Christmas copper candelabra

Yesterday, I explained why on earth I came to be covering my candelabra in copper leaf in the first place, and showed you a few inspirational projects, in the hope that you might want to join me in having a go at this easy-peasy craft. And today, if you do want to have a go, I’m going to be guiding you through the four easy steps you need to take in order to achieve this easy upcycle.

(I’ve used the term ‘gold leaf’ in the title because that’s the umbrella term that tends to be used for gilding, and I wanted this post to be found on google should someone be looking for advice on how to gild. But I mean all the leaves, gold leaf, silver leaf, copper leaf and any other metal leaf you can get your little mitts on, they all do the same job)

So, in the hope that you feel inspired, and fancy joining in with me on the old gilding action, here is what you’ll need:

• Something to gild – this can literally be anything. Well, actually, that’s not true, please don’t gild your cat. Try to keep your object inanimate if possible
• A small pot of paint for the undercoat –  see notes below
• A paint brush
• Gold size – this is what the glue to adhere gold leaf is called
• Gold, copper or silver leaves – mine are copper effect only, real copper leaf is much more expensive
• A dry, smaller brush for applying the leaf (not pictured)
• Waxes to finish off with (wax on, wax off *say in Chinese accent*)
• Lint-free cloths for applying the wax – I keep old shirts and t-shirts, and tear them into rags.
Lint-free simply means it doesn’t leave fibres. In the past I have bought ‘lint-free’ cloths, only to leave nasty coloured stains on my wax, so if you’re unsure, test yours on a part of your piece that’s inconspicuous.
You can also use brushes to apply the wax, but you’ll need a cloth to subsequently remove it.

what you will need

You might notice, from my picture, that I’ve used products by Annie Sloan; the paint, gold size, copper leaf and both clear & dark waxes are from her. This is because I used to be a stockist for her when I had my shop Aunty Mabel’s Seat, and I’m a massive fan of her stuff. I’m going to be covering her in more depth in a future post, but for now, for any of you who haven’t heard of her paints (where have you been?) all you need to know is that you can apply her Chalk Paint without any sanding or priming. It’s a no-brainer for me. However, it isn’t the law that you need to buy Annie Sloan stuff, so of course, find alternatives if you prefer.

Notes on the colour of the undercoat paint:
Why is the colour important? Well, sometimes there are little spots where, for some reason, the leaf doesn’t completely adhere to, so you will pretty much always have little spots of the paint showing through anyway. But with time and use, the leaf might rub off, leaving other little patches of underneath colour. And then there are even times when people will purposely rub off some of the gilt to actually display the underneath colour for artistic effect. So you need to think about what colour you want to see underneath.
For this application, I have used just a very dark, almost black colour. If any copper rubs off, I just want it to look a bit old and antiquey, and maybe a bit mucky almost.
However, in the history of gilding, there are traditional colours used under each type of gilt:
Reds under gold leaf
Greens under copper
Blues under silver
These aren’t hard and fast rules, and the beauty of upcycling and updating your own stuff is that you can experiment with whatever you feel like. Go mental and put bright neon pink under your silver leaf, none of us will mind. And we might just wish we’d tried it first!

Anyway, enough blathering on…here’s what to do:

1. Paint your object with its undercoat colour.
If you’re not using Annie Sloan’s Chalk Paint (or an equivalent), you’ll need to paint it initially with a suitable primer. Allow to dry fully.

2. Apply the gold size to your object.
I’m going to sound all Goldilocks on you, but you don’t want it too thin, or too thick. You want it just right. Maybe experiment on a piece of scrap wood if you’re unsure. Too thin and you risk not applying enough for the leaf to stick to. Too thick, and you’ll end up with gloopy bits under the leaf. Just have a play though, it’s pretty evident once you start applying as to how much is enough.
Gold size is a fluorescent purply-blue when you apply it. It’s very pretty. You need to wait for this to fade to ‘clear’, and that’s when you’re ready to apply your metal leaf.
Also, the gold size remains sticky for quite a while, so you have quite a long window of time to work with. For the bath featured yesterday, Annie Sloan applied gold size to the entire bath on one day, before going back to apply the copper leaf the next. I can see that working. But for my smaller projects, I prefer to apply the size in stages, so I can control things a bit more. Again, find what works for you.

The gold size when it first goes on - a sort of fluorescent blue

The gold size when it first goes on – a sort of fluorescent blue


The gold size when it's clear and ready to use

The gold size when it’s clear and ready to use

3. It’s time to apply the gold leaf.
Firstly, laying the square of leaf in the palm of your hands, crinkle the leaf up a bit so it’s not perfectly flat any more. This helps the leaf get into little nooks and crannies. If you have moist palms, a bit of talcum powder might help!
Then, using the whole square or broken up parts of the leaf (I use smaller pieces as I find I have a bit more control), lay a corner onto the part you want to gild, and using a soft, small brush, just pat the gold leaf down onto the item. It’s as easy as that!
The leaf will stick to anywhere you’ve put the size, and break away from anywhere you haven’t.
Keep all the little bits that come away, they’ll come in handy for patching up.
Once you’ve laid your leaf down, sort of gently scrub at it with the brush to remove any excess leaf that isn’t actually adhered to the size.

applying the leaf

4. Finish your piece with some wax.
When doing all my projects, I have found that both the gold and copper leaf are just too shiny and new looking. So I like to take the edge off the shine with some dark wax.
Generously apply the dark wax with either a brush or a lint-free cloth.
Then, with a lint-free cloth, remove as much dark wax as you like. If you have something with nooks and crannies, sometimes it’s nice to leave a bit of dark wax in them, so that your piece looks a bit aged.
If you don’t want to use a darkening agent, just finish off with some clear natural wax.

The candelabra looking super shiny! It really needs toning down with the dark wax

The candelabra looking super shiny! It really needs toning down with the dark wax

dark wax application

Once the dark wax is applied, remove as much or as little as you like

And voilà, your object is finished! Easy isn’t it? I wish I had some photos for you of the candelabra in action on Christmas Day, but I was far too busy frantically trying not to burn the potatoes, drinking champagne and generally enjoying myself. However, I have tried to show you how it looked by photographing it with some strategically placed red wine, and my favourite Christmas table accessory, a duck gravy boat! Every house should have one.

So, do you think you’ll have a go? Have you gilded something already and I’ve been teaching you to suck eggs (sorry about that)? If so, please do let me know, or share your projects with me, I’d love to find out what you’re up to – as it can get terribly lonely here behind the computer screen! And I’ll hopefully see you next time, when I’ll be sharing another wee project I’ve got on the go. TTFN x