Saturday 4 February 2012

2. Rough Edge Gilding

Before we go ahead and sew the book there is time to decide if we want to treat the edge to some form of decoration. There are many types of edge treatment and they can be applied at different stages of the binding process.
The process I am going to show you here is a form of gilding known as Rough Edge Gilding. I found this technique in Jen Lindsay’s Fine Bookbinding a Technical Guide, which I highly recommend. This is the only gilding technique I have tried, as the others quite frankly scare me, and although it’s a little tricky it’s not overly complicated.
The overall look of a Rough Edged Gilt book is a lot more natural in appearance to a Solid Gilt Edge, and a lot more forgiving to the binder.
I’m only going to gild the head of this book but you could gild all three edges if you wished. 
Firstly we need to give each section a liberal dusting of French Chalk along the edge to be gilded. This stops the pages from sticking together during the gilding process. If your endpapers incorporate a coloured paper then don’t chalk these as the chalk may become ingrained when under pressure in the press. 

Next alternate each section tail to fore edge. This evens out the pressure along the edge. It also means once the gilding is complete, and we put the sections back in their order, any discrepancy in the gold will be minimised. 

If you remember, when making the sections earlier, we also made some extra. These two extra sections come in to play now. They’ll be placed either side of the main book block to act as a buffer between the book and the gilding boards. Sometimes the gold might not adhere cleanly at this join, so if it does happen, it may as well happen to scrap rather than your book. It’s also good to have gilt edged paper handy if you intend to ‘guard’ some sections before sewing.

I’ll explain guarding in the next post.
We now put the book, plus extra sections between gilding boards and then into the press. My gilding boards are exactly the same as backing boards, but the angled edge has been planed off to a right angle.  Take your time to make sure everything lays in the press perfectly flat; it may take some time but persevere.  

Before we start to sand the edge make sure you wear a mask, this is very dusty work and you really don’t want to breathe it in. Also wear an apron or some other form clothing that you’re not too bothered about.

To sand the edge I use three grades of sand paper 120, 150 and 240 grit. Don’t be alarmed when you see how rough the 120 grit sandpaper is. It seems counterintuitive to attack the edge of your book with something so rough but bear with me.
Using a sanding block, wrap the paper around it and sand the edge in one direction only. This stops the build up of heat on the edge and minimises excessive marking. Sand until the surface is smooth and shiny. Avoid touching the edge with bare fingers, as you want the edge grease free. Use a soft brush to dust and vacuum regularly.

Repeat this process through all three grades of sandpaper until the edge has a high shine. When the sanding is done, dust and vacuum thoroughly in preparation for the next stage. 

For the next stages we are going to need to mix up the glare. This will be the ‘glue’ that sticks the gold to the surface, but will also be part of a mix that will seal the edge prior to gilding.

For the glare we will need 2fl oz of boiling water and a ¼ teaspoon of powdered gelatine (standard gelatine from any supermarket). Add the gelatine to the boiling water and mix until thoroughly dissolved. Leave to cool slightly before use. To make it last a little longer I stand the glass in warm water.

We are now going to apply a ground for the gold to sit on.  I’m going to use Armenian Bole, a rich terracotta coloured mineral, which will give the gold a warm glow. The bole seals the edge and can be buffed to a smooth finish, which is what we need for the gold to adhere to.
To prepare the bole, add a little powdered bole and some of the diluted gelatine solution and mix thoroughly. 


To apply to the edge, use a natural sponge.  Wet the sponge and squeeze all the excess water from it. Dab the sponge into the bole mixture and try a test swipe on some scrap white paper. What we are looking for is a smooth translucent wash. If its ok stroke the edge of the book with the sponge until you have a smooth covering of bole. 

Leave to dry thoroughly, and then using a stiff brush (a clean shoe brush will do) buff the edge till shiny. 

Our next job is to prepare the gold. In all the texts I have read on this subject, not once does it state how difficult it is to cut or handle gold leaf. Trust me, it’s tricky. They all seem to assume anyone can pick up a gilders knife and start cutting. I have never managed it, but I’m not going to let it get to me. So I tend to guild books that use as much of the piece of leaf as possible. You can always save the gilt sections for other books if you don’t want to bind a large volume.
To move the gold around easily I’m going to use ‘paper tips’. These are pieces of a 300gsm paper, cut slightly longer than the gold but shorter top and bottom so you can see the gold for ease of placement. Rub a paper tip on the side of your head/hair to grease it slightly and then gently press onto the gold while still in its booklet. The gold will stick to the tip ready for gilding.  Work out how many pieces you need for the job and have them prepared. 

 You’re now ready to gild the edge. Apply just enough glare to the edge for one piece of gold. Take one of the loaded tips and gently lower the gold side towards the edge. As you get close the surface tension of the gelatine will suck the gold off the tip. As long as you have held the tip as horizontal as possible, the gold should come off cleanly.  If there are cracks you can patch up later, but I have found it easier just to wipe the offending gold off with a glare dampened sponge and try again. 

Once the first piece is down, apply more glare painting over the first piece of gold by about ½ cm. Apply the next piece of gold as before, and continue in this manor until the edge is covered. 

We now have to leave the glare to dry. This takes as long as it takes, between three quarters of an hour to an hour, but if you breathe on the surface and the condensation vanishes immediately then it should be dry. Also if you try and scrape the gold on the gilding board, that’s a good indicator, as it tends to take a little longer to dry on the wood.

When dry, lightly brush any excess gold off with a soft brush. 

To make sure the gold is stuck well take some greaseproof paper, lay it over the edge and burnish through this. If the gold sticks to the paper or wrinkles start to appear, it’s not dry, weight a little longer. 

If all is well, take a Dogtooth Burnisher and burnish the edge along the sections and then across. 

When it’s done, take it out of the press, lay the whole lot on your bench and gently twist the boards of the book. Then take the book and give it a tap onto the bench, which will loosen the sections allowing you to separate them. Slightly twist or flex the book and this will further loosen the individual pages. You can now put the sections back in order; you will notice that any colour change or slight flaws in the gold will have miraculously vanished.  


The gilt edge is now complete. From now on we have to be very careful not to mark the edge, as it is very susceptible to knocks.

In the next instalment we will be sewing the sections together.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Edge gilding is useful to hide a secret Fore Edge Painting. See examples of this curious English book art at

  3. Hello, I have long been looking for this process. How I can contact the authors?

  4. Thank you so much this was so helpful!!

  5. Hi, I want to gild a hardback book that I have already. Is it possible to use this technique and get the same result?

    1. Hi Sarah, do you mean a book that has it's covers already attached? If so I don't know of a technique that would account for this. That doesn't mean there isn't one of course. If you have a book block that has been sewn but not yet finished and covered, then there are techniques for this. Gilding is quite a specialism and the rough edge technique is the one I use predominantly. If I were to have something gilded once sewn I would be tempted to take it to a specialist gilder.

      Hope this has been helpful.

      Kind regards,


    2. Yes, I'm giving life to some old books of mine. I've used your technique with a gilding kit I bought online, minus the bole. It worked wonderfully but the pages were stuck, so I undid them with a knife in each page and the gild has gone from a beautiful smooth bright gild to a dull powdered glitter. Is it because I didn't use bole?

    3. Hi Sarah it could be the bole. Was the gold in your kit real gold leaf or gilding metal or paste?

    4. Yeah small sheets of gold leaf. The size I used wasnt as clear as yours though. I've sourced some bole so I'm going to try again.

  6. hello.very very thanks.i very I enjoyed
    I learned much more In this lesson you
    i am hamidreza from iran - esfshsn

    Had long wanted to learn gild -edged book
    But in my country who do not and I did not know how to learn rather than something you saw on the Internet.Thank you very much and i love you.

    1. Hi Sahafi, thank you for your kind comments. Since this post I have changed an element of the process which I'm planning on updating at some point soon. But I'll tell you now if it helps. When you have the gold prepared on the release paper, apply the Gelatin over the whole edge and then apply the gold slightly overlapping. If there are any cracks just breathe on the surface and apply a little more leaf. Your breath will be warm enough to reactivate the gelatin. It's far less stressful than brushing on the gelatin over already applied gold leaf.

      Hope this helps.

      Kind regards,


  7. Hello sir
    What model do you use adhesive The gold foil is attached to the lip of books or office
    And Nmychsbnd after finishing work or office paper book?
    I did not stick the gold foil on the lips office
    I used glue stick together sheets of gold and lips office Please guide me in simple language and I thank you infinitely

  8. Hi Sahafi. I use Gelatin, in powder form, that I mix with warm water. It is normally used for setting jelly and jam.

    Kind regards,


  9. Hello Mr.Roger have a question you.
    If I do not use clay Armenian's the problem? Just gelatin powder and gold sheet and cast my French.
    In your opinion, is it possible?
    I also thank you for your patience to guide me

  10. Hello Mr. Roger. Please tell me when gelatin mixture of clay and my lips stained book How much time I put the gold foil on the edge of book.
    I apologize that I do not know the English language well and thank you very much for your patience

    1. Hi Sahafi, I'm not sure what would happen if you didn't use a Bole as a base for the gold. It seals the edge of the paper and alters the colour of the gold. The red bole gives a warm glow to the gold as opposed to a blue or black bole which will give a cooler hue.

      Have the gold ready on the release paper before you apply the Gelatin so you're not rushing. Apply the gelatin on the whole edge and then gently lower each piece of gold face down on to the edge, overlapping each one. If there are any cracks breathe on the surface and apply a little more gold leaf. It's a good idea to have a few extra pieces of gold prepared just in case.

      Kind regards,


  11. hello mr. roger.What do you mean by this expression? (( 2fl oz of boiling water)) Or for ¼ teaspoon of powdered gelatine how much boiling water to add?
    Mr. Roger me if I took the book owes you'll be gilding edge.
    very very very thanks and You're unique.

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