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How to add silver leaf to gild furniture

Silver leaf, gold leaf or aluminium leaf are an easy - albeit messy - way to add a touch of glitz and glamour to any piece of furniture. Here's how to apply aluminium leaf.

 

You will need:

Silver or aluminium leaf (aluminium is far cheaper and you get the same look!)
Size (just the special glue for either gold or silver)
Cotton gloves
Soft paint brush dry for handling leaf
Paintbrush for painting on the size
Polyurethen varnish (Rust-Oleum has a spray varnish that is perfect)
Large dropcloth

Here's how:

Gilding is fun, a little messy and quite time consuming on bigger pieces but the end result is fantastic! Decide on your piece to gild - perhaps start off with something small till you get used to it ....or jump in the deep end! This is my desk, quite a nice piece, well made. Why am I tampering with it you may ask.... because I have had it for about 15 years and I was considering selling it because it wasn't fitting in.

Step 1
Apart from wiping it down to remove any dust.... I did no prep! The real way of doing this is if you are gilding an item in gold (or the more commonly used Dutch gold - which isn't really gold at all but a much easier and cheaper product) you should paint a base colour of red tone to give the gold more warmth.

If you are gilding in silver (again not real silver but aluminium) you should base it in an undercoat of blue for the cooler tones. Well I didn't... I just thought I would see how it went over the varnished surface. I wasn't sure if it would stick but I experimented for the sake of all of you who are lazy like me - IT WORKED! Yippee... I didn't have to sand off and start again!

GOOD TO KNOW
Word of warning at the start! This is not overly messy more pretty messy with lots of little pieces silver floating around... you may like to put down a bigger dropcloth than I had and keep a vacuum cleaner nearby!

Step 2
Start on the flat surface first till you get the hang of it, it is really quite easy. Paint a small area at a time with the size and allow to dry for 5-10min - you will see it change from a milky consistency to clear, see above. Once it has changed put on your cotton gloves or as I do, I wear a glove on my right hand and have a freshly washed and dry left hand (to get rid of oils). I find it a little clumsy with two gloves as the silver sheets are so incredibly fine. Each sheet has a tissue intersheet which you can use to lift the gilt sheet then let it float gently down into position on the top.

Don't panic if it doesn't go down completely flat, lay a few more sheets down and then start smoothing them with a clean dry brush and watch the magic happen!! If there are little cracks, pick up some of the silver droppings and place them into the cracks, you will be amazed how it all meshes together!

Step 3
Once the top is finished, you can work on the legs... now this is time consuming it doesn't all have to be done in one go, in fact I went to bed and left a part I didn't realise I had coated and it was still tacky the next morning so I was able to continue gilding. It is a little harder working vertically but you should have the hang of it from working on the horizontal surface. Now a little hint on working on detailed areas like carving or in my case the turning on the legs - if you let the gild sheet float above the area and then blow lightly on it, it will land against the area and mould itself around it. You will need to tamp it down still with your brush and where it cracks, pick up your silver tailings and dab them on.

Step 4
Once the gilding is all finished make sure it is all smoothed down by wiping over with the cotton glove, then vacuum up all the tailings so that you are able to varnish safely. The varnish is needed to protect the finish. If you decide not to varnish your piece will wear and tarnish with use. You may wish to antique your gilded item, do this carefully before you varnish. I decided leave mine and have the lovely bright silver! If I ever want to tone it down I will give it a coat of Woodoc antique wax.

Thanks to Gina at a sense of design for letting us show this project.

 

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