Water-gilding is an integral part of icon-writing. A skill unto itself, gilding takes a great deal of practice and patience to master. Gold leaf is extremely fragile and cannot be handled by hand. In fact, each leaf is only 0.1 micron thick. A stack of one thousand sheets of gold leaf is about the same thickness as a typical piece of printer paper.
The first image shows some of the basic tools used to handle and work with gold leaf:
The orange book of gold leaf open and showing a leaf;
Gilder's cushion where a leaf has been transferred using a special gilder's knife (long blade);
Gilder's brush, or tip, used to transfer the gold leaf (in hand); and
Burnisher (behind hand) used to bring the gold leaf to a high shine once applied.