Gilding Two Signs for Tanglewood Farm

A rather unusual project presented itself a few weeks ago. Jim Green, of Tanglewood Farm near Tamworth, had purchased a large timber sign from a local cabinet-shop. It was a little over three meters long, and the letters had been routed into the panel, which consisted of a solid piece of Merbau. A smaller sign of the same construction displayed the address number of the farm – 388. Both signs had been stained in a deep brown hue, and certainly held a rustic and understated beauty. But just as Jim was about to install them at the front gate, he noticed that the lettering was not as readable as he had imagined it would be. The sign needed to catch the attention of passing motorists.

Jim tried applying gold paint to the numerals on the smaller sign, but was still unhappy with the result. He knew that the sign would need gilded text. He loaded both signs onto his truck, and drove three hours north to drop them off at our shop.

The following photo series shows the steps which we took to gild the letters on the signs:

Sign for Tanglewood Farm

Jim holds up his timber sign.

Carved Wooden Sign

On a table in our shop

Gold Painted Letters

The Gold Painted Letters: Not as Shiny as Jim had Hoped

Gold Carved Letter

Furthermore, the woodgrain looked a little rough.

Masking the Wooden Sign

We first covered the sign with stencil mask.

Carbon Paper

Then, I rubbed the surface with carbon paper, which brought out the shapes of the carved letter.

Cutting out Letters

Next, I cut each letter out of the stencil, with a razor blade.

Wooden Sign in Process

Here’s the sign, with all the letters cut out.

Sealing the Stencil Edge

Then, I sealed the stencil edge with water-based clearcoat.


A coat of primer next.

Sanding Carved Letters on Wooden Sign

Sand & repeat (three times over).

three hour size

Next came a coat of three-hour size (glue), for a smooth surface.

Lefranc's Twelve-Hour Size

Once the three–hour size was dry, I applied a coat of twelve-hour size.

Gilding a Wooden Sign

After leaving the sign overnight, I gilded it in the morning.


The Finished Piece!

The Finished Piece!

Carved & Gilded Wooden Sign

And the smaller sign, this time with gilded letters.

Sign on ute

All loaded up & bound for Tamworth!


4 thoughts on “Gilding Two Signs for Tanglewood Farm

  1. Hi Don,
    Thanks for the interesting article, I was just wondering why you do the gold size as a two step process ie the 3 hour first followed by the 12 hour?
    Cheers Tony

  2. A true craftsman at work, what a difference the gilding makes to that sign, it stands out a lot better Don, it’s a shame that there isn’t more of this work going on, especially over here in the UK.


  3. I’m a bit surprised as to why a stencil was employed, as opposed to accurately painting the carved areas by hand. Maybe I’m too old-school, but that’s what signwriting brushes are for…


  4. Hi Tony,

    As you know, gilding is only as smooth as the surface to which it is applied. A lot of the sign-makers who make carved & gilded signs (like this one) will apply six or seven coats of gloss enamel to get a really smooth surface. We’ve found that we can create a surface just as smooth, if not smoother, by applying two coats of primer (sanding each coat) followed by a coat of three-hour-size. We let the three-hour-size dry completely, which takes at least five hours. Then we have a glassy surface on which to apply the twelve-hour-size & then the gold leaf. Hope that makes sense.

    Thanks Alan,

    Yes the gilding was certainly an improvement over the gold paint. This style of sign (carved & gilded wood signs) is very popular in the Northeastern USA. In other parts of the world (including here in Australia) it’s less well-known, although we’re doing our best to change that. Although I don’t know of many carving shops in the UK, your country has a great tradition of very artistic flat-painted & flat-gilded signs. You might be surprised how much of that is still being done today. Dave Smith, in Devon, is arguably the world’s best gilder. Joby Carter, in Berkshire is a phenomenal Signwriter, and there are many more. You can find many of them on this website:

    Thanks Jim,

    You have a valid point. The fact is that we use stencils on most of the signs we make here. I know it’s a departure from the traditional method, but it certainly gives the letters a crisp, clean edge. While I’m pretty handy with a chisel, I’ll admit that my speed and accuracy with a lettering brush still have a ways to go (I’m working on it). I had considered gilding this sign without a stencil, but with four layers of paint & size under the gold, it would have taken many more hours, for a less crisp result. Hopefully the purists will forgive me for that.

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