If you end up sanding, try using a liquid stripper for the initial paint removal. In California I use Jasco stripper purchased at home depot. Apply it liberaly and let it sit till it realy bubbles up. It is about the best and is economical for the purpose of stripping and time involved. If you sand, use a good random orbital sander like porter cable has. Some yards rent air driven random orbital sanders, these seem to be the best.
Good luck, Bill