News-Antique.com - Jun 17,2009 - Throughout history gold leaf has been used to enrich furniture and interiors - giving it a sense of opulence and quality. Gilding, the process of applying gold leaf, can transform ordinary furniture into extraordinary statements of style and wealth. But before enriching furniture, gold leaf is created using an old fashioned process, going back hundreds of years, which converts 24 carat gold ingots (12 inches x 1 inch x 1/4 inch thick).
Gold ingots are passed repeatedly through high quality burnished rollers with increasing pressure applied to form a ribbon of gold hundreds of feet long and 1/000 of an inch thick. Cut into 1 inch squares the ribbon then undergoes its first beating process called the ‘cutch’ where the gold is interleaved between 250 sheets of paper and beaten out to the edge with a hammer. The now larger pieces are quartered to 2 inch squares before being hand beaten in a second stage called the ‘shodder’. These beaten shodder pieces are quartered with the aid of a boxwood wagon and pinchers before being filled into the final pack called the ‘mould’. Once the mould is full (some 1200 sheets of gold) it is beaten out in similar fashion to the cutch and shodder, but this time with a smaller hammer. It takes about 3 1/2 hours to hand beat a mould until the leaf is about 1/250000 inch thick. Now measuring 5 inches in diameter the centre part of each leaf is cut one by one and placed into a book for use by the gilder.
The above image shows an antique carved pine Torchere being restored by Wheathills and going through the process of re-gilding. The piece is first cleaned of the modern gold paint, conserving original gold leaf where possible. Gesso repairs are made then red boule is applied, the boule is skinned in with lemon shellac and further subsequent layers of boule are applied until a super smooth surface has been created, without losing definition of the carving. Then 24 carat gold leaf is applied to an oil or water size. Water gilding creates a much higher sheen than oil and is used to create definition and interest to a piece. The gold skewings are removed with a squirrel hair mop and finally the gold is burnished with an agate stone. This basic method has infinite permutations providing many different effects and qualities.