Can I sand off one layer of varnish on a floor with a hand sander?

Alan Chenkin, Lifelong Carpenter/Cabinetmaker, owned an AWI certified shop for 10 years.

With fine sandpaper you can even-out the finish, without going all the way down to the bare wood.  You can also apply a layer of finish over the sanded area I would test an inconspicuous place (inside a closet, as an example) with 120 or 150 grit sandpaper, using an orbital sander. Use a 1/2 sheet sander like this

Belt sanders are very aggressive, and these orbital sanders are more forgiving.  This is especially true when sanding wood with a very noticeable grain.  If the existing finish is not worn out, you can use fine grit #220 sandpaper to scuff it so it will take a new finish well.  If you have to take more of the finish off, start with the coarser #100 or  #120 grit sandpaper to remove any heavy scratches.
I once sanded an entire 8×10 room with two of these, a lot of fresh sandpaper, some serious dust masks, and lots of patience. Not always the best way, but it worked – even though my hands vibrated on their own for almost 2 days afterwards!
If the test worked out, consider renting a large pad sander. Please wear dust protection, exhaust the dust with a window fan, and keep a shop vac handy to pick up the dust. Be careful when you clean the gaps, as floors do move – and will compress and expand any filler you apply.
Best of luck with your project! – Alan

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