(1) I've always used a Victorinox honing steel. This steel is ribbed vertically along the steel. When I bought my Mac -- this is what they recommended. Should I be getting a finer steel or just forget about using a hone alltogether. (I read somewhere that honing is bad for your knives).
Many say it is better to use a higher grit stone in a stropping motion etc, most all agree to keep that steel rod away from your Japanese knives, some others think a smooth steel rod (no ridges or ribs etc) is fine, and also many find a fine ceramic rod to be a great way to true a J knife.
Personally I would not think of putting the fine 9-15 degree edge of one of my J knives to a grooved steel, and for a couple reasons. Normally the edges do not get abused to the point of needing a heavy amount of truing, and when they do get that bad I would feel safer with either the ceramic or stropping on a piece of leather or even some inexpensive fine wet sand paper on a hard flat block.
(2) I decided to start my sharpening career by practicing on some old $20 walmart special knives I had laying about. However, I did not see any dark metal bits (swarf i think?) on the stone. Rather, it seemed like the knife was cutting layers off of the stone -- indeed the knife was building up a thick brown paste along the edge with not discoloration or metal bits. I tried it with some other knives and they seemed to work (ie I could see metal shavings). So I guess my question is -- Do i have to use stones with different harnesses for different knives and if so how do I know which ones to use.
I know there are many variances in the different sharpening stones, but from my understanding there is not any sort of measure of hardness between them though some are absolutely softer than others.
It sounds like the issue your finding is not as much about the stone (just think some strop on newspaper) as it is with technique. Most likely from what your saying you just need to reduce the angle of the knife so that your grinding the edge and not driving it into and/or cutting into the stone.
You may want to search and try the "magic marker trick" where you mark the edge of the knife with a marker and then take a few short strokes on the stone and look at just where the marker was removed from the knife edge and then make adjustment so that in one angle you remove the mark from the entire part of the edge sharpened. Works real good to show if your angle is too high or low for the knife.
(3) As previously stated, I've watched several tutorials and have seen sharpening done several different ways. I believe the CkTG tutorials suggests sharpening the knife in sections in a continuous motion. Conversly, I've seen some tutorials that suggest going in a single smooth motion from tip to handle. On these I've seen some suggesting pushing the knive and others suggesting pulling the blade. Which one should I start with? The CkTG seems a easier but also seems like there may cause some inconsistency in the blade. Wheras the other way seems to have a larger learning curve.
In my experience at least it seems you got this part correct. I find that when sectioning it is easier to maintain a level sharpening angle when grinding the blade across the stone (maintaining the angle is one of the most important parts of sharpening!) and allows me to achieve more consistent results as well. On the other hand like you say above it can create an uneven look to the edge and when you get to the rounded area like is seen leading to the tip of many knives it is much more difficult than the flat sections.
Still the length wise type style is much more difficult to master, can produce even more uneven sections across the entire edge until you improve with the technique, but also can produce a nice even edge when mastered.
My thoughts are master sectioning (or at least get to be able to create a uniform sharp edge every time) and then move on to learning tip to handle etc. Not everyone may agree but I the idea here is not to make things harder than the need to be in the beginning.
Working with or chasing the burr and even deburing etc seem to become more complicated when trying to put the actions and info to words. I find it one of those things where the more you think about it the more trouble it seems to give me (thats just me though lol).
On softer steels with higher angles like what I would expect your Walmart specials to be you should be finding a fairly large and obvious burr when sharpening on your king 1000 (maybe not the best stone for the knife, but when learning the best knife for the stone etc) that you cant miss etc. As you reduce the amount of strokes on the stone and go from one side to the other on the knife you should find that burr becomes smaller and smaller (your basically grinding it away a little at a time, but most times can not fully remove it that way) and once you get your min amount of passes on the stone your ready to remove a smaller burr.
How you remove depends on your preference, the steel of the blade, and just what works best etc. Some strop on the same stone, some use the cork or something similar, and I have even used a piece of softer wood when I run into stubborn burrs or really wires (a really small thin burr) and very likely will try something else if one ever gives too much trouble in the future.
Far as progression is concerned first you need to get consistent good results on the 1000 and then look into adding something from 2000 to 6000 (most recommend moving up in multiples, 2x, 4x or 6x the previous stone) and from what I am finding the actual stone has as much to do with the choice as the rated grit does. Also depends on your desired result or use of the knife.
I know I most likely left something out, and am sure others will have somewhat differing opinions, but mostly I think the main thing to concentrate on initially is learning how to figure out the correct angle of your edge, and then how to hold the knife to the stone at that angle consistently, and after that much of the rest just seems a lot easier and less overwhelming.
Hope that helps etc :)