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Seeking advice on *making* a knife block

tanuki soup Jan 21, 2011 04:03 PM

I'm currently using three different Henckels knife blocks on my counter top to hold my knives, but my small kitchen is pretty cramped and so I've been thinking to make a knife block to hold only the knives I use most. The current knife blocks could then be moved to another room, where they would serve as storage for knives I don't use often (never?) or have replaced with nicer ones.

I'd really appreciate hearing the opinions of the folks here at CH as to how to make the *perfect* knife block. (This project will probably take a while, and I'd hate to finish it and then kick myself because I overlooked something.)

1) Vertical or horizontal slots?
I'm leaning toward horizontal. All my current knife blocks have vertical slots, and I've noticed that since I learned to sharpen knives better, the blades tend to cut into the slots and kind of "stick" when you try to pull them out. Are there any disadvantages to horizontal slots?

2) How many slots, how big?
I suppose I could really get by with just two knives (santoku and paring), but I like to use a variety of knives for different tasks. The knives I reach for regularly are, in order of frequency of use:

17-cm santoku
6.5" nakiri
22-cm bread knife
21-cm gyuto
6" spatula (for spreading)
kitchen scissors
12-cm petty knife
12-cm ceramic knife

(All of the above are stainless steel, it it matters.)

I also use plastic-handled Victorinox/Forschner paring and serrated tomato knives and an 18-cm cleaver, but the former get tossed in a tray so I don't have to dry them after every use and the latter has a hole in the blade for hanging.

So I'm thinking 4 big horizontal slots down right side of the front of the block, 3 smaller horizontal slots between them offset toward the left side, and a squarish hole for the scissors underneath.

Should I make a big slot for the cleaver?
Should there be extra slots for new acquisitions, or would that just return to the clutter that I'm trying to minimize?
Should I add slots for my steak knives, or should they just live in a drawer?
Should I allow sufficient depth for a 24-cm (or longer) gyuto, assuming that my knife skills improve in the future and I will move to longer blades?
Should I add slots for other kitchen utensils (a ceramic steel, vegetable peeler)?

Thanks for reading this far. Any ideas and suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  1. I used to know how to cook... Jan 21, 2011 05:02 PM

    Hi Tanuki Soup,

    I notice you have a tomato knife. So do I. Mine is Victorinox. A favorite of mine. The small serrations are very helpful.

    Anyway, if you put your knives into the block cutting side of the blade up your block will do better.

    JMHO

    Lucy

    1. kaleokahu Jan 21, 2011 05:04 PM

      tanuki: Plenty of questions!

      Vertical slots: With 4 deep "big" slots, stacking them directly atop each other can make for a taller, narrower--yet deeper--block. Also, what do your existing blocks do when you insert the knives edge-UP? If gravity and balance points don't cam them against the top of the slot, you're golden. One advantage of vertical is better drying if you put 'em away damp, but you're using all SS anyway, so not a major issue.

      Horizontal slots: Knives won't be edge down, obviously not possible to rest on the edge. With horiz. slots (especially if overlapped), if you spill or spatter on the block, the mess WILL go in 1 or more slots. With vertical, you improve your chances of missing completely.

      #: Have enough slots for all the knives you use regularly. I do like having holes for shears, a steel and a crockstick. Roll or put plastic blade protectors on everything else and drawer them until you need them. I use a heavy cleaver frequently, so I like it within reach (Also fun for brandishing a la "Gangs of New York")

      Steak knives: I do this two ways. One of my blocks has a smaller "lobe" slung underneath (with 6 vertical slots) that works well. The other way I go sometimes is that I have a separate small bamboo block that will hold 8 steaks totally vertical--I like this for guests because I can just bring this little one to table.

      24cm? Yeah, I think that's a good idea. Better yet, make it work for one 26 or 28.

      Diagonality: Remember that most countertop block designs are set up so the blades sit in a diagonal position--if you want to be able to block a 24cm blade, be sure that slot is located near the TOP of your block. Think your slot layout through carefully, so that all the longish blades fit all the way in without gouging your countertop.

      Here's another suggestion: Why not make/get yourself a THROUGH-counter board, i.e., one where you just poke the blades--straight down--through one or more longer slots? A lot of people who put in flush, countertop cutting boards like the versatility these have and the clean look it gives. (It'll also guarantee you won't later curse yourself for making too-short/shallow slots in a conventional block). You just need to plan carefully so exposed sharp edges aren't going to be cutting people.

      Finally, I also have a Henckels drawer block at my city house. http://www.amazon.com/Henckels-13-Slo... It has slots for 6 full-size knives, and 6 steaks in between--a very efficient use of a little space (if your drawer is tall enough).

      Good luck and have fun making your block.

      1. Chemicalkinetics Jan 21, 2011 05:06 PM

        Horizontal slots are probably a bit better, but I don't think it is that important. My knives go straight down, so I guess technically, they are as much as horizontal as vertical.

        I would just keep the number of slots to a manageable number -- only for knives you actually use. I like to keep my knife block nice and tight; fast and efficient. I don't view my knife block as simply as a long term knife storage space. I use it as a "first to go" station.

        I have two big slots for my Chinese vegetable cleavers, but I keep my meat cleaver in a more hidden location -- because I don't use it very often at all. I only use my meat cleaver one time in the last six months.

        I think slots for steak knives are useless. I don't use my steak knives in a kitchen. I use them while eating/dining. They are no different than my spoons and forks in that sense, so why not keep them with the rest of other flatware. Really? If you are going to have steak, why go grab your forks in a draw and then turn around and grab the steak knives from the block?

        Keep the slots longer if possible, but not a must.

        Keep the slot for ceramic steel if and only if you actually use it often. Otherwise, I say no.

        1. r
          redbeanbun Jan 21, 2011 05:11 PM

          hi. i also have a small kitchen with limited counter space. i ended up sacrificing a drawer and picking up an in-drawer knife block which worked well for the long knives. i like the wide slots because i have a silly paranoia that with the narrow slots, if a drop of moisture got in, there'd be some evil mold growing where you can't clean. something like this:
          http://www.amazon.com/Wusthof--Drawer-7-Slot-Knife-Storage/dp/B000066SYQ/ref=sr_1_3?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1295661576&sr=1-3
          my cleaver and steak knives got plastic sleeves and go in the leftover space in the knife drawer since there was going to be no good solution for the cleaver:
          http://www.amazon.com/Messermeister-4-Piece-Edge-Guard-Set-Black/dp/B002KKC312/ref=sr_1_5?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1295661637&sr=1-5

          would you consider an under-cabinet swivel solution? if you were building your own, you can make it bigger and just use the under-cabinet swivel idea to keep it fairly out of the way. this was my second choice route tho it didn't accommodate the long knives:
          http://www.amazon.com/Wusthof-8001-Un...

          1 Reply
          1. re: redbeanbun
            tanuki soup Jan 21, 2011 05:58 PM

            Thanks for the ideas, redbeanbun.

            Sadly, my drawer space is even more limited than my counter space - only four drawers :(

            Your under-cabinet swivel suggestion is something that I would never have thought of! That exact design might not work for me, but the concept of moving away from a typical knife block opens up a whole lot of new possibilities to consider. Maybe something flat like that could be mounted to the end of my counter or even under a shelf, on the wall, behind a cabinet door, or on the side of a kitchen cart.

            Thanks for the excellent "lateral thinking" suggestions!

          2. tanuki soup Jan 21, 2011 05:35 PM

            Thanks for the great suggestions, guys.

            IUTKHTC:
            Agree! That little $5 Victorinox tomato knife is really handy, as are the little paring knives. I'd thought about flipping the knives upside down, but it just seemed that it would be too awkward reaching for them (although I suppose practice might make it seem more natural).

            kaleokahu:
            Thanks for the detailed responses. I agree with the idea of having only the slots I need, and the idea of a separate stand on the table for steak knives is brilliant! Yeah, 26 cm sounds good for the depth. I'm also thinking to keep the back end of the slots open so the knives can stick out the back a bit if necessary.

            The through-counter board with a single long slot is kind of an appealing idea, but my counters are stainless steel in an integrated counter/sink unit, so that's no go. OTOH, if I go with horizontal slots in my knife block, maybe I could just make long full-width slots at every level. That way, each slot could be used for one big knife like a cleaver or several smaller knives side by side. What do you think? The only thing I worry about is maybe hitting the blades against each other if I don't handle the knives carefully enough. Oh yeah, in addition, knives with angled bolsters (like Misono UX-10) wouldn't sit straight.

            CK:
            I always appreciate your thoughtful advice, CK. Based on the responses I've received so far, I'm tending toward horizontal - and I'm intrigued by the idea of full-width slots. (I figure it would be more flexible and also easier to make.) Maybe not all of them, though. Yeah, you're right, the cleaver can stay hanging from a wall hook and the steak knives will live in a separate block or stand in the dining room. The ceramic rod has a ring and can hang next to the cleaver.

            Thanks again for the ideas, guys.

            2 Replies
            1. re: tanuki soup
              Chemicalkinetics Jan 21, 2011 05:42 PM

              I am sure you will make a beautiful block and of course you will post those professional-like photos. :) I don't want to straight out discourage you from making a hole for your ceramic rod. I think it really depends how often you will use the ceramic rod. If you think you will use it every day or every other day, then sure. If you think you will use it once a week, then maybe. If you think you will only use it once a month, then I think it is unnecessary.

              1. re: tanuki soup
                I used to know how to cook... Jan 21, 2011 05:52 PM

                I started putting my knives in the block cutting edge up when I realized the blades were cutting into the bottom of the slots. Yeah, it took a few days to get used to it but then it was easier to get the knife out. No more hanging up in the slit cut by the blade.

                Lucy

              2. cookingasshole Jan 21, 2011 06:18 PM

                Just buy a magnetic strip and put it on the wall.

                2 Replies
                1. re: cookingasshole
                  tanuki soup Jan 21, 2011 06:47 PM

                  Thanks for the suggestion, CAH. I've considered that, but there are lots of earthquakes in Japan (where I live) and I'm afraid they might fall. A knife block seems more secure.

                  1. re: tanuki soup
                    kaleokahu Jan 22, 2011 11:05 AM

                    tanuki: "...I'm afraid they might fall."

                    It depends on the strip. I have a strong one at my beach house that I would be totally comfortable putting UPSIDE-down even in a 9.0. It is strong enough that it is an effort to pull off the wider blades. This actually (upside down or vertical) might be a good solution for you if you are really tight on space.

                    Re: counter slot... Do you have room/convenience to put a very narrow wooden strip on the END of one of your SS counters? Heck, you don't even have to have wood, either; you could just screw on a matching strip of stainless with 2-3 standoff shims or washers to make the "slot".

                2. m
                  mikie Jan 22, 2011 11:40 AM

                  I've seen some where there is a rare earth magnet in the wooden block and the knives are attached to the outside of the block. This will hold 4-6 knives per side, take up very little room and make the knives readily accessable. When the earth shakes, they won't fall far if they come loose, not like a wall magnet. If you have more than 10 knives you use regularly then this may not work so well. I would use two magnets per knive to keep the knife in position. The knives lay out in a arc pattern on each side, larger knives at top and shorter near the bottom.

                  I don't know how CBAD draws his diagrams, more talent than I have. But it's taller then deep but an arched shape, quarter round sort of at the top. That would be quicker and easier than gluing up pieces for slots.

                  1. Jerry_K Jan 22, 2011 03:07 PM

                    Hi Tanuki Soup,
                    you may want to check out this block. It has no slots at all but tightly packed small diameter polypropelene rods. It is extremely flexible as to what knives you can put in. Here is the link:
                    http://www.leevalley.com/en/garden/pa...
                    I am not sure if you can buy just the rods, though.
                    I hope it will help.
                    Jerry

                     
                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Jerry_K
                      kaleokahu Jan 22, 2011 08:28 PM

                      Jerry_K: Someone's good idea! Do they make a bigger one?

                      1. re: Jerry_K
                        tanuki soup Jan 22, 2011 08:53 PM

                        Thanks, Jerry_K. I'd checked those out before (or at least something similar made by a company called Kapoosh). The Amazon reviews seem to indicate that they work great initially, but after a few months, the rods tend to bend, twist, tangle up, and then break. It is a really clever idea, though.

                        1. re: tanuki soup
                          Chemicalkinetics Jan 22, 2011 09:18 PM

                          I wanted to say something. Now that you are considering about it, I think I should say a few things. I do want to say Kapoosh is a great idea and work well for many people, but I don't think it will work for you. First, most Kapooshs are relatively small and short, so that will not work well for your knives. Second, Kapoosh's freedom rods (yes, weird name) do not work for sharp the knives. The sharp knives will cut these rods, and I know you have some sharp Japanese knives. Third, Kapoosh's freedin rods work better for knives with a point. Your nakiri and maybe even Santoku will have problem going into Kapoosh.

                          If you are really interested, try the bamboo rod version:

                          http://cn1.kaboodle.com/hi/img/a/0/0/7/1/AAAACvfAzagAAAAAAAcWqw.jpg?v=1156749593000

                          http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2765/4...

                          You can buy those and you can obviously make these. The bamboo rods have a better tolerance against knife cut. Even if you do, you can very easily replace them. The weak point is that they don't "hold" the knives as tight as Kapoosh freedom rods.

                      2. tanuki soup Jan 22, 2011 09:11 PM

                        Thanks again for all the great suggestions, guys!

                        I decided to make a traditional wooden knife block with horizontal slots.

                        I just received 9 gingko wood cutting boards measuring 16 cm x 30 cm x 2 cm from Amazon Japan, and I also bought a bunch of wooden slats measuring 3 mm (or 5 mm) x 10 mm x 90 mm to use as spacers. The plan is to put down a cutting board, cut the slats to length and then glue them lengthwise to the top of the board in the appropriate locations, glue another board on top, glue more slats, glue another board, etc., etc. Kind of like making a big 8-layer sandwich. After the block itself is assembled, I plan to put some legs on it to hold it at a good height and tilt angle. A couple of coats of waterproof finish, and that should be it.

                        I figure it shouldn't be too difficult to put together, especially since the cutting boards are already the right size. Just a lot of time waiting for the glue to dry for each layer.

                        Thanks again. I'll post pics when the project is completed, assuming the final result isn't too embarrassing !

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: tanuki soup
                          Chemicalkinetics Jan 22, 2011 09:24 PM

                          Oh my god. You are doing exactly what I did. The lazy and fast way. :)

                          The strong point of this design is that you can expand when needed. You can always add another layer of board.

                          I relied Lowe (Home Depot like) to cut all the boards for me. Of course, they don't come out really the same, so I had to do what I can with minimal tools (I don't have a workshop. I so wish I do)

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                            tanuki soup Jan 22, 2011 09:30 PM

                            Well, as they say, "Great minds think alike." :-P

                            1. re: tanuki soup
                              Chemicalkinetics Jan 22, 2011 09:35 PM

                              :P

                          2. re: tanuki soup
                            kaleokahu Jan 22, 2011 09:50 PM

                            tanuki: Buy some big, strong clamps. And be careful of what kind--and how much--glue you use. Have fun. And yes, post your photos!

                            1. re: tanuki soup
                              t
                              ThreeGigs Jan 22, 2011 10:12 PM

                              I was going to add a suggestion to think outside the box. No reason for all knives to be oriented in the same direction. You could have one or two layers for the longer knives where they're inserted in the traditional top-down orientation. But then you could add another layer with slots on the *side* of the block too, such that other knives slide in sideways. That arrangement would work well with the horizontal slots you're proposing for the longer knives, and in theory would let you keep more knives in the block with less "face" area, although you might lose counter space from the knife handles sticking out the side (or not).

                              1. re: ThreeGigs
                                tanuki soup Jan 23, 2011 12:12 AM

                                Cool idea, ThreeGigs. In addition, if you alternated layers front/side, you'd also avoid handle-to-handle interference between knives on adjacent layers and could therefore reduce the spacing between the layers, allowing you to put even more knives in the block. Unfortunately, my block will live between my two-level dish dryer and the inner edge of a small bay window, so I'm limited to front access.

                              2. re: tanuki soup
                                cowboyardee Jan 22, 2011 10:16 PM

                                I like this plan. I bet you will soon be adding yet another stunning addition to your handiwork.

                                Bit of advice: I don't for sure how you're planning to put this together - but just be extra careful not to get any grit trapped in the slots where you put your knives. I've heard from a guy who made his own wooden sayas that he got a little sandpaper grit stuck in the inside of a couple and that it then scratched up his knives.

                                Good luck. Looking forward to seeing the photos.

                              3. Chemicalkinetics Jan 22, 2011 10:22 PM

                                Kind of adding to what Cowboy said. I would advise not to make "perfect tight fit" slots for the knives. A slightly wider slot has many advantages. First, your next knife may be thicker and will require a wider slot. Wider slots provide better air circulation, so moisture does not trap there forever. Third, a wider slot minimize foreign objects get trapped.

                                Now, you don't want to make too wide to the point that knives do not fit well. Too wide also make your knife block takes up more space than needed.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                  tanuki soup Jan 23, 2011 12:23 AM

                                  Got it, CK. My plan is to make the bottom 4 rows of slots with the 5-mm spacers (I checked my Henckels knife blocks, and the widest slots are about 4.5 mm) and the top 4 rows with the 3-mm spacers.

                                  All of my knives are Japanese (i.e., thin blades), so 3-mm would actually work for all of them, but I figure the 5-mm slots will give me a bit more flexibility for any future knife purchases. Also, since the block will be 30 cm deep (a bit deeper than I would have made it if I had cut the boards myself - I would have probably gone with 25 cm), there is plenty of depth for a much longer gyuto than the 21-cm one I use now. I'd guess than longer blades tend to be a bit thicker too.

                                2. BoardSMITH Jan 23, 2011 02:03 AM

                                  When you make your layers, be sure to finish each slot with a waterproof finish first. Why, if you are using high carbon steel knives, there might be enough residual moisture in the wood to rust the knife blade. Either white or orange shellac will do well.

                                  As for design, you might want to consider a wall mounted block.

                                   
                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: BoardSMITH
                                    b
                                    BFcook Jan 6, 2012 03:03 AM

                                    Boardsmith...

                                    That is exactly the type of wall mounted knife holder I am looking for. Where is that from? I googled boardsmith and found a website....I don't know if that is you...but there were no knife holders on there?!

                                    Thanks!

                                  2. tanuki soup Feb 18, 2011 04:14 AM

                                    Hi guys,

                                    It took me almost a month, but I've finally finished my knife block. Thanks for all your great advice!

                                    I have to say that it didn't turn out to be quite as elegant as I had hoped. Frankly, I think it exudes a rather grim functionality, sort of like a Soviet-era apartment block in Siberia. OTOH, it holds all my knives (including a cleaver and scissors), is quite heavy and stable (good for earthquakes), and frees up some very valuable counter space in my cramped kitchen. All in all, I guess I'm pretty satisfied.

                                    As promised, here are a coupe of quick pics. Thanks again, guys!

                                     
                                     
                                     
                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: tanuki soup
                                      cowboyardee Feb 18, 2011 04:28 AM

                                      That's awesome. Looks like a missile defense system.

                                      Good work, man.

                                      1. re: tanuki soup
                                        kaleokahu Feb 18, 2011 09:09 AM

                                        tanuki: Good job! Speaking of the USSR, it looks a little like "Stalin's Pipe Organ" (Katyusha rocket launcher). Are the 4 underslung slots parallel to the ones in the main body?

                                        1. re: kaleokahu
                                          Eiron Feb 18, 2011 11:09 AM

                                          "... it looks a little like "Stalin's Pipe Organ" (Katyusha rocket launcher) ..."

                                          That's funny, the first thing I thought of was the Imperial Walkers from "The Empire Strikes Back"
                                          http://www.starwars.com/databank/vehi...

                                           
                                          1. re: kaleokahu
                                            tanuki soup Feb 18, 2011 04:03 PM

                                            Thanks, kaleokahu. Yeah, the four slots underneath are parallel to the knife slots in the main body.

                                            BTW, based on your advice from earlier in the thread, I got four "big ass" clamps before I started this project. They were really helpful during assembly because a couple of the cutting boards were slightly warped and it took a bit of force to keep them straight and flat while the glue was drying.

                                            1. re: tanuki soup
                                              kaleokahu Feb 18, 2011 06:33 PM

                                              Tanuki: Attaboy. You're very welcome. Now that you have the clamps, all that stands between you and cutting boards is a biscuit joiner.

                                          2. re: tanuki soup
                                            cannibal Feb 18, 2011 03:11 PM

                                            Sugoii desu!! It was neat to read the whole thread and the see your progression manifest itself. Good looking functional block. AT-AT and "pipe organ" aside, from the front it kind of resembles domo-kun :D

                                            1. re: tanuki soup
                                              tanuki soup Feb 18, 2011 03:53 PM

                                              Thanks guys. My inspiration was actually the Russian multiple rocket launcher ТОС-1 "Буратино".

                                              Dammit, I should have painted it camouflage!

                                               
                                              1. re: tanuki soup
                                                kaleokahu Feb 18, 2011 06:35 PM

                                                Tanuki: I stand corrected: It's Breznev's Pipe Organ?

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