I've been perusing this site for over a month, and I can't tell how many "Best J-Knife?" posts I've read, and yet there's not a single, curt "use the search" retort among any of them. Bravo to you all for your patience and willingness to share your experiences and advice over and over and over again to those of us starting out.
So, I guess I'll jump in with some background:
Wife and I both work and have recently started cooking more seriously at home, in our limited time. We are very much amateurs, but are enjoying the ups and downs of our new adventures. Our college knife set was from Big Lots, Magic chef or something *shudder* and later spent some money on a fancy knife, a Carl Schmidt Sohn 1829 santoku. Ok, so it was like $15. Fancy is really subjective, I'm learning... We use bamboo cutting boards, which we will likely upgrade to a nicer end grain wood in the not so distant future. I use a pinch grip and generally tend towards a push cut.
From what I've gleaned of the rather exhaustive canon of recommendations here, I was leaning towards the Tojiro DP or Artifex 240mm. A few days ago, I happened upon the specials section of CKTG and saw a demo Artifex 240 for a hair over $70, so I jumped and bought it. We also picked up a Tojiro DP 150 petty, some victorinox paring knives and a bread knife. I was looking for a yo handle, stainless knife with a metal that would hold an edge well. Aesthetics are less important to me as I prefer the focus be on the food and less on the tools... Overall, my main goal is a knife that holds an edge well and efficiently performs the majority of my kitchen tasks. Or at least will grow with me as my skills improve and make it a little easier to learn ;) I don't want my tools as an impediment to what we're really interested in, which is cooking.
The Artifex came, I used it for a couple of meals recently and feel like it's not such a huge improvement over our 1829. While there are probably a myriad of reasons, I'm hoping and banking on the fact that it was a demo knife and could probably stand a decent sharpening. I understand it's an entry level knife, so maybe I need to alter my expectations some...??
If I've learned nothing from this site, it's that sharpening is the key to a sharp knife. Crazy, right?! So I'm committed to learning freehand water stones. The closest experience for me sharping anything is using a file to clean up lawn mower blades... however, I fancy myself adept at learning new things and with some patience and the fountain of advice here, I think I'll figure it out.
First- Am I on the right track or am I missing something so far?
Second- Stones. Initially, I'm leaning towards the 3 stone kit from CKTG as I think the stones match the Artifex/Tojiro and will let me start learning and improving my skills without leaving me wanting for something more/different. $130ish is a bit more than I wanted to spend, but it's not off the table either. Are there combinations that would better match a beginner with these knives? What other options would you recommend?
Third- I've read that some people recommend learning on cheap knives like Old Hickory, Kiwi et al so that most of the mistakes will be done on the dirty knife. If I learn on a cheap knife, how much of a curve will it take to learn on a better steel, like the AEB-L or VG10? Is it more wise to just take the hit on the better knives or is the difference not that great a transition from poor to good steel?
Fourth, and last for now- Could someone present an argument for/against stropping vs steeling (thinking an idahone fine)? Are they both trying to accomplish the same thing or do they have different purposes?
My apologies for a terribly long post, I guess I just wanted to cover as much as I could think of from the beginning. I'll work on being a bit more concise in the future ;)