Introduction: Vintage Plaster and Gold Frame Restored
I was recently willed a Marriage Certificate from my Grandmother. It dates back to 1888 and is for my Great Great Grand Parents. When I was given the frame it was worse for wear but the the certificate is still in great shape so I thought it deserved a good restoring. The frame is a beautiful design of leafs and flowers in plaster with gold leaf over it. The plaster was cracked and falling off all over it. I did search for how to restore a frame on this site but ended up not really finding what I needed for the whole project. I learned most of what I did by reading the product boxes in the Hobby Lobby to learn what I could use for each step. Please keep in mind this is my family heirloom so i used the parts and materiel that I new would work for me and keep the frame safe for years to come. If you plan to restore one on your own take your time and make your own judgment on materials you may be afraid will cause adverse effects on your antique.
Step 1: Looking Over the Frame
When I first received the frame it had many pieces missing from the plaster. Some were in the frame just lying there. I did some research and found that the frame was plaster with gold leaf. Originally I thought it was clay but i was wrong. I also saw the dust build up was thick. So it was time to clean. Knowing that i wanted this to last for another 124 years I wanted to be sure to use things that wouldn't harm the delicate frame anymore. After each step make sure to clean up. I made the mistake of not taking care of the brushes properly and lost 4 of them. It's not a big thing but it will help in the long run if you plan to use them again. The glue doesn't come off easily once its sets for a while.
Tools: I already had around the house
>Several Paint brushes (your choice of size)
>bowl or container to mix things in
>plastic disposable cups
>card board or foam board for making the mold
>regular desk tape
>soft surface to work on. I used a foam sheet I had laying around
>small ball of clay. The molding rubber came with some
>butter knife or something to cut the clay and Milliput
>paper towel or sponge
>wood glue $3
>book binding glue, Acid free $4
>Molding rubber (Alumilite $25)
>freeing agent like Vaseline
>Milliput 2 part epoxy putty $8
>gold leaf or fake gold leaf $50 - $60 for 24K and $18 for the fake
>gold leaf adhesive $5
>gold leaf antique glaze $5
>gold leaf sealer $9
Most of this I picked up at my local Hobby Lobby and Walmart. But they are easy to find at any craft store. The real gold leaf you may need to order online and goes for about $60 for a book of 18 sheets. I ended up having 2 sheets left over.
Step 2: Cleaning the Frame
For the cleaning I used a cotton swab dipped in water. This was so I could clean each tiny crevice. I simply rubbed every inch of the detailed part of the frame to clean it. The bottom was the worst and you could tell there was cigarette smoke mixed in with the dust. It did all come off. The only issue I had was some of the plaster broke off as I was cleaning it. I tried to keep all the pieces in the same place they fell off from. Some of them would line up easily so i was able to place them back later without much hassle.
Step 3: Taking It Apart
Now the frame has to be disassembled. I found several different types of nails. Due to the age of the frame I suppose. Use the pliers to pull the nails out. this is no place for a hammers claw. Be very careful not to crack the wood as the nails come out. Just go slow and steady, it will come out eventually. Also I found that the back board was 2 different sheets of fiber board. I don't think this was the original. I am looking for the right kind of wood to replace it with. That will come later. I removed the glass, certificate and the back board and placed them in a safe place. The frame is made of an inner and an outer frame. I freed the 2 frames on order to repair them individually. The corners where loose so they needed to be press back together. I did this by tapping the nails that held the corners together. This worked well and like i said before slow and steady.
Step 4: Sealing and Gluing the Pieces Back On
I wanted to seal up the old wood and plaster before I proceeded so that no more plaster would fall off. I added water to some wood glue and painted it on. The mix was enough to make the glue runny. You will want to experiment to get it right. This anchored all the small pieces to the wood. When I came to a place where a large piece was coming off I used straight glue to glue it back on. As I sealed it I also put the chunks that had fallen off back to where they went. It goes together like a puzzle and the pattern repeats so it wasn't hard to put them all back in place. It did take a while though.
Step 5: Replacing the Missing Sections With New Ones
Now that all the pieces I had where in place it was time to duplicate the missing design and place it back on the frame. First choose a section that is missing. Make sure you select enough of the pattern to repeat. In this case just over 2 inches long. Add your seperating agent on the section. Build a frame of cardboard or foam board around the section you want to copy. Make sure the bottom is closed. I used the plastic cups and cut the shape of the frame out in order to have the cup as the bottom of the mold. Use the tape to hold it all in place. Then follow the directions to activate the rubber and pour it in place. Be sure to make it deep enough to cover all the detail. My mold had to dry over night. I found some leaks in the morning but the goo was thick enough to not drain completely out.
Step 6: Replacing the Missing Section
Now that the molds are ready i mixed the Milliput. Use small amounts at first to make sure you have enough time to fill the missing section. Milliput will stick well to itself so if you dont make enough you can always add more later. Adding a small amount to the missing section make sure you have enough on top in order to fill in the whole mold. Mine as a lot of raised bumps, flowers and leafs. Press the milliput into the frame not the mold. Then place the mold down onto the milliput. Press it down to make sure all the detail is copied. The rubber mold will bend when pressed on so make sure not to press to hard and end up with a flat spot. If you do make a flat spot you can take the the milliput off and retry. It takes a while for it to harden. As you can see in the picture the detail copies very well. Let the milliput dry.
Step 7: Adding the Gold Leaf
Now that all the areas are replaced its time to add the gold leaf. The instructions show to add a red base before adding the gold leaf. This is so the gold stands out better. I decided because the frame was already mostly gold that adding the leaf over it would not need to have a red base. I tested on a back corner and found that it looked great so i proceeded. I have never worked with gold leaf and due to the cost just went for it instead of testing on something. it only took 2 tries before i got the hang of it. The secrit is DON'T BREATH. First add the leaf adhesive to the frame, be sure to fill in all the nooks and crannies. Also don't let the glue puddle. The instructions say this and i found a spot that did puddle and it makes a spot that the leaf sticks to the top of the puddle but the glue under it lets the leaf come right off. Spread the glue with a brush. I used a small brush in order to get in all the tight places. Let the glue dry for 15 to 30 minutes or untill its tacky to the touch. Add the glue in a section as large as the sheat of gold leaf. Here comes the hard part. For the gold leaf make sure your hands are clean and very dry. Dont use any lotion before you work on this part. Take a sheat of leaf and gently lay it on one long edge of the frame and then drape th leaf back away from the rest of the frame and glue. Now with a larger brush or foam brushgently start folding the leaf bck over the frame. start pressing the leaf into the design working your way to the other edge. On the corner bend the leaf to match the inner corner and then work your way out. As you work along you will end up tearing the leaf, this is OK just try to place it back in the spot it came from.
Step 8: Antiquing the Gold
I was originally going to leave the gold as is but as I finished the leafing process I realized that the frame needed to be toned down. I used the antique glaze in order to give it a better appearance. This is a simple step. The glaze is painted on then take a paper towel or sponge. This step dries fast so brush it on and wipe it off. Make sure to brush it into the cracks. you will want to wipe it off and look over the places that need to be darker. This is also a great time to cover up your mistakes in the gold leafing stage. The dark glaze will fill in the cracks the the leaf would not stick to. After covering the the frame in the antique glaze let it dry. Once dry its time to spray on the sealer. Do this outdoors and be sure to cover all of the leafed area. It only take 15 minutes to dry so if you want to add a second coat you will be able to.
The finished frame With the Certificate in place. This turned out better then I expected. I hope yours does too. Don't forget to wash all your tools after each step some of the stuff used will ruin a good brush.