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Curious what you guys are recommending for new guys and stones.

Paste has been used for centuries to strop, finish and maintain razors, yes substrate makes a lot of difference as does technique and number of laps. Metal polish is aggressive and of unknow grit size and type.

Yes, aggressive paste and technique will thin an edge and while it can shave well, will micro chip easily.

Most folks start with paste for keenness and comfort and end up with natural stones to finish. Arks are all about stone face surface prep, though you may need an edge finished to a higher level than 5k, usually a good 8k edge.

Cnats are a crap shoot.
I agree paste can be a good cheap option. However I wouldn't recomend something like mothers for a progression. If they were trying to straight razor shave for as cheap as possible then I'd suggest getting their razor honed by someone and then just maintaining with a good edge. I feel like most budgets would have some better paste for razors obtainable.

I think after reading everything I personally will be recommending the following.

1. Sticking with any name brand stone you have if it is decent. With paste as an option to increase final finish if that brand can't handle it.

2. Shapton rockstar combo of 2 or 3 stones. Possibly choseras if they have a higher budget.

3. If on a budget but really wanting to get into it, a 5k and 10k combo. Possibly with paste after.

If the person doesn't have atleast 100 bucks or so to invest though I'm probably suggesting the paste to maintain an edge. Then saving up and getting recomendation 2 when possible. I know naturals can fill in some of these gaps, but probably not recommending those until they try out some edges from those stones.
For newcomers I think the Shapton Kuromaku 5K and the Naniwa 10k Gouken (super stone basically) would be a great way to get your feet wet.
Google (12k Chip Removal and Bevel Setting).

80 circles and 206 half laps, removed a small chip, from start to shave with a Naniwa 12k. Recommended, nope. But can be done, 3-6k yea, pretty much, cake.

Modern good synthetics are way more aggressive than we give them credit for. I suspect a good Jnat, Coticule or Washita could pretty much do something similar.
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