Magnetic Knife Holder – Walkthrough

Years ago a friend of mine had a knife holder in his kitchen that was a simple strip of wood with magnets embedded in the back. I always liked the look and could never find something similar. After completing my last build I was searching for another small project and this seemed like the perfect fit. Plus it would let me test out a few joinery techniques I hadn’t yet tried: laminating (i.e., gluing) boards together, and butterfly/bow tie joints.

I’ve already posted a few initial designs and my many mistakes, so it’s about time for the actual project walk through. I took a lot of pictures during the build. If there are any steps you have questions about, let me know and I can elaborate with a few additional images.

Finished Project First

Overall I’m pretty happy with the finished product; although I don’t love the final design (maybe it’s the wood color?), I’m pretty proud of how the piece came together. Also, I was initially concerned about the wood wearing out too quickly with the metal constantly rubbing against it, but after a few months of use the hard white oak is holding up exceptionally well.

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Terrible lighting, but a nice magnetic knife holder

Prepping the Wood

As usual, I started off with rough saw lumber and some pieces of scrap I had from other projects. This meant my first task was to get the pieces to their proper dimension and make sure they were all flat and square.

The perfect combination of hand tools, hard lumber and lack of skill means this always takes a lot longer than I initially expect.
The woods I decided to use were white oak, for its durability, and purple heart, for its color. The contrast between the woods really makes the butterfly keys stand out.

It may seem a bit foolish but, since I wanted to practice, I had to cut the piece of oak in half so I could join them back together. To make it less obvious that the pieces were from the same board, I rotated one of the pieces so that the grain patterns didn’t align. I was worried this would make planing them more difficult since the grain would be oriented in opposite directions. In the end it didn’t cause any problems as long as I kept my blade sharp and only took light shavings on each pass.

Once the pieces were cut, I planed them down to the proper thickness and made sure the sides were square and flat. It’s really important to get the sides flat so they will be flush together and create a strong bond with the glue. I struggled to get them perfectly flush and relied on the glue and clamps to close any minor gaps that existed. (This is something I continue to struggle with.)

Butterfly Joints

While the glue was drying I made three small blocks out of the purple heart that would eventually become the butterfly keys. Technically the butterfly joints weren’t necessary since the glue holds the pieces together but, again, this was just for practice.

The blocks were pretty small, which made squaring them very difficult. Holding them steady on the shooting board was a challenge and I don’t think my shooting board is perfectly square and that became an issue. As with most of my woodworking, I was able to get them good enough by being patient and going slow.

Once the blocks were prepped, making the keys wasn’t too difficult. I drew the shape on the block, cut down to the middle and chiseled the rest away. The most difficult part was making sure the newly chiseled sides were straight and square.

After the keys were made I laid them out on the now glued together oak pieces and traced their outline so the insert would be a perfect fit. (One quick tip is number the keys and the board position so you know the location and orientation of each piece)

I saw a video on YouTube that recommended using a drill to remove most of the waste before using a chisel for the final bit of waste removal. I tested this with a practice piece of wood and it definitely made the process easier. One thing I realized though was when your chisel is oriented with the grain (not cutting across it), it’s very easily for the wood to split. The best way I found to avoid this was make score marks on those edges so the wood had a natural stopping point.

After this it was pretty easy to push them in with my rubber mallet, and make them flush by removing the excess height with a coping saw and my small hand plane.

Inserting the Magnets

So this is where everything really started to fall apart… aka I learned a lot.

This was my first time using the router plane to make a grove, which is where the magnets would sit. Because I was going across the grain of the keys it was causing an awful amount of tear out to occur.  I was actually worried I would completely ruin them (and it was very close). Again this highlighted the importance of scoring the wood before you work and going slow. I eventually had to rely on the epoxy to hold one of the keys in place.

I also discovered that since the groove didn’t run end-to-end through the board, it was hard to get the blade to catch when starting. I also wasn’t sure how deep to make the groove for the  magnets to hold the knives firm but not too firm. I decided not to think too hard on this and instead rely on trial and error to find the right dept: make a few passes with the router, place the magnets in the groove and see if the knives stay in place.

The worst mistake occurred  when I was lengthening the groove to the fit the magnets. The end walls became so thin it split the two boards apart. Thankfully, the ornamental butterfly keys became practical butterfly keys and held the pieces together and prevented it from fully splitting. To fix this I decided to cut a small square notch on each inside and glue in a small square of purple heart. It was a delicate process and I was worried it wouldn’t hold, but it lasted long enough to put the much strong epoxy in place.

Once there magnets  were in place I used Loctite’s two-part epoxy to secure them. This was much simpler than I expected and worked very well. I’m not sure if it was necessary but I used blue painters tape on the front of the piece to stop any epoxy from leaking through.

After everything was all dry, I took the tape off, rounded the edges slightly with a block plane and applied some wax polish I made.

Final Thoughts

This was definitely a fun project and, like my other projects, highly practical. I learned a lot through these process and it highlighted my need for a real work bench.

Having a surface I can properly clamp wood to and one where I don’t need to worry about hitting the surface with a chisel would help tremendously. — Which is why I’ve started building a small work bench for myself.

It’s going to take a while but I’ll do my best to keep you posted along the way!

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