I also recently stopped using honing guides, and now sharpen plane blades and chisels free hand. Paul’s videos are great for learning how to do that as are Wood by Wright’s. The principal advantage is that you can be done sharpening a tool in less time than it took me to set up the tool in the honing guide. Also, diamond stones followed by stropping on leather with buffing compound is a lot faster than going through a series of water stones. I found the key to adjusting to free hand is to make sure you look at the scratch pattern you’re forming after just a few strokes to see if you have the right angle, and adjust as necessary. I always try to start out a little to flat and increase the angle as dictated by what I see. By looking at the scratch pattern you can also see if your rubbing in a manner that is not parallel to the edge and avoid skewing the blade. Then you just go long enough to raise a burr, then onto the next fine diamond stone. I also remove the burr before going to the next finer stone so I can tell if I’m creating a new butt. I also use buffing compound applied to a flat piece of maple for polishing the back of the blade, switching back and forth a couple times between the wooden and leather strops. This assumes you’ve taken the time to carefully flatten the back of the blade, after which you don’t want to work it on the stones except for a light swipe on a fine stone to remove the burr. I think it now takes me well under five minutes to sharpen a chisel or plane blade. FWIW, I still prefer water stones for sharpening knives however.
I have watched Paul’s video’s on sharping if I remember correctly his diamond plates are 300,600,1200 followed by green honing compound so a polished edge of 60k grit. Now for some reason stopping at 1200 doesn’t seem like that would make a very keen edge to do fine work even with polishing with compound. Yet when you watch his work it says very much other wise.
From the way you are talking it sounds like you and I sharpen in a very similar manner. I too remove the burr before going to the next stone. I am not exactly new to keeping and having a flat back as 3 of my kitchen knifes are single beveled Japanese knives, they are useless if the back is not flattened. Same goes with my chisels I flatten the whole back not just a inch or so as I use Japanese chisels as they are hollow ground so much less material to remove any ways to keep a totally flat back. Also helps god forbid you get a chip much easier to put a new edge on and have it parallel and not have a step so can use the whole blade to register and pare with.
I have three strops two smooth one rough that are stretched out and glued and tied to a piece of white oak that I had planed totally flat. one smooth bare and the other two treated with green rouge till they become to caked and loaded then toss. I only use the leather strops for chisels my knives I strop right on the stones while sharpening