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Light oak, dark oak and liming?

I've got a pair of solid oak chests of drawers that I like to revamp somehow. I'm thinking about lime wash, but never tried it before. Or alternatively just sanding and revarnishing, if that can turn medium dark oak into light?
What makes oak furniture light or dark? Is it just the varnish or is it stained? If it's stained, would that make liming turn out messy?
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