I have a circa-1750 Colonial in which all of the first level floorboards have been painted. They are quite uneven and we aren't sure if sanding would do more harm than good. How do we remove the paint to restore the original boards to their natural state?
—Ted, Winsted, Connecticut
Stripping the floor while keeping the patina is not going to be an easy task. Sanding will, indeed, even the boards out but it will also destroy any character they have. But chances are that if the house is that old, the floors have been painted and repainted over the course of the years and some sanding will be required. Even if you do get all the paint off, you're going to still have paint in the grain, and getting down to bare wood is going to be almost impossible.
If you're intent on stripping them, get a chemical stripper and do a test piece in a closet or someplace out of view to decide whether it's worth the trouble. The other approach is to bite the bullet and call in a floor sander and have him sand the whole thing down to bare wood and refinish it. It was not uncommon to have those old floors painted, and you might want to just choose a nice, more pleasant color and repaint them again and keep the old patina. Trying to get the paint off will, one way or another, ruin that aged look of old floors.
Find more information about wood floors here: All About Hardwood Floors