touching up oak trim boards

My neighbor contacted me about touching up some oak baseboards. I looked at a cross-section and see that the current finish does not penetrate into the wood. It looks like the light (yellow/orange) color is in the finish itself.
a) Can somebody give me a clue about know how carpenters finished trim in houses about 40 years ago.
b) The color is very uniform. If it is just a dye in shellac or lacquer, can I just clean it and spray or brush on a new coat or do I need to roughed up it up with steel wool or 320 grit paper and then apply a new coat of colored shellac or lacquer?
Thanks, Len
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40 years ago is 1975, more or less.

Polyurethant varnish had been around for a long time by 1975. It's most likely poly, that has yellowed with time. Possibly some color was added to the poly.
John
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On Sun, 22 Mar 2015 00:53:13 +0000 (UTC), John McCoy

shellac or a urethane stain, but not nearly as common as varnish - urethane or not.
Most houses around here circa 1975 had cheap finger-joint pine with a thin coat of paint.
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On 3/21/2015 7:35 PM, snipped-for-privacy@snyder.on.ca wrote:

There are hundreds of houses in an addition here (called "Tobin Park") that have baseboards finished with shellac. "orangish" looking. They were built in that same time period.
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On 03/21/2015 12:45 PM, Len wrote:

Start w/ alcohol and test...if it dissolves readily, it's shellac.
If it doesn't, then varnish or lacquer (unlikely in tract housing). A polyurethane will tend to bead with acetone. After a few seconds, lacquer will dissolve entirely, varnish will soften and get tacky, the poly's less than others. May not be absolutely positive on a poly or not, but certainly definitive for shellac and lacquer. If it will peel a surface coat off in layer, definitely one of the old poly varnishes.
To get adhesion depends on knowing what it is; applying varnish over shellac won't work well or vice versa...
--


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Len, just my 0.02, so remember what you paid for it when you read this post .
When I refinish or match colors/stains/tints, I don't necessarily try to ma tch the existing type of finish. What....????????
It's almost irrelevant on a finish as old as the one you are talking about. First, the applied finish REGARDLESS of what it is has deteriorated a gre at deal. It may not look it to you, but trust me on that. Second, applying "the same" finish may not be the same at all. It may look like poly, but could actually be a high grade varnish. Third, regional preferences come i nto play.
Around here, no one used shellac for anything but sanding sealer... unless they were finishing knotty pine paneling. You can see that amber glow a mi le away, which comes with age.
No one used poly around here as poly of 40 years or so ago just didn't beha ve well under all circumstances. Enter a high quality varnish for our are. It was brushed, sprayed and rolled over raw wood, stained wood, tinted wo od, even over distressed wood. Tried, true, reliable in its results, it wa s the clear finish champ >> around here <<.
Around here (again, not speaking for everyone) the finishers used to spray a light coat of stain on wood, then brush finish. Spraying the stain gave a 100% even coloring on oak which is almost impossible when wiping or brush ing. The light coat of stain sat on the wood, then a couple of spray coats of varnish finished it up.
The less sophisticated finishers would brush on tinted varnish, then seal i t with a clear top coat of varnish. Then the beginning group would apply w ipe on stain to miles of trim wasting hours and hours workman time, 3X the coloring material, and the end product was rarely uniform.
If it were me in your shoes, I would test with the highest percent of alcoh ol I could get my hands on (drugstore stuff probably won't work) to see if the finish is shellac. If it is, sand it lightly with 220gr to break the s urface (remember not to go through your color layer!)then clean it with min eral spirits to remove dirt and gunk, allow it to dry for a day, then put p oly on it. Two coats.
If it is not shellac, find a corner of the room where the couch sits and sa nd lightly with 220gr, clean with mineral spirits, apply a test coat of pol y, wait as directed and apply a second coat. Wait a week and see if it pee ls or chips off easily. If not, you are set.
As far as matching color, back in those days we used to use this awful colo r called "Golden Oak". Everyone had it... it is probably what you are look ing at on your trims. Find that and try it out to see how close it is when dry. Remember, you can always thin it down to reduce the amount of color you are applying.
Good luck... let us know what you did and how it turns out.
Robert
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