Gold Tooling

The latest workshop that I attended was entitled “Finishing for the frightened” and they don’t come more frightened than me! Finishing in this instance, referred to gold tooling, a skill, which I am convinced, takes a lifetime to perfect.

The tools, which we used, consisted of a wooden handle and a brass letter or pattern; using fillets or wheels to make linear patterns. We started by heating the metal tools on a stove, this proved to be problem number one, if you don’t heat the tool enough it will not transfer the gold onto the book, if you heat it too much you can melt away too much of the adhesive and produce an ugly effect. By trial and error, much spitting (to judge the temperature) we had to decide when the tools were ready. In case you are wondering, a letter “I” will not retain as much heat as a letter “M”, because of the amount of metal used in the formation of the letter. By now I think you may be able to understand the complexities and variables involved.

Our first practice was to try out the letter on fax paper, as this is heat sensitive you can get a good understanding of the amount of heat needed. When we had tried our hand at that we moved onto gold foil, which we used on pre prepared boards covered with book cloth. Gold foil is not actually gold, rather gold colour on an adhesive backing. The skill here is not only in ascertaining the correct temperature but applying the correct pressure and consistency of pressure over the area of each letter. Positioning the letters is also extremely difficult and something that I feel I would never master in a thousand lifetimes.

When we had made sufficient progress with the gold foil we moved onto real gold leaf and leather. Unlike the gold foil, the gold leaf needs to be adhered to a glare; (boards were covered with leather which had been treated with glare). These had prepared  for us beforehand so it was one less thing to worry about. I won’t attempt to explain the complexities involved in handling gold leaf except to say that a mere breath can wisp it away, it is so delicate and light. It is also very beautiful and now I am aware of the difference between foil and leaf, infinitely prefer the real thing.

I have posted my first feeble attempts for anyone who is interested. If nothing else they show how not to do it! As always I enjoyed the day and learnt so much at the workshop, it gave me a much greater appreciation of the skills involved in fine binding.


  1. That brought back some memories of the bookbinding studio at Brighton Art College! Faith Shannon* was teaching there at the time. Using the fax paper was a clever idea. I only worked with foil on cloth bindings, the real gold on leather looks so beautiful!

    Well done! It's a great skill.


    * more here: http://www.caa.org.uk/exhibitions/exhibition-archive//designer-bookbinders/faith-shannon.html

  2. What a beautiful artform! Fascinating post!! Yes, I agree, well done.

    Too strange about Brian Blessed! It's not as if he's on the tip of everyone's tongue. Synchronicity or chance?!

  3. Isn't it satisfying going on a course and mastering a new skill. You come home fired with enthusiasm. I think your first efforts are excellent. Fortune favours the prepared mind - and your other skills make your mind amply prepared to accept a new one.

  4. Valerie you are very brave entering the arena of blind stamping & gold tooling. It's going to be a wonderful journey for you. Thanks for stopping by the web site too.

  5. The lettering in gold is very beautiful.
    I love the work on the leather,what an amazing art form.

  6. Wow, I am so impressed! This looks so much more difficult than the new knitting class I'm currently taking! One could actually get hurt doing this!! But what a lovely result! Good for you!

  7. This is a whole new thing to me. Never saw it done before.Looks like you have a good handle on it.

  8. You are all being very kind but I know that my gold tooling is atrocious. Just look at the letter spacing, I was concentrating so hard on the heat and the pressure, I forgot all about the positioning! It was fun though.

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