Beneath the gilding: what happens to a board.

Today I began preparing two new boards: well, these are boards that had ‘issues’ so this is their second chance! They had already been coated with two layers of hot rabbit skin glue or size which is without a doubt the best adhesive for an icon.

After making up a batch of size (27g granules:400g water (1:15) left to soak for several hours then heated), I soak the linen scrim in the pan for ten to fifteen minutes.

You can see how soft this is: I buy pre washed & hemmed window cleaners scrim, which is lovely and drapey. In it goes.

Once the fibres have softened & expanded with the hot glue soaking into them, only wring it out half-way – you need enough to really bond & reactivate with the glue in the board fibres.

*there are no pictures of this stage: I don’t want a camera covered in glue, no matter how much I’d like to document the process!*

Lay the warm cloth on top of the board and stretch it out. Next, use your hands to press, smooth & stretch gently as the glue bonds. This can take ten minutes for a small board to twenty on a larger one (I’m thorough). Keep checking the inner corners, the edges of the kovcheg and the top borders. Once satisfied that the fabric is as smooth & bubble free as possible, wash hands and stay nearby – it’s not over yet.


The fabric will no doubt buckle a little as it dries – perhaps it didn’t get quite enough glue or there may be a little lump of thicker fibre. If its a high bump or knot, very very carefully cut it out as you can’t sand this out later. If the fabric has made a small bubble, gently heat the size til it liquifies & rub a little with your fingers into the bubble. It should go down & be glued back safely. If not, it’s possible to cut the bubble & let the air out, again adding a little more size.

Once the boards have dried for a day or two, use an extremely sharp blade (I use a scalpel) to trim neatly to the edge: photo to follow when dried.

This process is the same whether I’m using lime wood or ply wood boards – it provides a medium between the wood and the gesso as well as a layer of protection should the board warp or be damaged – conservators can lift off the linen & apply to a new board.

After this was done, I sanded some boards that I’d already gessoed – starting at 80 grit, I sand back through seven more grades of paper up to 1200, so that they are suitable for final polishing and water gilding). Thankfully we had a few dry hours, as I like to work outdoors. Photos to follow, as I had to use my DSLR to get the detail needed.

Let me know if you’ve any questions about glue, gilding or what standing outside for two hours in February inhaling gesso dust is like!

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