Applying Gilded Lettering to Interior Wood Doors

Technical Procedures Disclaimer

Prior to inclusion in GSA’s library of procedures, documents are reviewed by one or more qualified preservation specialists for general consistency with the Secretary of Interior Standards for rehabilitating historic buildings as understood at the time the procedure is added to the library. All specifications require project-specific editing and professional judgement regarding the applicability of a procedure to a particular building, project or location. References to products and suppliers are to serve as a general guideline and do not constitute a federal endorsement or determination that a product or method is the best or most current alternative, remains available, or is compliant with current environmental regulations and safety standards. The library of procedures is intended to serve as a resource, not a substitute, for specification development by a qualified preservation professional.


We’ve reviewed these procedures for general consistency with federal standards for rehabilitating historic buildings and provide them only as a reference. Specifications should only be applied under the guidance of a qualified preservation professional who can assess the applicability of a procedure to a particular building, project or location. References to products and suppliers serve as general guidelines and do not constitute a federal endorsement nor a determination that a product or method is the best alternative or compliant with current environmental regulations and safety standards.




A. This procedure includes guidance on applying gold leaf lettering on interior wood doors to match original.

B. Gilding is the application of gold or silver leaf to a prepared surface to give the illusion of it being solid metal. It can have either a matte finish or a high
burnished finish.

C. See 01100-07-S for general project guidelines to be reviewed along with this procedure. These guidelines cover the following sections: 

1. Safety Precautions

2. Historic Structures Precautions

3. Submittals

4. Quality Assurance

5. Delivery, Storage and Handling

6. Project/Site Conditions

7. Sequencing and Scheduling

8. General Protection (Surface and Surrounding)

These guidelines should be reviewed prior to performing this procedure and should be followed, when applicable, along with recommendations from the Regional Historic Preservation Officer (RHPO).



A. Gold Leaf Studios, Inc.

B. Lou Reed

C. H. Behlen and Bros.

D. M. Sift and Sons, Inc.


NOTE: Gold leaf supplies are available from suppliers listed under Section 2.01 above.

A. Size: Quick or Japan gold size

B. Alcohol

C. Gesso: Whiting or plaster of paris mixed in an animal size glue binder.

D. Bole: Mixture of gelatin and gilder's clay.

E. Paint: Lampblack ground in Japan, mixed with quick size

F. Gilding: Tissue booklet of gold leaf - available in "patent" leaf (secured within a book) or "loose" leaf

G. Clean, cotton pads

H. Clean, potable water


A. Paint brushes

B. Gilder's tip - flat brush for lifting sheets of gold leaf

C. Soft bristle brush

D. Gilder's knife

E. Gilder's cushion

F. Agate, flint or hematite burnisher



A. Make repairs to wood as required. See GSA documents 06400-16-R, 06440-01-R and 06440-04-R for guidance in repairing small holes, dents and minor imperfections.

B. Resecure and repair any loose or damaged wood pieces. See 06400-04-R, 06440-02-R and 06440-03-R for guidance.

C. Replace any missing or deteriorated wood features. See 06400-15-R for guidance.

D. Thoroughly clean the surface to be gilded. For guidance on general dusting and maintenance, see 06400-01-P, 06200-01-P and 06400-01-R. For guidance on stripping paint, see 06400-07-R and 06400-09-R. See also 06400-10-R for additional wood refinishing guidance.

E. Apply gesso mixture over wood surface to be gilded to smooth out the wood and fill small holes. Apply in many thin layers. Several coats may be necessary in order to sufficiently smooth the surface.

F. Apply mixture of gelatin and gilder's clay or "bole" over gesso, or apply japan paint over the gesso.

G. Make stencils from cardboard to match original lettering as closely as possible.

H. Lift gold leaf sheet from booklet using a gilder's tip.

I. Use the stencils as a guide and cut gold leaf to match size, type and style of original lettering using a gilder's cushion and gilder's knife.

J. Apply size to area to be gilded.

1. For matte finish: Cover the paint or "bole" with shellac; apply a coat of varnish called "gold size" to the wood surface. (This is a slow-drying size)

3. For burnished finish: Wet "bole" with a solution of 1 part alcohol to 4 parts water. (This is a quick-drying size)

K. Allow the surface to become tacky.

1. For matte finish: Approximately 10-12 hours.

2. For burnished finish: Approximately 1-3 hours.

L. When the surface has become tacky, position the gold leaf and quickly place it over the surface using a gilder's tip.

CAUTION: If leaf is applied while size is too wet, gold will be 'drowned' and burnish will be killed. If size is too dry, leaf will not adhere.

M. Smooth out sheets using a soft brush or clean cotton wad; save any excess for patching later if necessary.

N. Before burnishing (if burnishing), wait 1-3 hours after placing the gold leaf. The gesso and "bole" coating needs to reach sufficient hardness before burnishing.

1. Burnish carefully using an agate burnisher. Using gentle circular motions, rub the gold leaf using slight pressure, gradually increasing pressure to make firm strokes in one direction. Rub sufficiently to achieve a dark mirror finish.

NOTE: TIMING IS CRITICAL TO SUCCESSFUL BURNISHING. THEREFORE, THIS WORK SHOULD BE DONE BY A PROFESSIONAL. If burnishing is performed too soon, the gold leaf may mush; if burnishing is performed too late, the gold leaf may chip.

O. If patching is required, cover surface with diluted sizing and add a new leaf as above or use excess leaf from previous applications.