Space-Saving Knife Block

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Knife Block

Overall dimensions: 91 ⁄2"w × 121 ⁄4"d × 31 ⁄8"h

A knife block is one of the most convenient (and safest) ways of storing kitchen cutlery, but not every home can afford to allocate counter space to a big chunk of wood. In tight kitchens, many cooks relegate knives to a drawer in order to accommodate toasters, coffee makers, mixers, and other counter appliances. That might suffice for common cutlery, but my super-sharp set of custom-handled Zhen knives deserved something special.

To showcase my handiwork, I designed this space-saving knife block to mount to the bottom of a kitchen wall cabinet. Now, my best knives are always within easy reach. Rareearth magnets hold the blades within the block, which can also rotate inward beneath the cabinet to protect the handles from accidental contact.

To customize a block to your needs, first decide on the most serviceable arrangement for the knives you want to store, which may require changing the overall dimensions to suit. Then make the needed templates and rout the slots. After that, it’s simply a matter of assembling, finishing, and installing.

Knife Block

Make the block

1 Select stock for the outer (A) and center (B) sections. While you’re at it, select a piece for the mounting plate (C), but set it aside for now. For this project, I paired ambrosia maple and cherry, but feel free to select woods that complement your kitchen. Mill the sections 1⁄4" wider and longer than the final dimensions in the Cut List. (You’ll trim the pieces after assembly.) Next, arrange the boards for the best exposure of their most attractive surfaces, and mark the interior faces to register the arrangement throughout the build.

2 Referring to Photo A and Figure 2, make the knife slot templates from 1⁄2"-thick MDF. Align the handled ends of the blades with the edge of the MDF and lay out the slots 1⁄8" wider and longer than each blade (Photo A). (To create templates for the same 5-piece set that I worked with here, use the dimensions provided in Figure 2.) Next, saw out the slots.

3 Using double-faced tape, affix the knife slot templates to the inside faces of the outer layers (A). Outfit your handheld router with a template bit, adjust the cutting depth so that the slot will be 1⁄16" deeper than the thickest part of the knife (in this case, 1⁄8"), and rout the slots (Photo B). Clean up any router marks with a sharp chisel.

4 Chuck a 3⁄4"-diameter Forstner bit in a drill press, and bore 1⁄8"-deep holes where shown in Figure 1 for the rare earth magnets used to hold the knives in the block. Affix the magnets with epoxy. (When installed, the magnets should sit just below the wood’s surface.)

5 Making sure that excess glue does not ooze into the slots, apply glue to the inside face of an outer section (A) and clamp it to the inner section as shown in Photo C. Once cured, attach the bottom layer (A) to the middle section.

6 Trim the assembled block (A/B) to final dimension. To keep the slots centered on the assembled block, trim an equal amount from the ends and each side. 

7 Using 1⁄2"-thick MDF, create a lazy Susan bearing template, making it the exact size of your assembled block. Referring to Figure 3 and Photo D, lay out a 4" × 4" square in the center of the template and then cut out the opening using a scrollsaw or jigsaw.

8 Affix the lazy Susan template to the top face of the assembled knife block (A, B). Using a router and template bit, rout a 3⁄16"-deep cavity in the block. To ensure that you don’t leave ridges that could interfere with installation, rout slowly and make a series of overlapping passes. 

Knife Block

9 Using a drill press, bore 1⁄8"-deep holes along one edge of the knife block where shown in Figure 1 for the 1⁄2"-diameter magnets used to keep the block in the open or closed position. (If you want the block to rotate in the opposite direction, drill the holes on the opposite side.) Glue the magnets into the block with epoxy.

10 Rout the edges of the block with a 1⁄4"round-over bit. Finish-sand the block through 220-grit and apply a finish. (I wiped on four coats of Waterlox Original.) 

11 Mill a stopblock (D) to size. Using a drill press, bore two 1⁄2" holes, 1⁄2"-deep on adjacent faces where shown in Figure 1. Install 1⁄2" steel cups with screws.

Knife Block

12 Using the board set aside in Step 1, cut the mounting plate (C) to size. Finish the piece to match your cabinets.

Assembly and Installation

1 For face-frame cabinets, draw a line 21⁄2" in from either long-grain edge on the bottom face of the mounting plate (C). (This distance enables the front of the block to project 13⁄4" from the bottom of a faceframe cabinet when rotated outward. For frameless cabinets, subtract 3⁄4".) Set the bearing on the inside of the line, center it between the ends and trace its location on the plate. Now, rotate the top plate as shown in Photo E and lay out an access hole where shown in Figure 1. (You’ll use this hole to attach the bearing to the knife block.) Drill the access hole, and then attach the bearing’s top plate to the mounting plate with 1⁄2"-long panhead screws. 

Knife Block

2 Fit the lazy Susan bearing into the cavity routed in the knife block (A/B). Using the access hole, drill pilot holes, and then attach the bearing’s bottom plate to the block with 1⁄2"-long panhead screws (Photo F).

3 Flip the assembly so that the mounting plate (C) rests against your workbench, and give the knife block (A/B) a test spin. Now make and position a stopblock (D) against the knife block so that the magnets touch. Rotate the knife block 90° to check that the second pair of magnets align and touch. Then, trace the stopblock’s location on the mounting board. Attach the stopblock to the mounting plate with 11⁄2" screws.

4 Hold or clamp the assembled knife block against the underside of the wall cabinet. You can attach the unit to the cabinet by driving screws though the mounting plate and into the cabinet, but it’s easier to drive screws down from above, as shown in Photo G.

Knife Block

Making a Rivet-Handled Knife

Fashion a batch of feel-good grips.

By Ben Bice

Surprisingly, the Achilles heel to a good knife rests in the palm of your hand. Casual encounters with kitchen sponges and seasonal changes in humidity can break the bond between the wooden handle halves, or scales, and the steel tang. Considering that figured woods tend to move more than straighter-grained stock, the nicest handles come with the greatest likelihood of coming apart at the seams.

To eliminate the risk of future failure, I attached the scales with epoxy and rivets (included with the knives). Riveting involves a few extra steps and a special drill bit, but once you have the gear, the process requires a minute or two more than using epoxy alone. Besides providing longterm mechanical attachment, the rivets align and clamp the scales to the tang, eliminating the time and hassle associated with fiddling around with clamps.

Knife Block

Making the Knife

1 Use pre-cut scales or mill your own 3⁄8"-thick strips from a board that’s long and wide enough to safely plane and rip. For each knife, cut two scales. Make each piece 3⁄8 × 11⁄2 × 5", or approximately 1⁄2" wider and longer than the tang. Stick the paired scales together with double-faced tape, good faces oriented out.

2 Affix the blade to the scale pair using double-faced tape and trace the tang’s outline on the wood.

3 Chuck the Whiteside drill and counterbore (see the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide) into your drill press. Using the holes in the tang as a guide, drill the rivet holes (Photo A). Next, detach the blade, adjust the drill depth, and drill 1⁄8"-deep counterbores on both outside faces (Photo B). 

Knife Block

4 Scrollsaw or bandsaw the scales to shape, cutting just outside the lines.

5 Build the Rivet-Setting and Knife Scale Sanding and Routing jigs shown in Figures 4 and 5.

6 Clean the inside faces of the scales with acetone to ensure a strong bond. Then mix up a small amount of epoxy. Working quickly, brush a thin film on both sides of the tang and the inside faces of the scales, and press the parts together. Now insert the rivets, set the head of the bottom rivet against the end of the bolt in the rivet-setting jig, and then set the rivet using a ball-peen hammer and transfer punch (Photo C).

7 Insert the blade into the Sanding and Routing jig, and securely tighten the knobs. Using a oscillating spindle sander, sand the scales flush with the tang.

8 With the knife still in the jig, chuck a 1⁄8"-diameter round-over bit in your table-mounted router. Set the bit so that the cutter does not create a ridge on the face of the knife, and rout the outer edges of the scales as shown in Photo D. Turn off the router, flip the blade in the jig and repeat with the remaining face.

9 Finish-sand the scales through 400-grit, and then apply the finish of your choice. I wiped on three coats of Waterlox Original, allowing each coat to dry overnight, and then knocking down any rough spots with #0000 steel wood before applying the next.


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