Knife Storage

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2012 • all rights reserved

Flying knives are a real danger on a boat

When I first wrote about my recommended knives, I included a couple of paragraphs about storing knives on a boat.  Lately I’ve gotten a couple of questions about the topic by e-mail and also seen some ideas posted in lists of “favorite galley gear” so I wanted to go into a little more detail with my thoughts.

Knife storage on a boat is really about two things:  keeping yourself safe and keeping the knife safe.  In other words, you don’t want them stored in such a way that they’re likely to injure you (or anyone else on the boat) OR that might damage the blade (dull knives or broken blades are no good).

To keep people and pets safe from flying knives, I like to keep knives in a lockable drawer.  To keep your hands safe as you reach into the drawer, I like to have the blades in sheaths.  And to protect the blades as they are jostled in the drawer, I like for the sheaths to actually attach to the knife, not just slide on.  Those that slide on generally also slide off easily.

If you haven’t lived on a boat at anchor or underway, you’re likely to underestimate how easy it is to lose your balance as you’re reaching into a drawer.  You don’t want to grab an exposed blade or drop one onto your foot.  And this can be a problem even in a protected anchorage, as a boat goes by and kicks up a wake that you weren’t expecting.

Many knives come with little cardboard sheaths.  My experience was that they tended to slide off the blades with the normal motion of the boat and they rather quickly came un-glued in humidity.

Image of Blade SafeBladeSafe

Instead of the cardboard sheaths, I really like some that are made by Victorinox, who also make Swiss Army Knives as well as my favorite kitchen knives.  They’re called the BladeSafe (available on Amazon) and they’re not expensive compared to many other options that don’t work as well — $2 to $6 per sheath.  They’ll work on just about any knife as long as you get the correct size.

They lock onto the blade, and were originally designed for traveling chefs.  That means they just don’t come off until you want them to, no matter how the boat may move.

The BladeSafe is in first place on my list as it’s relatively small and can fit in just about any drawer and doesn’t take up a lot of excess space.

The BladeSafes are also completely washable — and open up to wash the inside.  I’ve always vaguely wondered what could be lurking in the slots of a knife block.

Drawer Knife Blocks

And speaking of knife blocks, there are ones that go inside a drawer.  These are my second choice for keeping both you and the blades out of harm’s way.  The biggest disadvantage to these is the space that they take up and finding one that’s just the right size for your drawer (many are too tall for the shorter height that many galley drawers are). If you’re looking at them and measuring, note that usually the stated height is just for the block — the knife handles will be higher.
Drawer knife blocks are my second choice not because there’s anything inherently wrong with them, but rather that they just aren’t going to fit in most galleys . . . or if they do fit, do you want to take up that much space with your knife storage?

While it can seem like a great idea to get one that doesn’t take up the entire drawer (so you can put other things beside the block), the reality is that the block can slide and dent up other things in the drawer if you just set it in there.  If you decide to get a less than totally filling block, use some (removable) glue or a couple of screws to hold the block in place.

Other Options I DON’T Like

So now I’ll turn to a couple of options that I’ve recently seen recommended but that I don’t like as well:  wall-mounted blocks (which are “okay” in some applications) and magnetic strips (which are generally a bad idea).

Those large counter top knife blocks just aren’t going to work on a boat (too likely to move and cause serious injury, knives can come out, and who’s got that much counter space), but some cruisers have created their own wall-mounted knife blocks.

This photo was posted in the Cruising World forum on Handy Galley Gadgets.  If you are cruising in protected waters (or, I would think, aboard a catamaran) where there is virtually no risk of a knockdown, it will probably be adequate to keep the knives from getting loose in the galley, while still keeping them convenient.

However, I wouldn’t trust it to keep the knives corralled in a knockdown.  We only experienced one true knockdown — in a squall in the BVI the second time we chartered there — but we did have several occasions where we rolled gunwale to gunwale in squalls.  And every time, things that I thought were adequately tucked away would come loose.  While I don’t know that knives could come out of a block like this, I’m just not sure that I’d risk unsheathed knives falling to the floor and then skittering around.

Knife Magnet - NO!But the knife storage solution that I think is really bad is a magnetic strip (or even two).  And I’ve seen it recommended a few times lately on a couple of different cruising forums.  Admittedly, it doesn’t take up any drawer space.  But can you really imagine having a bunch of unguarded blades sitting out where you might need to put your hand when the boat rolls?

I see a couple of other problems with this.  Most cruisers prefer stainless steel knives on a boat so they don’t rust — it’s hard to keep an edge sharp if there’s rust on it.  But stainless steel isn’t magnetic — or at least good stainless isn’t.  And even inferior quality stainless isn’t highly magnetic.

What this means in practical terms is that it’s unlikely that your knives will stick to the bar — or if they do, they will jostle off relatively easily.  Back when we were just starting to think about cruising, we did a captained charter in Alaska on a Morgan OutIsland 41.  I noticed magnetic strips in the galley with nothing on them and asked the captain about them.  He told me that the knives had fallen down just in “normal” sailing conditions and they’d never used the magnetic bar again — it had just been too dangerous having knives sliding on the floor to ever risk it again.

The one place that I have seen a magnetic bar be helpful is attaching it to a countertop and putting knives on it (assuming they’re magnetic at all) while you’re in the middle of food prep — but not considering it as permanent knife storage.  The minute you’re through with whatever you’re doing, the knives need to go back into their “real” storage.  We had a friend who had done this, so I can’t speak from personal experience — my technique for corralling knives while in the middle of cooking was to lay a damp cloth in the bottom of the sink and lay the knives down on it (the rag made it so that they didn’t slide and dull themselves banging on the sides of the sink).

Good, sharp knives are crucial equipment in the galley.  I do so much more chopping, cutting and dicing as I buy less prepared food.  But knives are also one of the biggest hazards in the galley (I’m not sure if they or boiling water causes more injuries).  Spending some time and money planning and creating a good storage system is far, far better than getting out the first aid kit and/or dealing with nicked blades.

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Comments

  1. Bruce Bibee says:

    Actually, since I have a catamaran, I like your second solution as it is difficult and expensive to get Amazon to send stuff to the Philippines. Since these are custom made and fitted, a competent carpenter might put some small strong magnets in the wood for insurance.

    My catamaran recently took a mostly direct hit from the tropical storm Washi while on a mooring in Tombobo Bay on southern Negros (you can see Mindanao from the beach). Before the storm I had inadvertently left two 1/4″ diameter four inch long stainless rods on the salon table sitting on a small cloth. They were in a ‘T’ configuration but not touching anything – and after the storm had passed I noted that they had not moved at all. I had no idea that catamarans were this stable and was pleasantly surprised. TTFN

  2. Hi Carolyn,
    I struggled with a solution for our boat for a very long time. We don’t have adequate drawer storage on our boat and they werent even long enough for my larger knives. So I took my knife block from home and turned it upside down and angled it upward and mounted it to our bulkhead. I then made a tailored fabric sleeve to cover and snug the knife handles I then installed snaps into the wooden block and the fabric. It works great, looks nice and so far no flying knives.

  3. Candy Ann Williams on Facebook says:

    My husband made me take our magnetic strip down-he said it was deadly! LOL

  4. Charlotte says:

    Having just moved on board permanently and downsizing in a major way, I realize how few knives one really needs. I have a bread serrated knife, two chefs knives ( medium and large size) and a small serrated paring knife. Mind you, I am vegetarian and consequently don’t cut fish or meat, but I find these fulfill all my needs. I sharpen them with a chantry knife sharpener and keep them in a knife drawer block. I gave away all the other knives I had and don’t miss them! Same with pots and pans. Perhaps Carolyn you can do a post of which knives and pans a boater REALLY needs!

  5. Smart man! 🙂

  6. Allan Cobb on Facebook says:

    I prefer the blade safes but the Admiral prefers to put the knives in the silverware tray with the blade up! There is a reason I do the cooking.

  7. Julie Sandler Lambert on Facebook says:

    I keep my gives in a knife bag. I’ve carried it since chef school. Very secure and I can put a dry rid bag inside to keep the moisture out.

  8. I’ve never heard of a knife bag . . . could you post a photo or a link? I’m curious!

  9. Allan Cobb on Facebook says:

    Search on Amazon for a knife case. They are a roll up bag. I have one but it takes up too much room in my galley.

  10. Oh, I’ll bet it’s sort of like the roll-up tool bags Dave uses for screwdrivers, wrenches, etc. Same here, I doubt it would fit in my drawers — they’re “thin”!

  11. Okay, so I’ve spent a half hour looking at the knife bags . . . look neat, but I don’t think I’d have a good place to put one that would actually be handy when I needed a knife. But I like the idea!

  12. Allan Cobb on Facebook says:

    I use my knife bag when I go camping because I can take my knives but they don’t get dinged or scratched. They are handy but don’t work well on the boat. I do carry my fish fillet and breaking knife in one on the boat but they are not used as often as the kitchen knives.

  13. Susan Parker says:

    I love my Wusthof 8001 Under-Cabinet-Swinger Knife Storage Block available at Amazon. You mount it under the cabinet and it swings away when not in use. It has never failed to keep my knives handy and safe.

  14. Well this is a disappointing read as we’ve just installed a magnetic strip, although we haven’t any problems with it yet. We have so very little space in our galley that it’s quite laughable (i.e. 2 small cupboards and no drawers) and this seemed a good solution. We will persist with it until it becomes a problem.

  15. Susan Parker says:

    We opted for the Westhof under cabinet Swinger knife block. It keeps them safely and securely off the counter. When I need one, I just turn the block around. It’s available from http://www.cutleryandmore.com/ for about $40.

  16. Interesting read but our boat has only one small “cutlery” drawer and anything longer than a paring knife would have problems. However behind the stove there is a deep shelf with another shelf further up the hull side. The gap between just fits an upright knife block as well as a couple of pots that contain most of the rest of our cutlery. Larger items like potato mashers and serving spoons get shoved into the gap behind. IN over ten years of cruising and some pretty appalling weather though never a complete knockdown the whole lot has stayed put but I like the idea of a cover over the knife block. We did toy with the idea of netting over the whole area in bad weather but soon realised things would fall through the holes so our fall back solution is to put the knife block under the galley sink if it really gets rough.

  17. I use the same solution as Julie and Allan – a classic Chef’s knife roll. Mine holds a large Chef’s knife, medium utility knife, bread knife, paring knife, boning knife, and a steel.

  18. Liz Davis says:

    I’ve used a knife magnet for 15 years, both on trawlers and on mono-hull sailboats. Not a problem during a 2-day gale with 20 foot seas. Not a problem during the every-evening squalls encountered sailing between San Francisco and Hawaii. But, there are a few tricks.

    1–Get a really good magnet knife holder. Make sure the magnetic strip isn’t covered up by some kind of decorative formica or veneer cover to make it look pretty. The magnet part needs to be exposed. Make sure the magnet part isn’t indented within the magnet-holding framework of the gadget itself. The magnet should stick out from the mounting slightly, or at least be totally flush, so the knife will have good contact with it. All magnets are not created equal, so test it in the store first and make sure it’s really strong. I’ve been really happy with the ones I’ve gotten at Ikea and the ones I’ve gotten at a neighborhood Ace Hardware, but returned others because they didn’t have enough holding power.
    2–Mount it somewhere safe. It shouldn’t be mounted anywhere you’re likely to grab or bump against if thrown across the galley, or anywhere towels, potholders, etc can catch on the knife-tips and inadvertently pull them off the magnet. In one boat, I mounted the magnetic strip where a tile back splash would be in a house kitchen, positioned so that the tips of the knives cleared the bottom of the upper cabinets by only a few millimeters. On another boat I mounted it on the inside surface of a sturdy cabinet door. To access the knives, open the cabinet door. To make knives disappear, close cabinet door.
    3–If you mount two magnetic strips parallel to each other, one above and another a few inches below, you double your holding power and you can also hold other utensils like a church-key can opener, kitchen scissors, etc.
    4–Don’t crowd too many knives on the magnet. Make sure you can get your hand around each knife handle without your hand inadvertently hitting the handles of the neighboring knives.

    I’ve used the magnet with my JA Henkel knives for years and have never had any problems with rust. Knives and other gadgets stuck on the magnet don’t annoyingly rattle underway. I’ve never had a knife come off the magnet inadvertently, but then, I’m really careful when choosing a mounting location and I generally use double magnetic strips rather than single strips so the blades of long-bladed knives are secured by two different strips.

    I’ve been fortunate not to have a knock-down, so can’t speak to how this technique would hold up to that.

    I’m not saying the other comments aren’t valid, or that safety concerns should be waived. I’m just saying that, if your galley doesn’t lend itself to anything other than a magnetic strip knife stowage system, there are ways to mitigate some of those concerns while still keeping your knives handy.

  19. We have an IP 38. Not many drawers and too short for many long knives. I attached a wood drawer block to the inside cabinet door under the sink. Works great and easy to get too and safe in rough seas

  20. Bob Bechler says:

    We have had our knives on magnetic strips for 15 years in a wide range of conditions. We have never had any problems with that solution.

  21. As I’m slicing, laying down to get the next item to slice, I realize how dangerous it is to lay the knife down while still in use. Thanks for the tip on a rag in the sink technique

  22. I use the magnetic blade guard from William Sonoma http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/williams-sonoma-magnetic-blade-guard/?pkey=e|blade%2Bguard|10|best|0|viewall|24||1&cm_src=PRODUCTSEARCH||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_-NoMerchRules

  23. John Lynch says:

    CAMCO make a nifty plastic item called Knife Safe, made for caravans and for me, ideal for boats, not expensive and available from Amazon.

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