Knife Shelf (6)

Shawn texted me a picture of a knife shelf installed under someone’s cabinet and announced, “This is what I want for Mother’s Day.” Well, it looks simple enough though I did not understand why the stained and cracking oak block with knife slots we have used for years was not adequate. OK, maybe I did understand. Human brains continue to crank out good ideas and though we marvel at the practicality we often stumble at actually building our own version. That’s where I stood—dragging my feet on constructing a knife shelf.

Knife Shelf (3)

“Can you make something like this?”

Shawn rarely asks for anything so what to do? I turned the image over in my mind, poked around the web to investigate hardware availability, took some measurements, scribbled diagrams and returned with more questions. Project requirement negotiations constitute a vital piece of design and construction. Far better to discuss until consensus is reached rather than build something short of our spouse’s expectations.

Knife Shelf (4)

Playing with knives is OK in this case.

What size should this shelf be? How will the knives be organized? I gathered our knives and placed them on the counter. We folded placemats to match the available under-the-counter space and played checkers with the knives. Obviously we had more knives than space. Our shelf must be 12”x30” maximum. (Actually it wound up about 11” x 28” to allow room to fold it under the double cabinet! Something I learned in the prototype phase.)

What material should I use? I had the perfect answer. We have reclaimed wood from a table constructed by a distant relative in days of yore. If I could remove the fasteners, rip the pieces to size, join them, and sand enough to remove the finish that wood would work. I pulled every fastener I found, but one eluded me, and that table saw blade is now scrap metal. I discovered that under the years of crud the wood is very dense oak. It should last for years!

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This one became the prototype.

I surprised Shawn with the finished slab and again we with played with the knives until the correct arrangement was determined. That gave me the information I needed to order the magnets. We chose magnetic knife strips from Zwilling J.A. Henckels available at the Bed Bath & Beyond site though there were cheaper options. The magnetic strips can be cut to length if one carefully uses a sharp hacksaw blade. While I waited for the shelf hardware to arrive I painted the slab to match the cabinets.

Mounting that shelf took two people We made a template to mark the drill locations on the right side of the cabinets and flipped it to mark the drill locations on the left side. It worked like a champ except the screws that came with the hinges assumed 1/8” thick material. You must be joking, Knape and Vogt!

With the new shelf in place we were ready to test. The combination of many knives and heavy oak combined to overload the hinges which sagged unceremoniously. By the next morning the shelf was in its full downright position and would not stay closed no matter how many times I tried. Be advised that Knape and Vogt provide no specifications on maximum weight for their under-the-counter hinges, so assume lighter is better.

We realized we would need a third magnet to prevent rotation of the heavier knives as the shelf opened and closed. I declared the shelf to be a prototype, removed it from the kitchen, and returned to the woodshop. I can make it better.

I found a knot-less and very straight 1”x12”x4’ fir board at the home center. One quick cut with the miter saw followed by a single rip with the table saw and I had a lighter base for the shelf. Rather than prime it with a brush (2 coats) and add two finished coats of trim paint as I had with the previous slab I took a short cut. I opted for a Rustoleum spray paint product which removed the need to prime. Note to self: As you learned with the “stain and varnish in one pass” product there are no shortcuts in finishing. The double service products rarely meet expectations. Take the time to do it right.

Knife Shelf (2)

Spray paint and stripper in one can! Ugh!

The Rustoleum paint covered well though I had a few lighter areas which I did not see until the next morning. I resprayed the slab only to discover that the second coat of paint acted as paint stripper and bubbled the first coat. I should have bought Krylon which dries in fifteen minutes. Ugh. Rustoleum had a tiny note on the back of the can in the smallest font one can see with a magnifying glass warning that the second coat must be applied within one hour or after forty-eight hours. OK, I’ve used spray paint for years on a host of projects and never had this issue. Rustoleum is hereby banned from my shop.

I sanded the slab top and sides and repainted with a brush using the trim paint on the cabinets. Lastly, I added a latch as a safety precaution which also takes the weight off the hinges when the shelf is closed.

Knife Shelf (1)

Hinges are visible in the folded position.

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Safety latch and handle

And I dropped the old oak knife block into the can, beside the remainder of the Rustoleum paint.

Shawn is happy.



Hinges: Knape and Vogt Hinges for Under Cabinet Pull Down Racks – PAIR (Zinc) from The HardwareHut.

Handle: Sugatsune 316 Stainless Steel 3-1/2″ c.c. Wire Cabinet Pull (Satin) from The HardwareHut

Latch: Dingchi 90 Degree Door Clasp Lock Shift Door Lock Button from Amazon

Knife magnets: Zwilling® J.A. Henckels International Magnetic Knife Holders, (2) 11.5″ and (1) 17.5″. Purchased from Bed Bath & Beyond