to apply the oil based gilding size.

Both quick dry size and slow set size options are available. Quick dry size reaches tack more quickly, but is only workable for about two or three hours. Slow set size reaches tack in about 10 to 12 hours and remains workable for another 10 to 12 hours. If you’re working on a large process, a slow set time with a longer drying time is probably the best choice for you.

Apply the size you choose using light and even brush strokes over the entire surface of the object where you’ll apply the gold leafing.

Wait for the Adhesive to Reach Tack

After you have applied the oil size for gilding, you must wait for it to come to tack before applying any loose leaf gold sheets. Test the size using your knuckle. It should feel sticky, but not wet, when it is ready.

Apply the Gold Leaf Sheets

Now, you can begin applying gold leaf to the sized area. Work with transfer leaf or use a sheet of tissue paper to carefully pick up each sheet of gold and place it over the surface. Gently tap the gold onto the item, then rub over its back with a gilder’s brush to help it adhere.

Repeat these steps until you have covered the entire surface.

Burnish the Gold Leaf Sheets

After applying the gold leaf and letting it dry a bit, use a goat mop gilder’s brush or soft squirrel gilder’s brush to ensure the leafing is properly attached.

Then, use a soft brush to remove the excess gold pieces, called skewings.

Touch Up Bare Spots and Seal the Surface

If you notice any bare spots on your item, repeat the steps above to fill in these holes, sometimes called “holidays.” When you apply additional adhesive, remember to let it come to tack before applying more gold leaf sheets.

Otherwise, the sheets will not adhere to your object and the bare spots will remain.

Finally, apply a protective coat of varnish to increase the durability of the leaf and prevent tarnish. While gold leaf that is at least 23 karats will not tarnish, imitation gold leaf and other types of leafing will if not sealed.

Oil Gilding Process

Closing Words: Oil Gilding

Gilded surfaces are absolutely magnificent. They are brilliant, metallic, and just gorgeous.

Now that you’ve learned more about oil gilding, are you ready to create your own masterpiece? What project are you planning?


What is the difference between oil and water gilding?

Oil gilding and water gilding use very different methods to adhere gold leaf sheets to the desired object. Water gilding’s history traces back centuries to Ancient Egypt where it was used to decorate paintings, wood, and more. Water gilding is a very involved process that requires several tools and materials. 
While water gilding used to be the only choice, now oil gilding is also possible. It is much less involved and difficult than water gilding. However, despite its relative ease, it can still be used to produce gorgeous works of art. When oil gilding, you will need to seal the surface before applying adhesive to gold leafing.
Oil gilding is a better choice if you wish to gold leaf any items that will be exposed to the outdoors or very moist conditions. 

Can you burnish oil gilding?

Yes, you can burnish oil gilding. However, you will not want to use an agate stone to do so. This tool can only be used for water gilding. Rather, to burnish it, rub a soft brush back and forth over the gold to increase its brilliance.

What is the difference between gilding and gold leaf?

Gold leaf refers to very thin sheets of pure gold. The gold is pounded down until it is just 0.18 microns. Gilding refers to the process of applying the gold leaf sheets to an object.

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