Two years ago I added a second floor to our home. The contractor finished the stairs, but my handrails, posts, and balusters were left for me to finish. Now two years later, it's time for me to get this job completed! I plan to paint the balusters white, while finishing the handrails and posts to match the hardwood floors. I am going to stain the oak wood "nutmeg" in color, as is my floors. My question is, after staining, how do I go about finishing this wood in the easiest method possible? I have children, so I want this process to be the quickest it can be, while lending a durable finish. All I remember from way, way back in high school woodshop was varnish, sand out the bubbles, varnish again, sand out the bubbles, varnish again, sand, etc. etc!! What are the latest products I should use? I've read I should shellac first (after staining) to prevent raising of the grain, then finish with coats of urethane. Is this correct? Do I brush with a foam pad or a brush? I really don't know where to start. There are way too many products on the market...please help! I thank you all in advance.