Dave Trendymiddlename Starr

Gilding engraved wood?

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Hello, everyone. I'm working on table numbers for a wedding, and I want to engrave the numbers in wood, and then apply some silver leaf in the engraved letters. I'm doing some research, but I'm getting a bit confused about the order of operations here. Here's what I think is the procedure:

1) Cut wood blank to size, sand it, stain it, finish it
2) Mask entire finished surface with painters tape or similar
3) Engrave the numbers into the masked surface with a router or such
4) Leaving the masking on, apply metal adhesive, later add silver leaf

And then this is where I'm not sure how to finish it. I've seen some metal sealers for gilding on Amazon, but a lot of folk say it really dulls the metal. So, is there an alternative way to seal the silver leaf? Would I remove the masking and seal the entire thing, or just seal the silver leaf with the masking still on? Or have I got the process all wrong from the start and there's a better way to do it?

Thanks!

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I was definitely going to go with the Mona Lisa metal leaf adhesive, but the reviews about the sealer dulling steered me away from that part. But, hearing that negative reviews could be because of improper use is not a surprising thing to hear about the internet. I suppose I'll give it a shot, it's not expensive. Any suggestions on what kind of brush to use when applying the adhesive/sealer? I'll be picking up a gilder's mop, but I imagine that brush is supposed to stay dry.

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They also make a spray on sealer and adhesive, which may be easier depending on your project. I do not have personal experience with those. Speedball’s customer service is very good, if you call them I’d bet they would be happy to help you decide which would be better for your application. And if your results (on your test piece) are not satisfactory they should either help you pinpoint any application error or otherwise take care of you (refund/replacement/exchange).

You do not want to use the gilders mop for applying the adhesive or the sealer. I used decent quality synthetic flat artist’s brushes, and they are readily available in a variety of sizes. You really don’t want to work the sealer a lot, so pick a size that will work well for your need.

Will you be using genuine silver or imitation? Wear gloves or avoid handing the leaf much, you don’t want it to start to tarnish before you seal it. 

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I've done a bit of gilding, so my first bit of advice would be to practice beforehand to get your technique down.  If you use an artificial silver leaf product, they don't seem to tarnish as easily.  If that is the case, why bother sealing them at all, since this isn't a project that is meant to last for a long time?

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Yeah, I'd be using artificial stuff. And I wouldn't say this isn't meant to last a long time, it would be neat if some day our kids could use these at their weddings, too, y'know?

And would I be sealing just the gilding? And if so, supposing the wood is already finished, is there a way to seal the entire thing afterwards, and/or is there any benefit to doing so?

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I've sealed my gilding in the past using artist's varnish such as this:

https://www.deserres.ca/en/lversat

This isn't the exact one I've used, but is a similar product.  A little goes a long way.  Obviously this isn't meant for large furniture projects, but for small pieces it works great.  I would talk to someone in an artist supply store who know what they are doing for specific product recommendations.  Whenever I need artists materials I go to DeSerres, but I'm sure you can find a similar type store in the US.

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If you are finishing the rest of the wood before engraving, I don’t see why you would need to add another layer over it. I would just seal the leaf and call it done. Am I missing something?

Also remember that any texture on the substrate will show through the leaf. So if you are using a wood with a strong grain pattern like white oak, the leaf will inherit that grain pattern. You may want to do some extra sanding/sealing to the wood after engraving. 

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Okay, terrific, thank you. This is my first foray into gilding, so I just didn't know how much I didn't know, lol.

This is going to be a 6x6" piece of purpleheart with the outline of a heart engraved in it and gilded with "silver" leaf. And the outline is going to be... maybe 3/8" at the widest part, tops. So I'm not worried about grain.

I've been meaning to experiment with using india ink to dye wood, as well. Maybe I'll do a double-experiment and make a small piece dyed black with a "gold" leaf engraved design of some sort before moving on to the real piece. Thanks!

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Dave, just a thought but would it be easier to engrave the numbers in the board as a whole instead of in small individual pieces, then cut them to size? 

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Regarding ink, be prepared for a mess. India ink will blacked the surface, but doesn't seem to penetrate well, leave residue that rubs off on your hands, and has a purplish sheen. I find that Kiwi liquid shoe polish / dye makes a much better flat black color on wood.

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Spraying black dye produces a nice deep uniform color but it makes one hell of a mess !  Overspray dries into a powder that transfers & tracks everywhere. Sealing it immediately helps but plan on a lengthy cleanup. 

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