Hi, Lee. Please ignore the ongoing battle and let's get to your problem.
My guess is that you have orange shellac on your stairs and not varnish. You can test this by putting a little alcohol on a rag and seeing if the finish is removed by rubbing. If the alcohol attacks the finish, it is shellac and if it doesn't, it's something else. In any case, a stripper should be able to remove it. I prefer Citristrip because it is non-toxic and boidegradeable but it does work slower than Bix.
To use Citristrip, glob some on with a cheap, natural bristle, wood handled bruush and don't brush back over it any more than necessary. Let it set until the finish gets very wrinkly. The time for this can vary greatly from an hour or so to 24 hours but my guess is toward the shorter time. Remove the stripper/finish goop with a putty knife on the flat surfaces and a stripping pad on things like the spindles. You can use about any other tool that will work for this also, just be sure that you don't scratch the wood. Don't try to do too much at any one time. Be sure to follow all the safety instructions on the label. Gloves and eye protection are important. Also, be sure to keep kids and pets away. Citristrip is non-toxic but it can give a chemical burn. Having good ventilation is important too.
Never use sandpaper in refinishing except right before you apply a new finish. Strippers will not remove stain and sanding just makes it hard to blend any restaining. It also removes wood and you want to do everything that you can to keep the crisp details in the wood shapes. If it is shellac, wash the wood down with denatured alcohol and restrip any areas that shine. Keep away from sources of ignition like stove, furnace or waterheater. Electric fans are also sources of ignition.
Good luck and post back if you have any questions. Henry in MI