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All of the solutions for a perfect finish
How to perfect, protect and embellish the gilding technique

Once gilding with precious metals or imitation metals is complete, you can create special colour effects on it, you can age the decorated surface with ageing techniques or you can create three-dimensional effects using gilding finishing techniques.

BURNISHING OR POLISHING THE GILDING

PATINA: DISTRESSING AND AGEING TECHNIQUES

FIXING AND PROTECTION

PUNCHING THE GILDING BY USING A BURIN

BURNISHING OR POLISHING THE GILDING

Gilding burnishing is only possible if the gold leaf has been applied using the water gilding technique, preferably in pure gold or silver. However, it is also possible to burnish gildings made with imitation metals.

Burnishing is the final stage of the gilding process that gives a compact shine and a very warm colouration to the surfaces that were decorated with the leaf. It is also widely used to create clear glossy/matte contrasts that enhance the decorations and bring out some ornamental details.

Burnishing is performed by using special tools called burnishers, made with agate tips that have different shapes and sizes that can be chosen according to the type of surface you are burnishing. Ideally you would have a burnisher that is the right shape for each type of engraving or undulation in the base.
The gilding is polished thanks to the pressure exerted onto surface with the burnisher. Before you use the burnisher tool on the gilding, heat the agate stone by quickly rubbing it with a wool cloth.

Burnishing stage

In the summer the burnishing can be executed from five to eight hours after gilding; in winter it is best to wait from twelve to eighteen hours. To verify whether the decorated surface has dried properly, simply exhale gently onto the leaf. If the fog produced by your hot breath vanishes immediately, the drying process is too advanced. If the fog does not disappear, drying is still insufficient. If the halo remains for a few moments and then disappears, the gilding and the surface have reached the correct level of dryness.

When you are at the right point in the drying process, polishing can be carried out by exerting a constant pressure with medium intensity onto the tip of the burnisher (at a low intensity the leaf will not polish, but at a high intensity it is possible that the base will collapse). Moving evenly across the entire surface, it helps the metal leaf adhere perfectly to the gesso and bole base and gives the surface a perfect gloss and smoothness.

When the burnishing stage is complete, to preserve the work from damage, apply a protective coat prepared with de-waxed shellac or extra-clear de-waxed shellac.

PATINA: DISTRESSING AND AGEING TECHNIQUES

Much used in the restoration of antique surfaces decorated with gold or silver leaf, this gilding finish serves to give an antique appearance or to dampen the excessive brilliance of a freshly done gilding project.

There are different techniques for ageing or distressing gilding, each of which involves the use of specific tools and processes. It also depends on the gilder’s creativity and taste. Based on gilding finishing techniques that have been already tested and researched, we can all apply the finish in our own very personal way.

Ageing techniques are recommended specifically for gilding or restorations made with pure gold or real silver, but some of them can also be applied to gildings made with imitation metals.

Distressing with steel wool

A first possibility is to distress the gilding using steel wool, so that the underlying bole base resurfaces without losing the brilliance of the leaf. In this way you get a visual effect that is comparable to the gilding that was done in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Depending on how much you want the item to appear aged (i.e. how much background you want to bring back to the surface), more or less coarse steel wool should be used. Coarse steel wool (indicated with the “0” code number and also known as National wool) is perfect to achieve a deep and evident distressed look; fine (code “000”) or extra-fine (code “0000”) steel wool is indicated for lighter antiquing or to obtain a delicate satin effect on the gild.

Patina with Bitumen of Judea

This type of patina is used to create strong light/dark contrasts and to recreate a visual effect similar to what was in style in the 1500s. Among the various finishing techniques, this is the most used for gilding with imitation metals. The result is an antique veil, visible both on the smooth and homogeneous areas as well as in the carvings and deeper parts.

Liquid bitumen (also called “Bitumen of Judea”) is used in this technique, possibly diluted with turpentine if the base colour is too dark. Containing resin extracts, when bitumen is diluted and dry, it gives the surface a reddish-brown tone and therefore a warm coloured patina.
Instead of liquid bitumen, enamel can also be used. It also needs to be diluted with turpentine.

After you have prepared the mixture, spread the bitumen evenly on the golden surface, using a brush or pad to penetrate even the deepest inlays, carvings and cracks. It is extremely important not to wet the surface with too much bitumen, in order to avoid liquid stagnation areas and – consequently – too evident a patina.

We also recommend dabbing the surface with bitumen almost randomly, quickly moving the brush or pad to the right and then to the left.

To avoid unintended effects or dripping, excess bitumen should be removed as soon as possible by using some cotton or a cloth.

Given how quickly the bitumen dries, it may be necessary to dilute it with white spirit so that you can work better with it.

Patina with wax paint

An antiquing patina wax, also known as bitumen wax, is ideal for smooth and homogeneous surfaces. This technique is mainly used for gilding with pure gold and silver. It uses a wax paste that is mixed with bitumen, turpentine and beeswax. If it is too dense, you can dilute it further with turpentine essence before applying a light layer with a pad.

By adding coloured pigments (powders) you can also make the mixture more “dirty” in order to have different shades and colour intensities. After a few hours, when the patina had dried, you can proceed with polishing the surface, rubbing it with a wool cloth.

Glazing the gild

This type of finish, also useful as a protective coat on the leaf, consists in a special treatment of the decorated area that renders gilding more opaque, varying the shade and the colouration.
It is used on gilding that was done with precious metals as well as imitation metals.

Depending on the effect you want to obtain and the metal that you used for the gilding, you can proceed with different types of glazing.
To dull the typical brilliance of a fresh gilding (usually with pure gold) you can make a glaze with cold tones by rubbing the golden surface with a cloth that has been moistened with a mixture of white spirit and cold pigments (e.g. green, white, blue or shady earth tones).
To give the gilding an aged effect, it is better to glaze with warm tones, preparing a mixture of linseed oil, turpentine essence and Harlem siccative (mix three equal parts of each product), also adding ivory black combined with Sienna. When you have a sufficiently liquid compound, you just need to apply it onto the golden surface (always pure gold) as thinly as possible, using some cotton or a cloth.

In both cases, after applying the mixture, wipe the area with a clean cloth to dry it and to avoid the formation of stagnant areas.

In the case of genuine silver and imitation metal gildings, and also in order to prevent the leaf from oxidising, a compound of shellac and alcohol aniline can be applied to the decorated surface, choosing the most suitable colouration you would like to give the leaf.

Meccatura

One of the most common glazes is the so-called “Meccatura” (or Mecca gilding), utilised since ancient times to give the silver leaf a golden hue. Today it is mainly used to create a golden decorative band on silver leaf frames.

The main element of Mecca is Sandracca, to be diluted in ethyl alcohol. You can buy a compound that is ready for application.

To obtain different colourations, you can add natural resins, diluted in ethyl alcohol in the appropriate proportions. Choose which one according to the desired effect: for a golden yellow colour you can use gutta gum (dilute in a proportion of 1:2); for a red-brown colour you can use dragon’s blood (dilute in a low concentration); for brown-greenish colours you can use aloe resin (dilute in a low concentration).
All shades can be brightened by adding alcohol.

The resulting compound should be applied evenly using a pad or a brush with soft bristles. To achieve a good Meccatura, the compound must be fluid and at the same time not too liquid, so as to provide coverage already with the first coat. The Mecca glaze usually takes between ten and twelve hours to properly dry.

FIXING AND PROTECTION OF THE GILD

When gilding or silvering is complete, burnished or not, it is possible to seal the leaf to protect it from damage or deterioration.

If the gilding has been executed with pure gold leaf, it is not necessary to apply a protection or fixative. Silver leaf and imitation metals, on the other hand, tend to oxidise easily and lose their natural shine or change colour over time. To preserve them, it is therefore always necessary to protect them with special paints, applying one or more coats depending on the metal that was used for the gilding and the environment in which it will be placed.

For the fixing and protection of pure gold and silver you can use de-waxed shellac (extra-clear in the case of silver) or a synthetic protection, applied in one or two light coats. Be careful not to exceed the quantities so as not to completely change the shade of the gilding. For the protection of imitation metals we recommend more resistant products, such as acrylic or nitro paints (e.g. Zapon).

If the gilding is intended for outdoor use, we always recommend applying an acrylic protective layer in several successive coats. The use of imitation metal is strongly discouraged for this type of work.

PUNCHING THE GILDING BY USING A BURIN

The technique of punching (or using a burin) has always been widely known and used to create decorative motifs and precious details. This unique technique is normally used to finish gilding on a board, such as gilded icons, or when creating especially valuable pieces.

After finishing the burnishing stage, you can emboss special decorations on the gilding using tools similar to metal stamps, called “burins”, which are used to decorate the surface by hitting the little tool with a hammer.

The metal burins have a hardwood body, with different sizes and tips depending on the decoration you would like to achieve. The engraved part of the burin, called the “eye”, is usually made of iron.

There are also roller tools made of different sizes and shapes that grip and slide on the gold surface to create decorative effects more quickly. The engraved wheel can be made of wood, rubber or iron. Rollers are especially useful for engraving large surfaces, but we always recommend finishing the work with tools that have more precision, in order to add more value.