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Wooden knife blocks are a common accessory found in kitchens around the world. They offer an easy and effective way to store knives when not in use.
But what seems like a good idea for ease of access and safe storage might end up causing more harm than good. Despite looking good on your countertop, your knife block could be dulling…and yes, even damaging your precious knives.
In this guide, we take a closer look at whether or not the convenience factor of a knife block is worth the potential risk of dulling your blades between uses, and whether or not other alternatives (such as magnetic knife strips) might be the better option.
Will Storing Knives in a Wood Knife Block Dull Them?
All blades dull over time (even when left unused). This is why honing is so important, and when needed, a professional sharpening.
That said, the process of dulling generally is SLOW, and not noticeable between uses. That is, unless you are doing things to speed up that process. While simply storing your knives in a wood block might not actively dull the blade’s edge, the act of pulling them out and pushing them into the designated knife slot might.
What Does the Science Say?
Turns out, culinary magazine “Cook’s Illustrated” ran their own experiment, putting wood knife blocks to the test to find out just how much they do (or do not) dull your blades over time.
Starting with a high-quality chef’s knife (a standard in any chef’s arsenal), the blade was sharpened until it was able to easily slice through a sheet of paper like butter. The knife block used was a slanted wood block featuring vertical slots.
To carry out the test, the blade was slid in and out of the block similar to how it would have been when in daily use. This was repeated 70 times. After 70 swipes, the blade was unable to cleanly slice through that same sheet of paper.
As an alternative theory, this same test was repeated using a magnetic knife strip, on which the spine of the knife was attached magnetically for storage when not in use. Using the same knife and process as with the wood block, this knife did not show signs of dulling until after 200 uses.
How to Minimize the Impact a Wood Block Will Have on Your Blades
Although the magnetic storage option was clearly the winner in the test ran by Cook’s Illustrated, that’s not to say that wood blocks are useless.
Wood knife blocks can be aesthetic and complementary to a kitchen’s design, while offering a convenient way to quickly and readily access and store your blades.
By using them correctly, you can minimize the dulling effect they may have on your knives, thus improving performance between uses and enhancing edge retention while increasing the lifespan of your knife set.
Gravity is Not Your Friend
Knives in wood blocks are typically stored edge-side down. Meaning the business side of the blade is facing downwards when inserted into the knife slot on the block. Although most wood blocks are engineered so that the blade doesn’t actually touch the wood (from the spine OR the edge side), gravity and natural human tendency is to put downward pressure on the blade when unholstering it from its sheath. This act, even ever so slightly, will dull the edge (and fast).
So what can you do about it?
We have a few tips that can end up saving you big…
Consider inserting your kitchen knives into the slats edge side UP. This way, the weight of the spine and gravity when pulling the blade out is on the spine, NOT the edge. The spine of your knives is sturdy and will be unaffected by the friction and drag caused by making contact with the wood block.
For those of us with a little more self-discipline, simply being mindful of how you take out and return your kitchen knives to the wood block can make a lot of difference. First, never rush returning or taking out your blades. Fast, jarring movements can cause greater contact with your blade’s edge to the wood block and with more force than usual. Secondly, each time you remove or return a knife to the block, conscientiously apply upward pressure so that the spine remains in contact with the top of the knife slat as you store or remove the blade.
Edge guards are a cheap and effective way to preserve the edge of your blade when not in use, and when traveling or packing your knives. Although this added step can be a bit of a nuisance if you frequently use your kitchen knives, it can also preserve your edge and protect it from dulling due to abrasion and contact with the wood block.
NOTE: Some wood blocks might not have enough room to house the knife alone with its edge guard. Never force a blade into the block. If it's tight, it isn’t right. And you’ll risk getting the knife stuck.
Wood Blocks with Built-In Inserts
Some wood blocks come with wood or plastic hollow rods in lieu of thin vertical slats. These tubes might look a bit funny, but they are much more friendly on your knife edges and come with the added bonus of accommodating a wider range of knife sizes.
The Final Word On Wood Blocks and Blade Dulling
If you were worried about your wood block dulling your knives, it turns out you weren’t being paranoid after all. Some tests have shown that as little as 70 uses is all it takes for a wood block to significantly dull a blade. If a magnetic strip isn’t an option for storing your own knives, the tips in this guide will help you preserve their edge while still taking advantage of the convenience of your wood block for storage.