CoRock--If you can get your hands on some spray equipment, now is the time to start practicing with it on large scrap panels. You could come up to speed a bit more quickly if you have a friend who can help with adjusting the spray.
Face it. In order to get the fine furniture finish you desire on this large project, you're going to have to spray.
If you're spraying anyway, then this is how I would approach it if it were me.
4 light coats of shellac based sanding sealer.
Keep it light and easy, so you won't have to sand any runs.
Next, I would spray 8-10 light coats of MinWax Oil Modified Water Based Polyurethane, High Gloss.
Water Based, for speed. This specific water based product has the kind of clarity that you expect with the solvent based polys. High gloss, because the stuff that knocks down the sheen in the semi-gloss and satins can affect the clarity in multiple layers. The final topcoat determines the sheen, not the several coats in between.
Once you have built up 8-10 layers on this beast, sand to 220.
Then, spray 2 more coats of the poly and sand to 220.
Now, you're ready to tint.
I like Trans-Tint.
It dissolves really well in alcohol and can be added to shellac.
But, I don't recommend that approach for this project, because of the sanding issues I mentioned earlier, should any sanding be necessary.
Thankfully, Trans-Tint can also be added to the water based poly, but it may not dissolve completely and may need to be filtered with a paper cone paint filter (medium mesh). But, it sands easily if sanding is needed.
I like to mix the Trans-Tint a little pale, so that it takes me 3 light coats to reach the depth of color I am after.
Once you get the look you want, spray another 6 coats of clear, untinted poly, to protect the color coat.
Sand to 220, then spray 2 final topcoats.
This sounds like a lot of time, but it goes pretty fast.
It's just my opinion. Perhaps someone has a better approach.