Gilding & Frame Restoration

Restore antique gilded picture and mirror frames with genuine gold leaf, using traditional water and oil gilding methods. Learn to make gilder’s gesso and bole, create molds to replace missing ornaments, repair damaged gesso and tone gold leaf repairs. Bring an object to restore to the first class.

This class is particularly popular amongst framers and antique restorers and dealers, who can use the skills they gain in their professions.

Co-sponsored by Eastern Mass. Guild of Woodworkers

You may also be interested in our upcoming event: Frame Conservation at the MFA: A Tour with the Conservator.

Course Number


Class Size


Age Range


Skill Level

All Levels



Before beginning this class, read about SAFETY.


Materials fee: $15 payable in class (does not include gold leaf)

Bring to the first class a notebook and object to restore.
You do NOT need to bring any other materials to class; materials in the first class session will be supplied.

Please wait until the following materials are discussed in class before you shop:

  • GILDER’S PAD  - Chamois (real, not synthetic) covering over a padded board, approximately 6” x 10”. Surface gold leaf is laid out on this to enable the gilder to cut it into smaller pieces.
  • GILDER’S KNIFE - Flat, straight bladed knife used for cutting gold leaf on the pad.
  • GILDER’S TIP - Flat “brush” usually made of squirrel hair sandwiched between thin sheets of cardboard, approximately 3” to 4” wide. Used for lifting and  laying the leaf in place. Do not get a “double” thick, or a badger hair tip.
  • BURNISHER - Highly polished agate stone mounted in a brass ferrule on a wooden handle. Used for polishing water gilding, great care must be taken to protect it from dirt and scratches.
  • GOLD LEAF - 22 or 23 karat surface, (loose), gold leaf. Gold leaf is sold in books of 25 leaves that are about 3 3/8” square. Do not get “patent” gold, which is used exclusively for mordant or oil gilding.
  • GILDER’S CLAY or BOLE  - A thick paste usually sold in one pound jars. Available colors are red, blue, black, white, yellow, and gray. Also sold in a solid “cone” form, which must be ground up and mixed with water for use. The clay does not contain a binder so rabbit skin glue must be added.
  • RABBIT SKIN GLUE  - Sold in sheets or in granular form. Both types must be measured out by weight, soaked in water, and melted in hot water for use.
  • WHITING - Whiting is calcium carbonate (CaCO3). It should be superfine and free of impurities. It is important to make sure that it is gilder’s whiting, or you could end up with something unusable. Gesso, the base for water gilding, will be made with whiting, water, and rabbit skin glue.
  • BRUSHES - Assorted sable/camel/ox hair brushes in a variety of sizes. Round pointed camel or sable hair brushes, #’s 6,7, or 8. Flat ox hair (sometimes referred to as sign writers brushes) in 3/4”, 1/2”, or 1/4”. A very soft long hair brush for tamping down and brushing out gold leaf. A stiffer bristle brush for making and applying gesso.
  • GELATIN - Used as an adhesive and wetting agent in gilder’s liquor. Can also be used in place of rabbit skin glue.
  • ASSORTED SANDPAPER - For roughing up wood and for smoothing the gessoed surface.  220 grit down to 600 grit of different types.
  • ASSORTED JARS - For clay and gesso preparations.
  • PARTICLE MASKS - To be worn when sanding wood, gesso, or polishing clay. This type of mask does not provide protection from solvents, vapors, fumes,  or mists.

Find out where to buy supplies.

Instructor, Schedule, and Cost

Fall 2017

Section 1: 12 Mondays, 7–9:30pm
1F: Sept 18–Dec 11 (no class Oct 9)
Instructor:  Nancy Dick-Atkinson

OPEN ($15 materials fee payable in class, does not include tools or gold leaf)