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How to Gild a Picture Frame

Add luster to a dull picture frame using inexpensive metal leaf

Gilding, the art of applying ultrathin sheets of real gold or silver to an object, is one of the easiest, least expensive ways to capture the luster of those precious metals. The technique dates as far back as the ancient Egyptians, who used it to embellish furniture, but today gilding is making its mark on everything from mirror frames to architectural ornaments. Happily, you no longer need to splurge on sheets of 24-carat gold or sterling silver to achieve this lustrous look. Many companies offer imitation leaf, made of alloys of aluminum or copper and zinc, that look nearly as luxe as the real thing. Whether you gild with the genuine article or opt for less expensive metal leaf, you only need a few supplies. Read on to learn the basics.

Step 1

Sand the Surface

Photo by Ted Morrison

Rough up smooth surfaces with 220-grit sand-paper. Wipe with a tack cloth to remove dust, then seal with shellac, if desired.

Step 2

Apply the Adhesive

Photo by Ted Morrison

Using a foam brush, apply a thin layer of adhesive, called gilding size, to your item. If you have to cover a large surface, use a spray formulation; a brush-on liquid (shown) should be used for smaller, more intricate items.

Step 3

Apply the Metal Leaf

Photo by Ted Morrison

Wearing gloves to prevent fingerprints, firmly press a sheet of the leaf, shiny side down, over the adhesive (our leaf came backed with wax film for an easier application). Use a tapered chisel brush to push the leaf into the surface's nooks and crannies.

Step 4

Remove the Leaf's Backing

Photo by Ted Morrison

Carefully pull the sheet away from the surface to release the leaf into your surface. Work slowly to prevent tears or holes.

Step 5

Brush Away the Leftover Leaf

Photo by Ted Morrison

After applying the leaf, you'll likely have excess hanging loose from the gilded item. Dust these pieces off with a soft, fluffy brush, called a gilder's mop.

Step 6

Seal Your Project

Photo by Ted Morrison

Protect your finished work from flaking or tarnishing with a clear acrylic spray. If desired, apply a glaze to give the piece an antiqued look.