After more than a month of reading reviews and watching videos on just about every sharpening system under the Sun, I ended up ordering a Work Sharp Guided Sharpening System with the Upgrade Kit. It may not be where I eventually end up, but it's where I'm going to start. I've somehow gotten it into my thick head that I want to learn freehand sharpening, and this system makes sense to me at the moment.
Throughout this process I've been a bit surprised to learn that EVERY method will sharpen a knife. Even a common brick can produce a serviceable edge, given enough time and technique. So the question was really more about what aspect of sharpening mattered to me most...speed, precision, frequency, edge type, cost...and what would yield the greatest satisfaction. Weighing all the possibilities has been tremendously fun.
These were the systems I considered, my thoughts on each, and my rationale behind choosing the WSGSS:
Lansky 3-stone Sharpening System (already own)
The limited choice of angles means I'd have to reprofile every one of my Shun kitchen knives (VG-Max and VG-10), which is pretty tedious with the basic stones. It took me an hour to do my 4" paring knife. I considered buying diamond stones for it, but decided the money would be better spent on a different system.
This was a STRONG contendor for me, and I almost went with it along with the diamond and EF stones. It will be the next one I buy, probably to use for adding micro bevels and/or touching up the knives I sharpen on the WSGSS. Maybe it'll be my main system if I'm no good at freehand?
KME, EdgePro, tsProf, Hapstone, etc.
These systems are amazing. If the accuracy monster grabs my toe and pulls me into the sharpening waters I'm testing, I'm sure I'll end up with one. For now, though, it's just too big a commitment until I know what I want.
I spent more time researching these than all the other systems combined. I finally narrowed my list to DMT Dia- and Duo-sharp, Atoma diamond, and Naniwa Chosera/Professional stones, but my biggest problem was I just didn't know how many stones I would really need. Two grits plus a strop? A diamond plate for reprofiling, and a few Japanese stones for honing? Do I buy some Arkansas stones, as well? Which grits would give me an optimal progression? Oil, water, or splash-and-go? It's too overwhelming right now, so I'm stepping back until I get some experience on less expensive equipment.
Tormek T4, Work Sharp Ken Onion, etc.
Until I know what I'm doing, the cost of the T4 is just crazy. The Ken Onion is affordable, but I'm too worried I'll burn or damage my blades. Plus, I don't think a powered system would give me the satisfaction I'm looking for right now. (That T4 is nice, though.)
Work Sharp Guided Sharpening System with Upgrade Kit
As mentioned, this is what I've settled on to start. It gives me literally everything I could possibly need...four diamond grits, ceramic hone, serrations sharpeners, leather strop, and angle guides...to learn to put a nice edge on any knife, and all for just under $90. I do wish it came in an 8"x3" format, but that's my only real complaint and it's not a very compelling one.
So that's it. If I catch the sharpening bug I can give the WSGSS to my brother and spend more $$ on something cooler. If not, I'll still have an inexpensive system that will sharpen just about anything. Seems like a safe approach to me.
I'll be in Denver in October and hope to pick up a Sharpmaker from the SFO, if time permits. Maybe they'll have new Spyderco systems to choose from by then? I've read rumors in other threads, so we'll see.
Thanks to everyone for your excellent feedback. All the advice was great, even if I didn't follow it.
Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes by itself.
Dragonfly 2, Para Military 2, Native 5 Lightweight, Chaparral Lightweight, Para 3