How often should I hone?
Hone as often as your blades go enough out of true that they seem to require it. Everything else being equal the MAC will require more honing than the Shun partly because it's not as strong and partly because the Shun's laminate construction results in some "constrained layer mode damping." However, everything else is never equal.
"Going out of true" is the same thing as developing an "impact burr" deformation. The more force used to straighten a burr, and the more often it's straightened, the more the metal is fatigued. The more the metal is fatigued, the easier it will deform from impact. And so on.
How often should I use the grooved side vs the smooth?
The generic answer would be to use the smooth side until it no longer gives you the results you want. Then switch to the grooved, until that no longer does the trick. Then, sharpen the knife.
A more nuanced and more accurate answer would be to use the smooth side until the knife loses its polish; the proceed as above.
Should I use the Mac black for both the Shun and the Mac?
Because you should always hone with very light pressure I hesitate to say you should use especially light pressure with the Shun. But the Shun is a lot more likely to chip than the MAC, so be extra careful. Also, never bang your knife against the hone. Watch Gordon Ramsay and whatever he does, don't do it. Read my tutorial on honing, Steeling Away.
Is the edge pro apex a satisfactory system?
Yes. It's a great system for people who can't or don't want to sharpen or learn to sharpen freehand. It's not cheap though. The EP "Essential Kit" from CKtG, or the EP 3 (wherever toys are sold) are really de minimis; the Essential Kit is $210, and the Kit 3 runs $225 ish.
Any other systems you would recommend?
Wicked Edge is as good, but slightly more expensive.
If you can put up with some loss of absolute sharpness in exchange for a great deal of convenience and no appreciable learning curve, Chef's Choice electric (probably the Model 316 in your case), and the MinoSharp Plus3 are both good and both around $80.
Any suggestions on how to get started with freehand?
- Learn about the "burr method" of sharpening with Chad Ward's FAQ on egullet. His book, An Edge in the Kitchen is even better; for another free, good, "burr method" source;
- Read Steve Bottorf's online article (ignore the equipment recommendations, ignore the recommendation to use a clamp on angle guide) especially Chapter 3;
- Watch the sharpening videos on JKI and CKtG to learn about angle holding (including stabilizing the blade), speed, pressure and to see some of the different styles of "strokes" which you can use;
- Use the Magic Marker Trick; and
- Ask lots of questions.
Bear in mind that there are lots of good ways to sharpen and not only no single best way; but probably no single best way for any one person. I like teaching the burr method (pull a wire, chase the wire, deburr) because it's not only a very powerful method for creating a fine, fresh-metal edge of whatever angle, without a wire; but also the easiest way to conceptualize what's going on during the sharpening process.
Edited by boar_d_laze - 11/19/12 at 10:18am