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Never sand the finish off wood. The finish penetrates into the wood and sanding tends to just get what is on the surface. Then when you stain there are places that don't stain because the wood is still sealed. Always start a refinishing project on wood with paint and varnish remover.

The finish that is on it is likely lacquer. Since you are changing the knobs anyway remove one and wipe it with a rag soaked in lacquer thinner. If the finish disolves then it is either shellac or lacquer which is compatible with lacquer. If it is lacquer you could scuff sand the existing finish and lightly spray it with an alcohol based dye stain to darken it. http://www.mohawk-finishing.com/catalog_browse.asp?ictNbr=178 Then just spray a coat or two of lacquer over the top. If the finish wrinkles up like you put paint stripper the finish is likely a varnish You could do the same thing with polyurethane but the finish would have to be sprayed on. You would end up rubbing the stain off brushing it.

If you have compressed air and no sprayer a cheap harbor freight sprayer will spray wood finishes just fine.
 
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