By thegoodone1984 from Anchorage, AK
I think you'll have better luck sanding down to bare wood so you know you've gotten all of it off.
If you're only stripping off the varnish, make sure you get it all! Otherwise the stain won't soak into the wood as well. I have always gotten the best results when stripping everything off, even though it takes more work.
You only need to sand off the polyurethane finish. Then you can apply your stain. I would recommend a gel stain if you are going from a light color to a dark color. If you use a regular penetrating or wiping stain you may have to apply several coats to get your desired dark color. Hope that helps!
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