Making a Magnetic Knife Strip

You know those projects that seem really simple, then everything goes wrong and it takes you 27 times longer than it should have to complete it? This magnetic knife strip was one of those.

But! The silver lining here is that I was able to rescue a screwup and turn it into something else that is both beautiful AND useful! Huzzah! Then I started over from scratch and built what I meant to the first go around…

For a long time now, my biggest chef’s knife didn’t fit into my knife block. It fit, technically, but only if I inserted it in just the right orientation. Otherwise it’d stick out a little bit and drive me crazy. That fact, coupled with now actually having pretty counters, motivated me to want to take the knives out of the knife block and put them up onto a wall for easy access. How hard could it be?

Pretty hard, as it turns out. Not that it had to be, though – let my screwups be mine alone, and do as I say & not as I do!

The Plan

Since I couldn’t find anything online under $100 that appealed to me, this was an obvious choice for a simple DIY project. My goal was to create a knife strip to hang on the wall with the following criteria:

  • No visible hardware
  • Made of walnut
  • Strong enough to hold all the knives securely
  • Long enough to comfortably fit all my knives

Simple, right? And the plan of attack:

  • Cut 3/4″ thick walnut down to length
  • Use 3/4″ Forstner bit to bore 20 holes evenly spaced in the back of the wood
  • Put 3/4″ neodymium magnets into each of the pockets
  • Secure magnets with wood glue
  • Sand & oil the wood on the front and sides
  • Use keyhole mount hangers to hang the strip on the wall

Again, sounding pretty manageable!

Attempt #1

I grabbed my drill and Forstner bit and got to work boring the holes. This was trickier than I’d hoped. The issue was that I needed to bore all the holes to a consistent depth, and I don’t have a drill press. A magnet’s strength falls off as the square of the distance it’s acting on, so every little bit closer I could creep to the surface of the block would do wonders to ensure the strength of the bond between knife and strip.

For the magnet enthusiasts out there, this article was extremely helpful! Referencing this guide, I chose these magnets for their size, strength, and price. For some reason, the adhesive backed magnets were cheaper…

Anyway. I needed to bore these holes to leave only 1/16″ of material at the bottom, and that’s not much room for error by hand. Compounding this is the fact that unlike a regular drill bit, the Forstner bit’s cutting surface is only about 1/2″ deep. This means that for a hole just under 3/4″ deep, I couldn’t use the ol’ masking tape flag trick to plunge to the same approximate depth each time. It was all eyeballing!

I grabbed my heaviest knife and tested each hole one at a time. If the magnet could hold the knife, great. If not, time to bore just a bit deeper.

A Forstner bit may not have been the best choice.

The other teensy problem is that the Forstner bit has a little spiky protrusion in the center to help it navigate through the holes it’s boring as straight as possible. Said spiky protrusion is about 1/16″ tall. Forstner bits aren’t awesome at making truly flat-bottomed holes for this reason. This 1/16″ protrusion left me zero wiggle room before I bored the hole too deep and let the spike blow through the bottom of the hole.

So, unsurprisingly, this eventually happened:

I blew through one of the holes and had to cut it off. Miraculously, this was on the end, so it wasn’t totally ruinous! The strip would just be an inch and a half or so shorter than planned. No biggie.

The next issue was completely avoidable and I’m super embarrassed about it, but in the spirit of true DIY here it is: instead of securing the magnets with caulk or a thin layer of wood glue, I opted to drown the magnets in wood glue.

Don't drown your magnets in glue, folks.

This was stupid. Very very stupid. You know how long it takes a 1/4″-1/2″ layer of wood glue to dry? Apparently a couple weeks. The top surface skinned over pretty nicely after a couple days, so I figured it was safe to proceed. WRONG. I wanted to sand & oil the surface, so to let the oil permeate I left it face up. On the countertop. For a few days… At which point I went to pick it up and realized it was glued to said countertop.

The glue was far from dry and had shifted with gravity, bringing the magnets with it. By this point, there was no coaxing the magnets back into their original positions, so this meant that the knife strip’s strength was significantly compromised. D’OH!

A quick test confirmed: definitely not strong enough to hold the heavier knives. Ugh.

An Idea…

As a wedding gift, we got a set of beautiful copper-handled cooking utensils, but since they didn’t have holes for hanging, they were sitting in a utensil crock, handles obscured. I didn’t want to drill into them or kludgily attach anything for mounting purposes, but I hadn’t thought of another way to display them. So, in the crock they sat.

Until now!

magnetic knife strip gone wrong - redeemed!

The handles aren’t magnetic, but the utensils themselves are! And turns out there’s just enough magnetic strength to very securely hold all these utensils in place. And, obviously it’s a breeze to access any of these utensils. I’m in love!

Attempt #2

As lovely and useful as the utensil strip is, my knives were still sitting expectantly in an ill-fitting knife block, aching to be displayed on the wall like their copper-handled brethren.

There was NO WAY I was using a Forstner bit again, so I decided to go a different route.

The router route!  (I briefly considered using the Forstner bit again but this time in the router so I could plunge to a specific depth each time, but the bit didn’t fit in the collet and this wouldn’t have avoided the whole spiky protrusion business anyway. Scrap that.)

I modified my plan:

  • Cut 3/4″ thick walnut down to length
  • Use 3/4″ Forstner bit to bore 20 holes evenly spaced in the back of the wood Route out a 3/4″ channel in the back of the wood
  • Put 3/4″ neodymium magnets into each of the pockets in a row in the routed out channel
  • Secure magnets with a thin layer of wood glue
  • Let the wood glue set for longer than necessary, to be extra safe
  • Sand & oil the wood on the front and sides
  • Use keyhole mount hangers to hang the strip on the wall

I bought more wood, ordered more magnets, got a 3/4″ router bit, and got to work.

Only… ugh. The mortising bit isn’t meant to plunge down, it’s only meant to cut from the side. The flutes don’t meet in the middle, so if you tried to plunge cut, you’d just be rubbing blunt metal onto the wood and creating heat, not cutting. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a bit that was less than $60 and meant for a compact router like mine that would do 3/4″ plunge cuts. Sure, I could have bought a smaller plunge cutter and made multiple passes, but I was so frustrated with this setback, I stubbornly determined to make things work with the bit I’d just bought.

Because no one will ever see the far side of the knife strip, I decided to come in from the side to start my cut instead of plunging down. This would leave an open side, but no one would ever know except me. Not ideal, but at least I could continue with the project.

So, I set up a guide (the former kitchen backsplash!) to keep me straight and got cutting.

From there, I glued in the magnets (with scrap wood spacers interspersed, because I didn’t have enough magnets to span the whole length) and let them set for a few days face down, attached to magnetic objects:

Yes, it’s holding up that cast iron skillet…

magnetic knife strip holding up a cast iron skillet

The skillet, by the way, is my new Field skillet – I love it! Ordered it ages ago and it finally came.

Anyway…. I was so close at this point to having an actual magnetic knife strip on my wall. I figured all I needed were some keyhole hangers and I was off to the races!

Except… Oh dear…

See that first hole below the cutout? That’s where the hanger should be mounted. But because of the cutout, there was nothing for the screw to seat into, causing a really flimsy attachment. This sideways approach was a desperate attempt to get these keyhole hangers to still work. But obviously this was futile – I mounted the strip on the wall and because gravity was no longer helping me out, it just fell off every time.

But I’m so close! I thought.

Screw it. Out came the liquid nails. I glued the damn thing to the wall.

Voilà! A magnetic knife strip! Liquid nails means it’s not going anywhere, and I’m actually grateful for the zero play/shifting when taking knives off. It’s such a satisfying sensation when the magnets let go or reengage! Magnets (and liquid nails) FTW!


    1. Thank you!! Really missing the PRL working on these wood projects…. realized I’d never actually used anything other than the router table before!!

  1. Hahaha! For all the mishaps you endured putting your knife rack together, you must have had so much fun writing about it! Very fun to read! And they look fantastic – especially the copper handled utensils. Genius!

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