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Gilding techniques

Q. I'm a rank newbie to metal working and finishing, but I'm interested in learning. I recently built a small forge in my back yard, and my first project is a knife. It's not intended to be an "art" knife, but neither is it intended to be purely functional; I'm looking for a happy medium.

On the decorative side, I'd like to put gold spacers on the handle, just inboard of the pommel and guard (which will be forge-blacked). Solid gold is neither suitable nor within my price range, so I've been looking into plating or gilding spacers of some base metal, probably mild steel or copper. Plating doesn't seem like a good option because of the relatively high initial cost, and because it involves some nasty chemicals that I'd rather not have around the house. (The object of this exercise is to make the knife myself, so I'm not interested in paying someone to plate the spacers for me.) That leaves gilding.

Would gold leaf adhered by sizing be durable enough for something like a knife handle? If not, would it be possible to apply the gold leaf to the base metal by heating and burnishing, as in Keum-boo? Is a silver substrate a necessity for Keum-boo? If so, would it be possible to apply silver leaf (several layers, if necessary) to steel or copper, then fuse the gold leaf (again, several layers if necessary) to that with heat and burnishing? How might I go about applying the silver leaf? Heat and burnishing again? Solder?

If none of the above will work, can you suggest any other possibilities?

Matt Bower
hobbyist - Woodbridge, Virginia

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A. 1- why not to try bronze spacers
2- try gilding with dutch gilding which looks like gold but is brass or bronze (I'm not sure).
3- you can try gold plating by brush or pen.

Cair Shishani
Khair Shishani
aircraft maintenance - Al Ain, UAE

A. Keum boo is a technology process more suitable for orchid forum. Leaf gilding is not suitable for knife handle, it is only decorative process,you cannot use it on utilitarian items. I think that even thick hard gold electroplating is not suitable -- better try any other yellow metal-brass or aluminium bronze. Hope it helps and good luck!

Goran Budija
- Cerovski vrh Croatia

Q. Thanks for your reply. In answer to your questions:

1) Because I don't have any bronze spacers, and don't know where to find them locally. I don't have any prejudice against bronze, and in fact I'm hoping to do some bronze castings when I get my crucible working well enough. (So far I've only managed to melt aluminum and zinc. And yes, I'm aware of the danger of metal fume fever.) But right now I'm trying to stick with materials that are readily available to me.

2) What's the advantage of Dutch metal, other than cost?

3) If I were set up to do it, I'd definitely plate them. But I'm not, and even the small brush and pen setups can start to add up fairly quickly when you consider different solutions, wands, etc. I may upgrade to that level at some point, but I'm not ready to do so yet.

Matt Bower
- Woodbridge, Virginia

A. I can't say whether bronze spacers or washers are what you are looking for, but as to their availability you can look in the yellow pages for "Power Transmission" and ask the vendor about available size of "bronze bushings" and "bronze thrust washers". They are stocked locally everywhere.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

thumbs up signThanks very much for all of your replies. I'll stick with more durable metals for now. Ted, thanks especially to you for the tip on where to find bronze bushings.

Matt Bowe
- Woodbridge, Virginia

A. Knives have been made for centuries with brass spacers. Gold is not only expensive, it is a very poor material for a working tool. If you have difficulty finding blade material, an old file works very well. It's what Jim Bowie is said to have used! If you have difficulties with suppliers the magazine rack of most US stores have a choice of publications for knife enthusiasts.

geoff smith
Geoff Smith
Hampshire, England

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