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Thread: Gold Leafing for Dummies...

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    St. Augustine, FL

    Red face Gold Leafing for Dummies...

    Sarah had a rub rail added over her cove stripe, but the paint is coming out so well (so far) that I was thinking of treating the Pretty Girl to gold leaf on the star, moon, and about 14" of cove stripe that is not obscured by the rub rail.

    I found these two amazing posts in the archives:

    Quote Originally Posted by Nicholas Carey View Post
    Metallic paints don't last too long, either. They dull pretty quickly.

    If you're going to paint the stripe, you'll be wanting a "striping quill "-- it's a special type of camel- or squirrel-hair brush, especially for pinstriping. The bristles are about 2 inches long and the quills come in different sizes, depending on the width of stripe you want to lay down. The handles are typically quite short (a couple of inches) to facilitate rolling the brush as needed. If you want a longer handle, you'll need to haft it yourself. Here's a source for striping quills:

    But they should be fairly easy to find at sign painter supply stores, auto body supply stores, etc.

    If you paint it and want to mask the stripe, use 3M's Fine Line masking tape -- it's expensive, but properly burnished, you should get a really crisp edge with little to no bleed and very little tear-out when you remove it.

    You might think about gilding, though...

    Gold leaf isn't that expensive -- a book of 23k patent leaf will run about $40 or so, depending on the price of gold, of course. Gold leaf comes in two flavors, plain leaf and "patent" leaf. Patent leaf has a paper backing on each sheet so handling is much facilitated.

    With plain leaf, you'll need a gilder's pad, knife and brush to cut and pick up the leaf. And you'll need a very still environment -- the sheets of gold are so thin that the lightest air currents will pick them up.

    The paper backing on patent leaf simplifies this considerably and makes outdoors gilding much easier. For doing things like cove stripes, you can buy "ribbon leaf" as well -- it's basically a roll of leaf on a paper backing. Each leaf overlaps the previous by a half inch or so. A little rummaging around the web sez that you can buy a roll of 23k ribbon leaf, 1/2 inch wide x something like 70 feet long (21 meters) for about $70 or so.

    Avoid imitation leaf as it will corrode quickly. Gold leaf will last longer than the paint.

    You should be able to get gold leaf from a number of sources: sign painter's supply shops, art stores. You can order it from -- among other places -- Sepp Leaf in New York City. Sepp is one of the big distributors of leaf, so their prices tend to be better than a retail store.

    A sign guy ought to be able to gild your stripe in just a couple of hours.

    Oil gilding is pretty straight forward:

    0. Prime the ground with yellow or red enamel. Yellow will help mask any holidays in the leaf; red will enhance the color and help show any holidays in the leaf.
    1. Apply gold size (special very slow-drying varnish). Let it tack.
    2. When it reaches the correct tack (typically 12 hours or so for slow size), you apply your leaf. Using patent leaf, lay it metal side down (obviously) and lightly burnish it with a cotton ball.
    3. Peel off the paper backing
    4. Burnish it lightly again with a cotton ball.
    5. Let it dry.
    6. Sweep off excess leaf with a soft paintbrush. The leaf should only stick to the size, so removal of excess leaf is pretty simple.
    7. If you like, it's a tasty detail to outline the gilding with a pinstripe of suitable contrasting color.

    That contrasting border comes in handy at repainting time. The gilding will last longer than the paint (and it protects the underlying ground from UV damage). At painting time, you can mask off the gilding (don't put tape or adhesive on the gold!). Remove the masking, and repaint/touchup the border and Bob's yer uncle.

    Also, with genuine gold leaf, don't put varnish over it. The varnish will yellow and get UV damage and you'll have to strip the leaf off and re-gild.

    Avoid imitation leaf. Stick to 23 or 24 karat leaf and you should have a cove stripe that will last a long, long time.

    One thing with gold leaf: choice of leaf. There's German-made leaf and Italian leaf. Some people like German leaf; others like Italian. Different manufacturer's and different types of leaf have differing colors. For a cove stripe, you probably want "double leaf" as it's about 20% thicker than standard leaf.

    I just noticed that peal paint has some good deals on leaf:


    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Greer View Post
    To qualify what I am about to say. This is not a commercial: My company specializes in ship carving, signage and hand lettering of transoms among other things involved with boats and boating.

    Our own approach to doing a cove stripe is to first sand and prime the cove with Yellow tinted primer using a sign writer's quill. Once the primer is dry, sanded with 220, dusted and tacked. The coved plank is dusted with a pounce bag of talc. This is to prevent gold from sticking where it is not wanted. The cove itself is then, carefully retacked with one finger on the rag running only in the cove. 24hour, slow dry, yellow tinted gold size is layed into the cove using a sign writers quill brush that is the width of the cove. This is not as hard as it sounds. The brush is guided by the cove and fingers are braced against the plank to drag the brush. The work is then left to dry to a light tack. Too wet and it will smear the gold. So let it go for over night if the stripe is layed on in the afternoon. Next day, lay on "rolled gold" this is usually 23k lemon lemon gold and, comes in continuous rolls. We get ours from "Art Essentials" of N.Y. Ltd.
    As the gold rolls out it is gently tapped and rubbed in with a finger on the paper backing. Any voids are tapped in using fresh gold on the backing paper or with a gilders tip using shell gold "loose gold scrap" that has been saved from a previous job. Let the cove dry overnight again. Next A.M. go over it by tapping lightly on the raw gold with a finger tip. Then go over the stripe using a soft 3/4" Gray Hound sign writer's brush to remove any loose or ragged gold flakes. Finally, once the surface is really dry, burnish the gold lightly with a cotton ball. Should any gold stick to the planking it can be removed with a light rub using a finger tip, tee shirt and a bit of Bon Ami. This method will produce good results if done with patience and no hurry. For a thirty foot cove on each side of a hull the labor in hours is about six to eight in real time. Materials will run at current market value. A cover done in this manner should last many years.

    Or you can lay in a stripe of gold colored tape. Admittedly tacky but it serves a need.
    I offer this as my first Shutterfly test and to see if anyone has anything to add to the above in regard to gold leafing the star:

    And when I was looking for some aft quarter pictures to illustrate the moon, I came across this beauty

    Which makes me question the whole leafing thing. It is hard to believe, but some I have seen with the gold leaf on the cove stripe were as striking, and Sarah - being the wild child of the bunch - has a varnished transom.

    Comments and suggestions are appreciated.

    - Margo & Sarah

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2000
    The land of reefs


    It's really quite easy. The one thing you want to be sure NOT to use is "Patent" gold leaf. It's brass/bronze, and will turn green. You need to get the surface as smooth as possible, seal it with varnish, lay on some "leafing size", trim some leaf to near proper dimensions, and feather it in with a squirrel hair brush. re-size, and re-dimension some leaf and repeat until you have it all filled in. then CAREFULLY rub off the leaf that's outside the star. Now add another coat of varnish. Don't go crazy with the varnish, because it will dull the gold, and darken it...
    Oh.... And don't try this on anything other than a dead calm day. The gold leaf will blow away if a hummingbird flies past....
    Last edited by Mrleft8; 09-21-2007 at 08:30 PM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2003

    Default Correction: "Patent" Leaf is what you want!

    Lefty, I'm afraid you're incorrect, "patent" leaf is what you WANT to use. I think what you're referring to is composition or Dutch leaf which is actually brass leaf.
    "Patent" leaf refers to the fact that the gold leaf is adhered to a piece of tissue paper slightly larger than the actual sheet of gold. "Patent" leaf is made for gilding outside in the wind(just a little wind).The tissue paper allows you to pick up the sheet of fragile leaf without actually touching it. It also allows you to lightly press the leaf or gold into the cove without touching the gold.
    "Size" refers to the glue that will adhere the leaf to whatever is being gilded. Use only "slow oil size". We usually tint the clear size(looks like thick clear varnish) with a little chrome yellow lettering enamel so that you can see where you are brushing it. Do not thin the size. "Slow" size has to set or dry twelve to sixteen hours before you can apply the gold.
    The surface should be completely primed, sealed or varnished. You should not gild or leaf anything if the painted or varnish surface is fresh. The leaf will stick to it like crazy.
    A sheet of gold, approx. 3"x3", will cover about nine to twelve inches of a half inch wide cove. Do not varnish over gold leaf that has been gilded with slow size.
    Gilding is not hard, but it is labor intensive. I would tell you to practice on an object in your kitchen or in the cabin before attempting the actual cove. Maybe a small object about the size of a door knob.
    Then, there are quick sizes, maybe mixing fast and slow size together, using straight chrome yellow lettering enanmel as size. Using quick size so you can varnish over the gold(so the leafed area can be scrubbed).
    Like I said, gilding is not hard. Spiling a plank was hard until I finally understood how to do it. Sanding all the bright work on a forty foot sailboat is "hard". Gilding is very rewarding but there is a fair amount to learn through trial and error.

    36 years of sign carving and gilding
    " Be all that you can be"

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2000
    The land of reefs


    I'm sorry... Ocean Spray is correct... It's been a few years, and I got my terms twisted around... I've never used the slow size, and if you can't varnish over it, you probably don't want to use it on your star...

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2005


    So what is the best all around choice of leaf for beginning? I am going to play around with doing some signs first.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2003

    Default I prefer Patent leaf

    I perfer patent leaf, whether I'm working indoors or outdoors. I generally use Italian gold leaf, made by Manetti, from Florence, Italy.
    Gold leaf is sold in small boxes called packs. Each pack has twenty books of twenty five sheets totaling five hundred sheets. Each book of twenty five sheets will cover approx. one square foot.
    Learning how to gild is a process of trial and error. If the size has not set or dried long enough, it will just gobble up the sheets of leaf. If the size is too dry, the gold will not adhere to the size. Properly set size will not take a finger print. If you ran slid your finger across it, it would sqeak.
    Slow size is prefered for doing large carved signs because of the large window or time period that you can apply the gold. It also provides a flexible adhesive for the gold. It will last indefinetly. I have signs that I gilded or gold lealed over thirty yeas ago that still look good today.
    On a dome like the State house in Boston, the gold leaf will wear off from the effects of snow, sleet, hail, diet and dust.
    Never varnish over gold leaf that was applied with slow size. The varnish will eventually break down, peel or flake and take the gold leaf with it.
    " Be all that you can be"

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Port Townsend WA


    As long as you are leafing an inset carving or cove that will not be subjected to abrasion, you need not varnish over the leaf as it will slightly cut down on the reflective qualities of the gold. Slow size can be varnished over but one should make sure that it is fully set. Usually this takes a day or two. However, it the varnish is allowed to break down, as mentioned above, it can require that a new leafing job be done. In the case of a hand lettered transom, I normaly varnish over the lettering.
    Last edited by Jay Greer; 09-24-2007 at 01:41 PM.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2001
    Seattle, WA USA


    Quote Originally Posted by Mrleft8 View Post
    It's really quite easy. The one thing you want to be sure NOT to use is "Patent" gold leaf. It's brass/bronze, and will turn green.
    Not so. You're talking about imitation leaf.

    "Patent leaf" is leaf that's been laminated to [very thin tissue] paper to make it easier to handle: you apply the patent leaf and peel the paper off. Patent leaf comes in books, just like regular leaf, as well as tape-like rolls of different widths. The rolls are just the ticket for doing a stripe.

    Patent leaf comes in the same flavors are normal leaf. You can also get imitation leaf in patent form as well.
    You would not enjoy Nietzsche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound. P.G. Wodehouse (Carry On, Jeeves)

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Feb 2000
    San Francisco Bay


    I hate to say it, but I've come to the conclusion that the price of patent leaf and the tedium involved really doesn't justify the cost and effort of real gold leaf. No question, it is "finestkind," but the main drawback is simply that you have to keep doing it over every time you paint the hull! There's really no way to refinish topsides, which you'll be doing every two or three years on average, without impacting the gold leaf on the cove or transom lettering. Sure, you can mask it, but I guarantee it will look crappy.

    I've used gold tape on coves, which looks cheesey, even at a distance. In the end, paint in a contrasting color really works best, lasts best, and is easiest to redo. I learned from an old master boatbuilder (with some initial skepticism, I must admit) that gold colored paint really looks nearly as good. Not paint that contains metal flakes and is intended to mimic gold leaf, but just a mixture of white, yellow, and a bit of red topside enamel. Or, if you want, use your bootstripe accent color. I've done this now for years and learned to live with it. It isn't as satisfying as a newly laid gold leaf job, but it sure is easier and cheaper and tougher stuff in the wear and tear department. (PS... if you varnish over gold leaf, you can pretty much figure the leaf isn't going to last any longer than the varnish on top of it.)

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