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2nd May – An introduction to gilding

18 May, 2018

The forty members and visitors to this months club night could be forgiven if they thought that they had returned to school for the evening, instead of the usual theatre style layout of seating they were greeted by a layout of eight blocks of tables with six seats at each. The theme of the evening was an introduction to gilding. And their teacher for the evening was our very own Mrs Barkaway, Lynda to most of us.

As with anything that Lynda does, there had been a great deal of preparation and planning done before the event, she had prepared kits for all to participate in the evening, and each table had a selection of small jars containing various adhesives for attaching either gold leaf or “Fake” gold foil to be attached to turned items that we had been encouraged to bring along and there were also sheets of paper with a variety of letters to “gild” for those of us who had attended unprepared. This activity was very well received by its participants although many found the process somewhat difficult and frustrating, not a skill many can master in a couple of hours, that said many were still gilding away into the night, only to be interrupted by the gallery critique by Dave Gibbard and finally the raffle.

Lynda had also prepared a very interesting short presentation of the history of gold, some of the stand out points are listed below.

40,000 years ago gold was in use and specks have been found in Palaeolithic caves.

5,000 BC gold and silver alloy were used by the Egyptians in their jewellery.

3,000 BC Mesopotamia used gold in their jewellery

2500 BC The Egyptians invent a technique of filigree in the manufacture of gold objects.

The art of gold beating began around this time as has been found by excavators in recent years. Gold was the most important substance used in decoration by the ancient crafts.

46 BC Julius Caesar minted the largest quantity of gold coins ever seen in Rome. This was done to pay his vast army.

From now on Gold leaf was used extensively for decoration, especially in places of worship. Wooden carvings were made to look very lavish by covering them generously with gold leaf and highly burnished. As buildings gradually became more grand and complex so the decorations inside became more beautiful and striking.

Picture frames were commonly gilded to draw attention to the painting. They were frequently elaborately carved and became quite dominant. Mirrors were also highly gilded and very ornate and became very large and elaborate.

How to make gold leaf

The toll on human life to beat gold into thin sheets would have been enormous. Men were then the slaves of rulers and princes and would be driven on foot to the mines where they faced almost certain death. Water and food were scarce and the men worked in the bowels of the earth to get the quartz rock which was brought to the surface by boys. It was then pounded with iron pestles in stone mortars and carried by the masters into the cities to sell.

The gold is firstly melted and mixed with silver alloy and copper. Depending on how much is added depends on how pure the gold is.

To make gold leaf the lumps of gold are put between sheepskin parchment and beaten with hammers weighing up to 20 lbs by at least 12 men. The metal is melted and poured into a mould. After cooling the 5inch long bar and an inch wide and 1/8 inch thick is rolled into strips 120 feet long and as thin as a sheet of paper. The beater is given a strip weighing 60 pennyweight and he starts making the leaf. For 3 days the beater has this precious bit of metal in his care. He is required to make 3,000 sheets of gold leaf from it. If the weather was not kind it would take more than 3 days work.  The gold is cut into little squares about 1” square. 200 of them are laid between sheets of cutch paper. This paper is made in France by a secret process and no substitute has been found for it.

Finishing and cutting the little squares he puts the pack into the parchment cover and starts beating again. Using a 20 pound hammer he beats with one hand while the other keeps turning the cutch After about half an hour, when the gold begins to show on the edges of the paper it will have thinned out to 4 times the original size.

These leaves are again cut into 4 with a skewing knife. The little squares are picked up with boxwood pincers and each is placed between ox intestinal skins. These are all cured in England. This pack is now known as a shodder and is again placed in the parchment cover and beating begins again. After 2 hours of beating the 800 squares are flattened out until the appear on the edges of the skins now being about a 4” square, These are now cut into 3,200 squares with a wagon made of lacquered cane in Japan. They go through the beating process one final time. This is now called the mold and takes about 12 hours., even longer depending on the weather. The gold leaves are now so thin that you can see through them. It would take 300,000 of them to make a pack of gold leaf 1 inch thick. Beating gold is known to have existed from 1700 BC.

Little bits of gold would fly off during these processes and the earth would be swept and sifted and the tiny scraps of gold would be saved and reused.

One ounce of gold can be beaten into 1600 leaves which would cover about 105 square feet.

Transfer gold is made by sticking the gold leaf to paper under pressure. It was only patented about 40 years ago and is used outside a lot to save the loose leaf from blowing away.

What makes gold great?

ALL the gold mined since the dawn of civilization will fit into an area 20 feet cube. It would weigh 171,300 tonnes.

1 ounce piece of gold can be hammered into a sheet of gold leaf 9 meters square.


Andi Saunders


2nd May – Gallery

3 May, 2018

4th April – Gallery

10 April, 2018

5th March – Charles Ash

8 March, 2018

Our Visitor tonight was Charles Ash, of Touchwood Crafts.

TouchWood Crafts was established about 10 years ago by Charles in his rural Oxfordshire workshop.

He makes chairs and other furniture in the traditional way of green wood working using no power tools. As recently as 50 years ago, bodgers would buy a “stand” of suitable trees in a wood and convert them in situ into spindles for chairs. A chairmaker would buy the spindles and complete the chairs in his workshop. The wood was often beech but other wood was also used, like ash and sweet chestnut. At that time the trees were hardly mature when the stand was sold making them easy to fell and process on site single handedly.

Charles showed us how he would split a log of chestnut with a relatively blunt axe. This splits the log along the grain. The log halves are split and split again into pieces of triangular section. The next stage is to refine the shape into a roughly round section using a draw knife. This is done by sitting on shave horse on which the wood is clamped so that the top surface can be shaved. The clamp arrangement is foot operated and can be quickly released to reposition the wood. The resulting rough spindle is now ready to be turned.


This is where the pole lathe comes in. Made of wood, there are just 3 metal parts, the pointed tailstock and headstock and the clamp nut and bolt for the tool rest. Course adjustments are made by moving the sections along the bed and clamping with wooden wedges. The head and tailstock points are then pushed into the ends of the spindle using the metal screw thread. The spindle revolves on the pointed ends with a little oil for lubrication. (Old bodgers were said to have used spit.)


Before positioning the spindle between centres, several turns of the drive rope are wound around it. The drive rope is attached to a treadle underneath the lathe and a cord stretched between 2 springy vertical wooden rods above. By operating the treadle the rope turns the spindle towards the operator and when the treadle is released the rope springs back spinning the spindle in the opposite direction. Cutting is done on the downstroke with tools held against the rest. (Such a lathe in the woods would have been operated in the same way but the return stroke effected by means of the rope attached to a bent, springy sapling).

The gearing can be changed by altering the diameter of the spindle where the rope goes round it. A smaller diameter gives a faster rotation but requires more force to be applied by the leg operating the treadle. If this sounds easy remember that it involves standing on one leg for hours whilst pushing the other leg up and down, simultaneously guiding a cutting tool in synch with the direction of rotation. The fastest recorded time for making a pair of legs from a log is 8 minutes!


Charles uses mostly Ashley Iles carving gouges and chisels on the lathe. He sharpens these by hand with a wet stone and Veritas honing compound, touching up with Emery cloth from time to time in between. In the traditional way Charles does not sand the spindles; they are used straight from the cutting tools.

Bowls can be turned on pole lathes though Charles did not demonstrate this. A cylindrical wooden mandrel with metal teeth is hammered into the bowl blank for the rope and the bowl is turned both sides without remounting leaving a central post which is snapped off and the bowl surface cleaned up with a carving tool.

After an extended tea break during which Charles was surrounded by people eager to know more details, he took a look at the 14 items on the members’ gallery. Always interesting to get a different point of view from a visitor, Charles remarked on the fine detail of some items which would not be possible to achieve on a pole lathe. Also how thin some of the end grain bowls were, with the core of the wood retained. This would cause disastrous splits when turning green wood on a pole lathe and would always be avoided.

Take a look at the website for some lovely examples of traditional furniture and the courses you might be tempted by.

Dave Gibbard

5th March – Gallery

8 March, 2018

5th Feb – Club Night – Turn in

12 February, 2018

A good turnout of 68 members and one visitor attended the popular “Turn-in” evening. We had three lathes in operation Alan Baker was challenging members to show off or improve their Skew techniques on the Charnwood lathe with his selection of Skews. Alan attracted a wide selection of the membership from novices right through to our more experienced members, and as usual even the experts were learning from their peers.


Always popular, Harry Woollhead was probably the busiest, showing us pendant making with offset turned centres, and turning goblets with natural edges from branch wood. As usual we were treated to some rather old jokes mixed with some very good advice as well as some rather unique tricks of the trade, such as “securing” a pendant on the lathe using a screw chuck, several small squares of plywood, kitchen unit melamine and a couple of layers of double sided carpet tape.


The plywood was just a spacer due to the length of the screw, and the white melamine very cleverly showed through once the hole Harry was boring through the pendant reached the required depth. The Carpet tape was very effective in holding the piece, so much so that it had to be removed using a craft knife to break the seal the remaining sticky patch was then cleaned off with cellulose thinners.

Harry then hung the finished pendant on a leather necklace. He purchases his leather strands from Creative Crafts in Winchester for about 12p a metre (other craft retailers are available).


Our final demonstrator of the evening, taking a break from the tea table was Chris Davey our in-house Lace Bobbin supremo. Chris was using his own 35-year-old home-made treadle lathe, based upon an old singer sewing machine treadle frame topped off with a very simple lathe including a self-made wooden chuck using small screws to hold the bobbin blanks in place. When asked if the lathe was variable speed his reply was it depended upon how fast his feet moved. This gives him great control over the turning speed. It’s a great test of a turner’s skill to combine turning fine detail with his hands whilst peddling the treadle at varying speeds with his feet.


Chris kept his audience engaged by producing a wide range of bobbins along with his vast knowledge of the many hundreds of specific bobbins used by the various regional and international lace makers


Following the tea interval Ian Woodford was volunteered to give us a critique of yet another very impressive gallery table. Ian imparted some of his woodturning knowledge with some useful tips such as setting aside some part turned boxes and lids allowing them to move before coming back later to finish them off. This helps with the fit of lids etc.

We then returned to the three lathes for the rest of the evening, stopping briefly for the raffle.

Andi Saunders

5th February – Gallery

12 February, 2018