Sunday, January 18, 2015

Thrift Week 2015, Day 2: DIY knife-drawer insert

Our week-long Thrifty Birthday Bash continues with a look at some interesting and ecofrugal gifts I received this year.

My present this year from Brian was made specially by request. I'd grown fed up with the knife drawer in our kitchen, which, until about a week ago, looked like this:

We had about ten knives in there, most of which we didn't even use regularly, and they were all just floating around loose. To keep from cutting ourselves, we'd sheathed all the blades in little cardboard covers, but that just made it harder to tell them apart by looking. I was tired of having to rummage around in there for two minutes just to find the one utility knife that I actually use.

The most obvious solution would be to transfer all the knives from the drawer to a knife block, but I didn't want to do that for several reasons. First, and most importantly, it would take up counter space, which our kitchen has little enough of as it is. Also, most knife blocks are designed to accommodate a standard set of knives, which isn't at all what we have. Our motley assortment, shown below, included three chef's knives, three paring knives, two utility knives, and one fiddle-bow bread knife that wouldn't fit into any knife block and would thus have to stay in a drawer no matter what.

So I asked Brian for a custom-made knife insert, designed specially for our drawer, that would accommodate all the knives we have and make them easy to identify at a glance. And Brian not only gave me just that, he went one better by building the whole thing entirely out of materials we had on hand. He started with a simple block of solid wood, salvaged from our scrap pile and cut to fit the drawer. Then he cut slits in it long enough and deep enough to accommodate the blades of our largest knives. He wavered over the spacing of the slits; he could accommodate more knives altogether by making some of the slots closer together, but that would constrain us to keep specific knives in specific slots (the big ones in the more widely spaced slots, the smaller ones in the narrower ones). Eventually he decided that, since we didn't have that many knives, he could just make them all a uniform distance apart, allowing us to keep any knife in any slot.

The block with the slits was, by itself, all we needed to hold the knife blades, but something had to hold the block itself in place. So Brian added a second, flatter piece of scrap wood to the front of the block, which would hold it against the bottom of the drawer by friction. He secured the two pieces together with some extra-long screws, salvaged from the set of futon hardware we ordered for our yard-sale futon that ended up being the wrong kind. 

To attach the two pieces together, he first drilled holes through the main block from above. Then he laid the pieces out side by side, as they would fit into the drawer, and clamped them together so that he could drill a longer hole that would go all the way through the block and into the bottom piece. 

As you can see in the picture, he also added an extra "lip" piece to the end of the bottom piece. It's just another strip of scrap wood that's glued and nailed on top of the flat piece. Its purpose is to hold the handles of the shorter knives in place, so they don't slide around. The short knives fit into the gap between the main block and the back lip, while the longer knives have their handles resting on the lip. There's still a little bit of wiggle room, so the knives slide back and forth a bit in their slots, but they can't slide completely out of them.

You may also notice from this picture that Brian left a gap at the side of the drawer for the fiddle-bow bread knife, which has its blade mounted sideways and can't go into a normal knife slot. And to keep this knife on a level with all the other ones, he added yet another narrow strip of scrap wood to the side for the bread knife to sit on. This one is secured to the slitted block with a couple of regular-length wood screws, screwed in horizontally (across the width of the piece). It also serves to extend that side of the knife insert the whole length of the drawer, so it doesn't slide back and forth too much when you open or shut the drawer. There's still a millimeter or two of wiggle room, but for the most part, the whole thing stays in place.

So now, with the drawer insert in place, all our knives line up neatly:

We pared down the collection just a little bit to fit them all in. We started with not two, but three chef's knives—a very nice Sabatier that we inherited from my grandmother, an older and cheaper one from Chicago Cutlery that Brian uses most of the time because he's used to it, and a still cheaper third one with a plastic handle that we got from we couldn't even remember where. Since we never used it and we already had a spare, we figured there was no need to hold on to it—so we listed it on Freecycle, where it quickly found a good home. We did keep all the paring knives, even though the insert could only accommodate two of them; there was a little bit of room left at the end of the drawer, so we just stuck the extra paring knife in there with its cardboard sheath still on. We know where to find it if we ever need it, and if we don't, it can always join its friend on Freecycle.

Wood from our scrap pile: free.
Hardware left over from the futon: free.
Being able to find any knife I want in the drawer at a glance: priceless.
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