safe knife storage on a sailboat

A bar magnet and simple woodwork create an elegant knife-storage solution.

Everything on a boat must have its place—especially knives. The last thing you need in the cabin during rough weather is a free-range, airborne knife. 

But, the household-style knife block and the industrial kitchen-style knife magnet are ill-equipped to hold knives adequately aboard a boat. Tossing knives in a galley drawer feels like another bad idea; loose drawer storage offers poor protection, quickly dulling sharp blades. Besides, that little drawer is already crowded with the wooden spoon, corkscrew, measuring spoons, whisk, and lobster-claw crushers, among other things. Finding a new home for the knives would free up a lot of much-needed space in there.

While working on a customer’s Hylas sailboat recently, I came across an artful solution to the knife-storage conundrum. The design drops the knife blades through the galley countertop in a typical knife-block fashion, and then ingeniously secures them with a hidden bar magnet below the counter. It’s a perfect solution for knife storage, and I knew right away I had to have a comparable arrangement aboard Sundance, our 1991 Morris Justine. The design was easy to replicate, requiring only minor alterations to fit the knives aboard our 36-foot boat.

First, I chose the block’s location, in a corner of the galley near the sink and next to a below-counter storage area. 

From the project’s start, I knew the knives that I wanted to store, and I designed the block to accommodate their blade lengths and widths; designing for specific knives was essential to this project’s success. I also considered the restrictions imposed by the available countertop space. The block’s height was decided partially for aesthetic reasons, but more importantly, it helped determine how much blade was exposed below the counter. On my boat, this was a crucial design factor because of a sliding drawer in the storage space below the knives.

knife storage slots on a sailboat


For the block, I chose a sapele mahogany finished with Epifanes rubbed-effect varnish to match the boat’s Herreshoff-style interior. Simple glue-up construction allowed me to sandwich carefully spaced sections of 1/8-inch batten between a pair of outside rails. Because my block is corner mounted, I only have two edges that are fully exposed to the cabin space. I ran these edges through the round-over bit on my router table for a pleasing, finished look.

Next, I cut the opening into the countertop. A battery-powered DeWalt oscillating saw was the perfect tool for rough cutting the narrow rectangular slot for the knife blades to pass through. Knowing that this opening would be completely hidden from view by the block helped remove some of the stress of creating a perfectly square and symmetrical opening in this awkward-to-work spot.

Once the slot was cut, I drove eight #10 x 2-inch pan head stainless screws up from below the counter to secure the block.

magnet knife block sailboat

The bar magnet I selected was encapsulated in a walnut veneer accented with a hole pattern to slyly reveal the magnet within. Sexy! In truth, the aesthetics made no difference to me, because the magnet would forever be hidden from view, below the countertop. The real value of the walnut veneer is the prevention of that metal-on-metal, fingernail-on-the-chalkboard screech.  

(It’s important to pause here and note that when mounting any magnet aboard, it’s essential to provide adequate spacing between the magnet and all of the boat’s compasses for the integrity of navigation.) I sent four #8 x 11/4-inch stainless pan head screws through the provided mounting holes in the magnet to secure it to the forward galley bulkhead below the countertop.

The last piece of the project was fabricating and installing a small panel below the countertop to protect fingers when they are down in the storage compartment rummaging for the rum bottle, as well as to hide the bar magnet. 

I made the 18-by-6-inch panel from 4-millimeter sapele veneered plywood and varnished it to match the block above. To create enough space for the blades, I installed two spacer blocks before attaching the panel with six #8 x 3/4-inch pan head stainless screws. 

The knife block consumes little space in our galley, and the spot that it does occupy was some of the most lightly used countertop space aboard. We don’t miss it. Boat owners lucky enough to have a workbench aboard might also try something similar to stow tools in the same manner. 

knife block storage on a sailboat