Oil Gilding – Traditional Signwriting and gilding: Oil Gilding, Nick Garrett

Oil gilding is perhaps the easiest process of all gilding. In theory you can oil gild any object that you can paint, but it is especially fitting when wanting to gild a metal object. Also, if the object is to be outside in the elements, or is in a damp atmosphere, then oil gilding is the choice.

Lettering in gold leaf

–  When gilding lettering talc the panel or surface for easy clean-up.

–  Mix a tint of yellow enamel into the gold size.  Lefranc 4 or 6 hr is very reliable and stable.

–  Apply nice smart cut letter form allow size to dry hard and sharp tacky.

–  Tacky is a sharp aggressive feeling to the touch – sticky is messy and sloppy.

–  Use best quality transfer (hard bonded – not too loose) gold you can afford. 

–  Allow to fully dry before a light clean with puffed cotton wool.

     –  do a small test on a secondary area, coma or motif to check tack times – 6 hour gold size can come ready in less than 20 minutes in warm environ etc.  Never known it to go more than 30 minutes!


The following is a demonstration on how to oil gild a small metal object (for the purpose of this exercise a cast iron door stop). All pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the browser back button.

equipment thumb

For this exercise you will need the following equipment:

  • Gilders pad

  • Gilders tip (preferably squirrel hair)

  • Gilders mop

  • Gilders knife

  • Artists fitch

  • 4 hour gilders size (oil)

  • Vaseline

  • Book of gold leaf


1 Iron Piece thumbFirst, you will need to prepare the object in question. Although anything can be gilded, you will have to ensure that the object is in a sound condition. The size that will be applied is similar to paint in that if it can be painted, it can be gilded. Ensure that the surface is clean, dry and free from grease. Remove any defects, rust or flaky paint and residue. Clean in warm soapy water if neccessary. You can gild directly onto bare metal and if possible, this is the best surface. It must be noted, that any bits, cracks or contaminants on the surface WILL show up through the gold, so good preparation is vital.


2 iron sized thumbOkay, once you piece is ready, you will need to apply a single coat of gilders size to the surface. For this exercise I have opted to you use a 4 hour clear size. iron sized comp thumbThe time means that after application, gold is applied up to four hours later. The longer you can wait, the better the finish – although if it dries, you will be back to square one! I find about two and a half hours is sufficient. To test the tackiness of the size, use the hairs on the back of the finger. Ideally, the size should be at a point about 45 minutes before completely drying.  

You can add yellow colour to the oil size for visability – it also helps hide minor pins and misses.  In hot weather a longer size is often required such as 6-12 hours.

Test it:  It is ready when you touch it with yr finger nail and despite it’s sharp tack it leaves no trace on your finger nail.  Too wet and your gold will skid, dry dulled and even sink.


gild thumbStarting in a corner, or appropriate area, lightly place the gold on the tip onto the size. The gold will stick to the size and leave the tip. At this point begild done thumb careful not to let any of the hairs on the gilders tip touch the size. If you have some gold leaf residue staying on the tip, there may be a little too much vaseline – in which case rub the tip through your fingers to dissipate. If there are recesses on the object you are gilding, try to put the gold into these areas. However, in most cases, the gold will bridge these but can be filled in later. Transfer gold is also a good option for this type of project.

Contact Nick Garrett for further information or for a quote on your project.


Traditional Signwriters London, Murals, Gilding,  

Custom Typeface design, 

Brand design, logo creation

Thanks to watergild.com