How to Silver Leaf Furniture – The World’s Messiest Project
I seriously just survived the craziest project I’ve worked on to date. Okay, maybe it wasn’t all that crazy but it was messy! Both myself and my husband were shinier by the end of the project and even my baby monster got in on the fun and decided her feet needed to be silver leafed while she watched me work.
I’ve been searching for the perfect piece of furniture to try out silver leafing and couple of weeks ago I finally found it. If you follow my instagram for sneak peaks of what I’m working on, you may have already seen this.
I found this table, which was originally a vanity table with no mirror, on our local yard sale Facebook page. When I got it home and gave it a thorough examination, I saw there were two holes towards the back that I’m assuming held the mirror that was once there, the top was covered in candle wax and had plenty of stains. On top of that, it felt like if I put anything on it, it might fall over.
The good news is…the wobbly state was simply due to needing to be tightened up…amazing what a screwdriver can do. The top I scraped off as much of the thick candle wax that I could and then simply used my bottle of Lift Off to get any residual stuff off the top (seriously this stuff is awesome). Next I got some wood filler and filled in those two holes in the back, because this vanity would no longer be a vanity. Oh no! This would become my new hallway table. Finally, I gave the top a quick sanding to clean it all up and then wiped it all down with a cloth.
There are a few basic supplies you will need in order to silver leaf furniture. First, your brushes. You’re going to want a clean bristle brush that you will use to help you press the silver leaf down onto the surface. Trust me…it’s better than using your hands which have moisture in them. You will end up silver leafing yourself if you try to do it without a brush. You will also need a sponge brush to apply the adhesive. If you want to keep things easy and just dip into the jar, get a small brush because the jar of adhesive is pretty small. I usually grab the variety packs when I get sponge brushes because you never know when you might need one of a different size.
For the actual silver leafing you’re going to need silver leaf sheets and metal adhesive. I choose the Speedball brand for both products. The silver leaf sheets came 25 sheets to a pack and the bottle of metal leaf adhesive size came in a small 2 ounce bottle. They do have the adhesive available in larger sizes, but I did this table project with this little bottle and didn’t even use half of it. It goes a long way.
Lastly, you’ll want some soft rags, either old t-shirts or just some general all purpose rags. You will also need your chosen sealer as the final coat. I like to use the Minwax Polycrylic for most of my projects.
You will also see I have my Valspar tintable glaze there as well. This is not required but it’s a step I decided to do to make my table a little less shiney and more on the vintage side of things.
*I also decided to give my table a light spray of metallic silver paint just so I had a base of color on it, and because having seen silver leaf before, I know that many times cracks and imperfections are part of the process of silver leafing and if a color was going to show through I didn’t want it to be wood, I wanted more silver.
The first thing I did was apply the adhesive using my sponge brush onto the surface of the table. You want a very thin coating of the adhesive. Don’t let it puddle up or get to thick in any one area. keep it light and smooth. You need to let the adhesive sit on the furniture for about 30 minutes for it to cure into a niche tacky surface for your silver leaf to adhere to. Do not apply your silver leafing earlier than 30 minutes or you will end up with a goopy mess.
After 30 minutes are up, you can start applying your silver leafing. This is the fun part! No really…would I lie to you?
Okay, I’m not going to lie, this can be tricky at first. It took me about 3-4 sheets before I felt really comfortable and then I was all like “why didn’t I ever try this before?”. The best way to apply it is to carefully pick up the silver leaf sheet (I recommend gloves because your hands always have moisture on them) and then let your dry clean brush do the work. Use your brush to lift it to the furniture, lay it down gently and then use the bristles to gently tack it to the adhesive. Don’t worry about pushing down all areas of the sheet. You just want a gentle contact and a good portion of it pushed down onto the surface. We’re actually going to use our clean cloth to really rub the silver in. No really…check this hot mess out.
You can see one half of the table is done, but the other half has these messy sheets that haven’t been pressed down. So why not use the brush? Well, this stuff is thin. I wouldn’t even call it paper thin. It’s thinner than that. If you breath wrong on this stuff, it will fall apart. A bristle brush tears through this stuff. You just want to use to help you make it stick but not to actually press…although I do use a brush later for cleaning up all the remnants of silver.
Once it’s all stuck on there, take your soft cloth and start rubbing it in gently. Don’t press hard or you’ll tear through it. Just gently rub, focus on pressing down on the corners and in the crack areas were sheet meets sheet. As you rub, all the “extra” silver leafing will gently fall away….cause one giant mess all over your floor. You’ll love it…so will your kids. (I’m kidding, this stuff was awful and it was everywhere!).
Once you’ve rubbed your table down to your hearts content, you will end up with a perfect smooth finish that shines and sparkles in the sun. Oh, and yes…the drawer pull was silver leafed as well!
From this point, you could go ahead and do your clear coat protective finish with the polycrylic, but in my case, I did a black glaze on top of the silver leaf (you can see the darker glaze in the cracks on the picture above). Once the glaze was finished, I then did a single coat of polycrylic on the whole piece, but did three coats on the actual table top. I knew this table would take some abuse with putting wallets and keys on it as we walked through our front door, so I wanted to make sure this girl had a thick tough coat to protect her.
I am totally in love with the outcome and it looks adorable in my entry way! Although, I do have to let you in on one thing. See the legs? Well, I bought enough silver leaf to do the entire table, but after doing the entire top area, I wasn’t sure I would love the legs being shiny as well, so I thought maybe a two-toned sort of silver would look good. I’m going to live with it for a week and then decide if I want to finish off the table with silver leaf legs or not. What do you think about the legs? Silver leaf or leave as the silver spray paint?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this short little tutorial on how to silver leaf furniture and hopefully it will make the process a little less intimidating for you. Have you done any silver leafing yourself?