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Jan 21, 2011 04:03 PM

Seeking advice on *making* a knife block

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.

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  1. 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.



    1. 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. 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. 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. 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:

          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:

          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:

          1 Reply
          1. re: redbeanbun

            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. Thanks for the great suggestions, guys.

            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).

            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.

            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

              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 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.