Knife Storage is a Pain in the Ass. Chapter One: in which we cannot agree on anything, and I bitch about knife blocks.

Problem: if you have a kitchen, you probably have sharp knives that have to be stored somehow.
Problem: if you share a kitchen with someone, they probably feel that the way you want to store the knives is unacceptable, and the way they want to store the knives is equally unacceptable to you.

I am of the school that believes that knives are best stored on the wall, on a span of magnetic strip. For many years, I lined strong magnets on the wall of the fridge that was adjacent to the short span of counter next to our stove. I found this a completely wonderful system for many reasons. It kept the knives at hand; it kept the knives out of the way of children and other people who shouldn’t handle knives (only grownups could reach this place); and it was just a neat, clean way to store items that would otherwise take up precious horizontal storage space, of which we had essentially none. We had almost no counters in our kitchen — I mean, there were 18″ of counter space next to the stove, and that was that — and similarly very little in the way of drawer storage. Magnets on the side of the fridge struck me, to be honest, as quite ingenious.

My husband felt differently. He essentially felt that storing the knives this way would result in all of us being maimed or killed.

When we moved to our current residence, we began a large-scale discussions that continued for two and a half years as we designed the kitchen we planned to build. “Where are we going to store the knives?” My husband initially expressed interest in one of those special knife-drawer designs people seem to like, but I found it fussy and a needless expense. What’s more, I don’t like the idea of having to open a drawer to get at a knife. When, at an estate sale, I found a knife block for $5, I bought the knife block and lugged it home. “When the kitchen is done, we can use this,” I said. My husband looked pleased. Though it was awkward to fit our ragtag collection of knives into this block, it could be done.

But the knife block presented numerous challenges from Day One. For one thing, when I got it home from the estate sale, I felt honor bound to clean it. It was dirty, after all, and I was going to put my knives in it: it would obviously be ideal for it to to not be completely fucking filthy.

Cleaning a knife block is not the easiest thing in the world. I mean, it’s not that cleaning it is precisely difficult — it requires less skill than cutting a good jack o’ lantern — but it requires patience to do it thoroughly and well. I used a lot of soapy water, and vinegar, and rags, and pipe cleaners. Years of accumulated layers of dust and grease had definitely left their marks on this thing. But I got it clean.  I took it out on the balcony to rest in the sunshine, and then I let the damn thing sit and sit and sit for several days before I decided the wood was dry enough.

Then, we arrived at another inevitable problem: it took me about half an hour to figure out how to arrange our motley knife collection in the limited slots and spaces of the block.

I managed to set it up so that the system was good enough. No one would be automatically harmed as the result of this knife block sitting in our kitchen. But it wasn’t great. There were only two slots that could hold chef’s knives, and we have three such knives that we use regularly. There’s a total of eleven knives that I want to have right at hand all the time. The knife block could store about half of them comfortably. I managed to get ten of them in safely, but it took some creative thinking. (The 11th knife, my left-handed serrated knife, I settled with keeping in a sheath in a drawer under the workspace.)

I spent probably an hour fiddling around with all the knives and the block. It was a process not unlike arranging one’s furniture in a new apartment. I learned that the chef’s knives couldn’t rest in the block the way knives always do in photos, with the edge of the blade facing down, handle ready to be grabbed. Our knives, placed just so, became wobbly and dangerously unbalanced; the handles were not designed in a manner that fit well with this block. I figured out that if I turned them so the edges of the blades faced up, the knives in vertical slots would be relatively stable, and that what’s more, the edges would stay sharper that way. I was able to nestle two chef’s knives into one vertical slot in this manner; it wasn’t perfect, but it was okay.

The horizontal slots in the block, which is where I’d’ve kept the chefs knives, ideally, were too narrow for those blades; instead, the relatively narrow-bladed, serrated bread knives went there. All the little paring knives went willy-nilly, two to a slot, in the other horizontal spaces, and the spot where the honing steel should go was where I kept an old favorite, a skinny little serrated knife that looks like junk but slices tomatoes and onions into perfect thin slices really well.

So the knives were housed, if imperfectly; but we lived with it. Over time, the top of the block collected dust, and the whole thing annoyed me as it took up a surprising amount of real estate on the kitchen counter. The system worked, technically, but I hated it. I hated this knife block, as I have always hated all knife blocks, and I never stopped thinking, “What would be a better way to handle this situation?”

After three years, someone posted an image to my Facebook wall. It was a knife block someone had made out of old books. I looked at the picture and I began to think.

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