Applying Gold Leaf

Gold leaf is the ideal way to set off a cove line or a carved name plate.

Gold paint can often be troublesome because the “gold” is normally made from brass flakes which can go green with verdigris when exposed to salt water. It can be protected with varnish with some success, but the effect is unlikely to ever match real gold leaf. If you are going to use a metallic paint, try looking at Ardenbrite or Polyvine and follow their instructions carefully.

My old pot of Lefranc 12 hour size. It will last a lifetime!

Applying gold leaf to get a reasonable result is relatively easy. You will need:

  • 320 or 400 grit abrasive paper
  • Isopropyl alcohol and a tack rag
  • Good quality masking tape. Yellow tape from Tesa is the best
  • Oil based red* oxide paint (or good exterior version)
  • Optionally a pot of Owatrol Paint Conditioner
  • A small pot of Mixtion a Dorer Lefranc Gold Size 12 hour
  • A soft brush suitable for the size of the work you are doing
  • Some pieces of clean cotton cloth
  • A book of gold transfer leaf (23.5 carat gold leaf will normally come in a book of 25 sheets which are 80 x 80 mm. It will cost around £30.00). Avoid loose leaf at this stage!
  • A pair of scissors
  • Brush thinners for the clean up

*Red oxide is the most traditional base colour for gold leaf. Yellow ochre can work well too.

The Process

This is assuming you are working on a previously varnished or painted surface. Firstly, clean the cove line and surrounding area with soap and water. When dry, sand the cove line carefully with 320 or 400 grit abrasive paper and vacuum off the dust. Wipe it with a rag soaked in isopropyl alcohol to finally remove any traces of dust. Carefully mask off the cove line with a good quality masking tape. It is definitely worth spending some money on a good tape. My all-time favourite is Tesa Yellow Masking Tape. Wipe the cove line with a tack rag to remove any final traces of dust. Apply a coat of exterior, ideally oil based, red oxide paint with a clean brush. While you are at it, apply a small sample area to a spare piece of timber. So long as the painting isn’t carried out in direct sunlight, the brushmarks should fall out. If you are getting brushmarks, add 10% Owatrol Paint Conditioner to the oil based red oxide. If you had brushmarks, you will need to sand down the coveline again and repeat. The surface of the red oxide paint needs to be completely smooth to get the best result.

Applying the oil based red oxide paint to a name plate

Allow the paint to thoroughly dry so that it is hard, at least overnight. Then wipe with a tack rag and apply a thin coat of the Lefranc gold size ensuring there are no gaps. Apply some to the sample piece too. If you are using 12 hour size you will have about 12 hours of working time, there is a 3 hour version which could be used on smaller jobs. Wait for the size to dry, it should feel like Sellotape or make a squeak if you stroke it with the back of a knuckle. Use the sample painted piece to do the test or you might get finger prints in the size if it wasn’t dry. The drier the size the shinier the result but too dry and it won’t adhere.

Waiting for paint to dry

Don’t use loose gold leaf, leave that to the experts. Transfer gold leaf comes on a sheet of tissue paper. You may find it easiest to cut the leaf into suitable strips.

Cut the transfer leaf into strips

Simply take the leaf and apply it to the cove line, the leaf will adhere to the gold size. You will need to give it a bit of a rub through the tissue paper. On a cove line your finger might work but in small carved lettering maybe a soft brush or a shaped rubber will help. Repeat applying the strips with a small overlap. There will be a few gaps. With the red oxide background you might find these rather appealing, but if not, just apply a bit more size, wait for it to dry and apply a bit more gold leaf.

Peel off the masking tape and that’s the job done. Gold will not need any protection as it will not tarnish. Sadly, the following years when you need to re-varnish you will probably need to varnish over the leaf as masking it could prove tricky. After a few years the varnish will tend to break away and you will need to start again.

I need to re-do the coveline on Sumara in the spring (2022) so I’ll post some better images of the process then. Assuming I can find the time!

April 2022 – Dunstaffnage

The best laid plans were foiled by my impatience. There was a chance I could launch Sumara on the Friday rather then waiting until Tuesday (assuming the weather was still OK) so I snapped it up. It meant my gold leafing time had vanished. I ended up using a rather ugly gold tape along the cove line but did manage to gold leaf the end features, which did help to set it off.

Applying some gold leaf to the features
Taped line with gold leaf features. Best compromise I could manage in the time.
There’s always next year!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.