Restoring or Re-Gilding An Old House Sign


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Does your house sign or number need restoration. Are the letters and numbers faded and scruffy? Was it a good quality house sign in its heyday? If so consider re-furbishing your hose sign with genuine gold leaf. Gold leaf has some real advantages over metallic paint which is the alternative. Many of these paints will fade in sunlight, some of them quite quickly, the Unless you can obtain a professional sign writers paint, bright gold paint will change to a colour more like old dull copper.

Any DIY artist out there will enjoy the challenge of uprating an old house sign, it is an ideal small project to try out the art of gilding.

First you will need a few things:

1. A small 1/4 inch paint brush
2. A larger 1 inch soft paint brush for brushing away dust
3. Sharp flat knife, an old dining knife sharpened on a grind stone will do
4. Book of 22ct gold leaf on a transfer back
5. Sharp Scissors
6. Gilders yellow 30 minute size

As house sign project is intended as a small primer try out so spend as little money as possible, make do with what you already have, you can always buy the proper tools if you enjoy this effort.

Gold is sold in books, with usually 25 pages of gold leaf. It is either sold as loose leaf or with transfer backing. Loose leaf is harder to handle and you will waste a lot of gold. So buy a book of transfer gold leaf and a small bottle of gilders size from a proper gilding supplier (find one on the web) you may be surprised at the reasonable cost. Do not bother with the pretend gold leaf from model shops, it does not handle like real gold and may not have the resistance to weathering that genuine gold leaf has.

About the Gilders size: Gilders size is the adhesive for sticking the gold. Size is sold with several time factors, the 30 minutes in this case applies to the time between painting on the size and applying the Gold leaf. Although sold as 30 minute size the actual time to workability will vary with the ambient temperature. The size is ready the moment it is tacky to touch, you have a short window of time to apply the Gold so be patient and do a few letters at a time.

Try a few practice runs to get a bit of experience, see if you can find an old piece of carved wood or stone, perhaps a discarded photo frame or one of those small ornate plastic flower pots, remember you just need to practice handling and setting to gold leaf into awkward shapes.

Handling the Gold: The transfer gold leaf is gold leaf on a paper backing. Do not attempt to handle with your fingers, instead handle with the blade of an old blunt dinner knife. Cut with the sharp scissors into rectangles about 50% larger than each letter or number.


1: Clean the old sign lettering as thoroughly as possible back to the original material. If the house sign body needs to be painted do it before gilding, keep the letters and the areas for gilding free of paint if you can. Let the painted house sign dry, the gilding should be the final job.

2. Start with just one letter or number of your house sign, you can do more as your confidence grows. Paint the size onto the surface where you will apply the gold. Try not to over-paint onto the face of the house sign, use a clean cloth to wipe away any excess.

3: Keep an eye on the size, as soon as its touch dry you are ready to apply the gold. press the gold leaf, face down onto the size, rub firmly with your finger or use a smooth tool, the handle of a paintbrush will do, then peel away the backing paper leaving the new gold in place.

There will inevitably be some over-spill but leave it! Wait until the work has dried overnight then clean of with a razor blade or fine wet and dry paper depending on the background finish of the house sign.

I hope you enjoy this attempt at gilding and if it should inspire you to take up gilding as a hobby please let me know!

Steve Walker has been a craftsman in stone and marble for 40 years. Leaving school at fifteen he entered an apprenticeship as an ecclesiastical marble mason with an old London firm, and in his long career have practised as a stone mason, letter cutter, restoration carver, marble mason and carver, fireplace designer and manufacturer. He has worked in old fashioned traditional stone firms and in modern marble workshops, in almost every type of stone marble and granite. He is now a house sign maker, the sole owner, and craftsman of Stone Engravings House Signs –


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