Hi, Cindy. For what it's worth, my favorite stripper for safety and convenience is Citristrip. The methyl chloride based strippers are more dangerous to use than I like to mess with. And I would not use the oven cleaner. I know that it will take paint off, but I think that there are better ways.
The secret with Citristrip is to let it have time to work. Paint on a thick coat and go away for an hour. Paint on a light coat, just to refresh it, then begin stripping. If you try to start stripping too soon, you will do a lot more work and it will still not be as good a job. You can do a large area at one time this way too. and vary the time that you give it to work depending on how long it actually takes to get thru your paint layers. You can leave Citristrip for 24 hours or more with no problem.
Be sure that you wear safety goggles, gloves and a hat when using it and be sure to follow all manufacturers safety instructions and directions when working with any chemical product.
After you have the paint and varnish off, I like to finish the process with a rinse of Citristrip's Paint Remover Wash or mineral spirits. This helps make sure you actually get all the paint out of all the nooks and cranneys. And, no, I don't work for Citristrip. I just really like their products.
A hand rubbed shellac finish is the same as a French polish. This is very difficult to do, particularly up on scaffolding. It takes a lot of practice and experience as well as some specialized equipment. With todays finishes available, I would not even consider it. Two coats of polyurethane will give you all the shine and a lot more protection to the wood.