Justin.... all of my blades are final finished BEFORE guards and/or handles are installed. On those Ge2 EBKs, I did a "stone washed" finish. They were hand sanded to 1200, lightly etched in ferric, then into the tumbler for a full day. Generally I take most straight steel blades to 600-800, then put an etched finshed on them.
In my opinion, taping up blades is a big "no-no". I believe this is the main cause of a lot of knives having "off center" blades, especially with hidden tang designs. When finishing handles, you should be looking, twice as much as you grind. That means while grinding handles, look at the knife down the spine, both top and bottom, and from both the front and back.....if something looks uneven, you have a chance to fix/save it. With the blade taped up, you've effectively handicapped yourself, because everything on a knife is balanced off the centerline of the blade.....and if its taped up, you can't see it. Of course you do run the risk of "ticking" the blade, but after you do that a time or two, you become very wary of it, and once you train yourself to be aware.....it doesn't happen anymore.