Spread out newspapers around the nightstand.
Use a sander with rough sandpaper to take off the existing finish to bare wood. Sand the surface a second time with fine-grit sandpaper to get it smooth and clean.
Brush wood stain into the surface of the nightstand, going from the top to the bottom. Brush it on heavily, and let it sit on the surface for one minute. Use a rag to wipe off the excess wood stain. Assess the look of the piece, and repeat the staining process if you want it darker.
Let the stain dry for eight hours.
Brush on varnish with a paintbrush, applying it in a thin, even coat, starting at the top of the piece and working your way down. Let it set for eight hours.
Lightly sand the dry varnish by hand with fine-grit sandpaper, dulling the shine. Wipe off the dust.
Brush on a second layer of varnish in the same manner as the first. Let it dry. Lightly sand it. Brush on a third coat. Let it dry for 24 hours.