An Expert Guide to Knife Block Sets

Published on 01/09/2024 · 11 min readOrganize your cutlery with flair! Dive into our expert guide on knife block sets, combining style, function, and the essential knives for any kitchen.
Di Doherty, Kitchen Expert
By Kitchen Expert Di Doherty

A block set of Western-style knives. Photo by Henry Bobutra

TL;DR: Many different knife sets come with a block to store your knife in. When buying a knife block set, consider how many knives you want in it, what they should be made out of, and if you want a built-in sharpener.

My interest in knives was inherited from my dad. I learned to cook and bake by helping my mom as I grew up, and my interest in knives and cooking intersected with kitchen knives. I’ve been carefully growing my knife collection to include a wide variety of knife types, including ones made out of carbon steel, stainless steel, and ceramic.

While I didn’t purchase a knife block set — I built my collection one by one — there is a lot of appeal in getting a set. A knife block set provides a way to safely store your knives, and your cutlery will match one another. It also has the additional benefit of ensuring that all your kitchen knives have the same quality construction.

I’m continually amazed at what difference using the right tool makes in the outcome of a task. I’m always happy to help my friends and family with recommendations for what’ll work best for them, and seeing the difference it makes has made me passionate about helping others find the best equipment for their needs.

What Is a Knife Block Set?

A knife block set is a collection of knives that comes with a block to store them in. Most sets of this type are fairly large, as knife blocks are a (relatively) compact way to store your knives. A standard knife block is a piece of wood or bamboo with slots hewn in it for storing knives.

There are also magnetic knife blocks that hold metal knives with magnetic force. These can either be a traditional block shape or more like an easel, with an upright slab on a base. It’s also possible to get a stainless steel and glass block, which is more like a knife rack than a traditional knife block.

This round knife block allows you to organize the knives as you choose. These blocks have plastic bristles that you can slide knife blades between, allowing you to put any type of knife in them. Photo by Jake Charles

What to Consider When Buying a Knife Block Set

Almost every manufacturer makes a knife block set — or five — so there are a ton of options on the market. A set of knives is also a considerable investment, which can make it important to be sure that you’re getting the right thing. When looking for a knife set, there are some factors to take into account before making your purchase.

What Should Be in the Set?

There are knives that every standard knife set has, and then there are more unusual knives only found in specific sets. When picking out the knife set for yourself, consider what you plan to use the knives for. Here are some knives that are often found in sets:

  • Chef’s knife: Almost every knife set will include one of these knives. Chef’s knives are all-arounds that can be used to chop, slice, dice, and mince. They work for vegetables, poultry, fish, and meat.
  • Paring knife: No knife set is complete without one of these. Paring knives are in the three- to four-inch range, excellent for small, precise tasks like coring strawberries, mincing herbs, and peeling garlic.
  • Utility knife: These knives are ubiquitous in knife sets as well. The five-inch to seven-inch blade of a utility knife puts it in between a paring knife and a chef knife. The style of the blade is closer to a paring knife (unless they’re chef style), so they’re light and easy to maneuver. They come either with a straight edge or a serrated utility knife, with larger sets usually including one of each.
  • Santoku knife: Santoku knives were originally Japanese in design, though they’ve also been adopted by Western knifemakers. They have a stiff, flat blade that curves on the spine rather than the edge, giving you more cutting surface than a chef’s knife. They’re multipurpose knives that can slice, chop, and dice, though they can’t be used in a rocking motion.
  • Filet knife: This is a specialty knife, so it will likely only appear in knife sets with a lot of pieces. These knives are designed for cutting fish filets, hence the name, but they can also be used for removing meat from bone. The long, thin blade makes it easy to remove bones, and most filet knives have a bit of flexibility.
  • Bread knife: Almost every set includes one of these knives as well. A serrated knife is the only reasonable way to cut baked goods, particularly crusty breads. They have a long blade, allowing them to handle large loaves. The serrated edge also allows them to grip tomatoes or citrus, though most bread knives are a bit large for small fruits like lemons.
  • Steak knives: A large knife block set will include a set of steak knives. These knives are meant to be used on the table to cut individual servings of lamb, pork, and, of course, steak. I consider these another necessary knife, but it’s possible to get a set of them by themselves, as well.
  • Kitchen shears: These are a specialized pair of scissors that are meant to be used for food. They’re great for snipping off excess skin or fat on chicken thighs, removing stems from herbs, and opening packages. High-quality shears also come apart to make them easy to wash.

A knife set including a carving knife, serrated utility knife, paring knife, santoku knife, chef’s knife, and bread knife. Photo by Val Versa

What Should the Knives Be Made from?

  • Carbon steel: Kitchen knives were made out of carbon steel before stainless steel became widely available. It’s still prized because it’s extremely hard, allowing it to hold a razor-sharp edge for a long time. However, the reason stainless steel was pushed aside is that it’s prone to corrosion, meaning that you need to dry it right after washing it, or you’ll get rust spots.
  • Stainless steel: This is the most common material for knives to be made out of because of its practicality. Stainless steel is highly rust resistant, durable, and holds an edge well.
  • High-carbon stainless steel: This material is getting more popular, though exactly what percentage makes it high carbon hasn’t yet been decided on. It's a harder steel, allowing it to hold an edge more like carbon steel, but it still boasts corrosion resistance. Most knives made of this material are more expensive, and it’s popular in Japanese-style knives because of its hardness.
  • Ceramic: Ceramic knives are considered to be a specialty item. This material is extremely hard, allowing it to hold an extremely fine edge for a very long time. Conversely, that hardness makes the material brittle, so it's easy to chip it, and it can shatter if dropped.
  • Damascus steel: In the distant past, steel from Damascus was considered to be superior to steel from other cities. Part of it was the process, which involved folding layers of steel over one another and hammering them together, which resulted in higher carbon content (among other things). Modern Damascus steel knives still use this process, which is what causes those beautiful wavy patterns on the blade.

A santoku knife made with Damascus steel. Note the attractive wavy patterns on the blade. Photo by Di Doherty

Do I Want a Self-Sharpening Knife Block?

There are knife blocks that have sharpening surfaces built into the slots, so every time you take out a knife or put it back in, it’s sharpened a bit. That means that a lot of your blade care is done automatically when the knives are used.

The issue with these knife blocks is that they are very expensive and there’s a limited selection of them. Knife enthusiasts also usually prefer to take care of the honing and sharpening themselves, rather than leaving it to an automatic process that might be harder on your knives.

Types of Knife Block Sets

There are different types of knife sets that you can get. In terms of knives, the main differences are whether they’re Japanese-style knives or Western-style knives (sometimes also called German style).

Japanese Style

Japanese-style knives are based on a traditional Japanese design. These knives prioritize sharpness, meaning that they’re made of hard steel and hammered thin. Most of these knives are made by a Japanese company, but some, like santoku and nakiri knives, have been adopted by Western knifemakers.

Benefits:

  • This style of knife has an incredibly sharp blade.
  • Harder steel can be thinner, keeping the blades lightweight.

Be Aware:

  • These knives tend to have a higher price point.
  • Harder steel is more brittle, meaning that it can chip if you aren’t careful.

Western Style

Most Americans are more familiar with Western-style knives. These knives are typically made of a softer, thicker steel. They’re also usually beveled on both sides, meaning that the sharp edge is on either side of the blade, increasing durability.

Benefits:

  • Thicker steel increases durability.
  • Being beveled on both sides makes the knives ambidextrous.

Be Aware:

  • These knives are heavier.
  • The double bevel results in a less precise cut.

Features to Look For

Just as with all kitchen knives, there are knife block sets of various levels of quality. When deciding if a knife block set is right for you, consider which of the following features are most important to have:

Full or Partial Tang

When searching for knives, you’re likely to encounter the term “tang.” The tang is the part of the knife that attaches to the handle. Knives will either have a full or partial tang.

A full tang extends the entire length of the handle. Many of these will be visible and have rivets or a cap on the end to showcase that it has a full tang. A full tang helps with knife balance (the center of balance should be where the blade meets the handle) and durability.

A chef's knife with a full tang. Photo by Di Doherty

A partial tang, on the other hand, only extends partway down the handle. These knives can be imbalanced and not able to handle as much strain as a knife with a full tang, though they are lighter.

A paring knife with a partial tang. Photo by Di Doherty

Honing Steel

Many knife sets will come with a honing steel, also known as a sharpening steel or honing rod. A honing steel is essential for proper knife care, but as they can be purchased separately, it’s not a deal-breaker if a set doesn't have one.

A sharp knife has a very thin edge. Using the knife will cause this edge to curl, making the knife feel duller. The best way to tell if your knife edge is curled is to run the blade lightly along your thumbnail. If it doesn't feel smooth, your knife needs to be honed.

Honing the blade involves running the blade across the honing steel while pulling it down and toward you. Doing this on both sides of the blade straightens out that curled edge, making the knife sharp again. Unlike a whetstone, this doesn't shave pieces of the blade off to sharpen it, meaning it can be done daily if you wish.

How to Pick Out the Best Knife Block Set for You

The sheer number of options can make it difficult to decide on the right knife block for you. To help streamline that process, I’m going to describe three people and what my top picks would be for them.

A freshly honed chef’s knife mincing garlic. Photo by Sehajpal Singh

Mandy: Graduate Student Looking for a Decent Starting Set

Mandy has recently moved into an apartment and wants to get some good cooking equipment. She would like knives that work well and will last a while, but she doesn't want to spend too much money as she has to pay her student loans.

Features to Look For:

  • A knife set that covers all the necessary knives, like a chef’s knife, paring knife, and bread knife
  • Mid-range brands that manufacture well-made knives but aren’t high-end German or Japanese companies

Recommended Products: Mercer Culinary Genesis 6-Piece Set, Cangshan Helena 12-Piece Knife Block Set

Tony: Dedicated Home Chef Ready to Upgrade his Knives

Tony has a collection of knives that he got here and there, and not all of them are high-quality blades. He’s looking for a good set of knives that’ll work well and last a long time. He’d prefer a set with a block that will last so that he won’t have to worry about storage solutions.

Features to Look For:

  • A bamboo block or acacia block, as both are durable and long lasting
  • Forged knives for better strength and longevity

Recommended Products: Zwilling Pro 9-Piece Knife Block Set, WÜSTHOF Classic Ikon 8-Piece Knife Block Set

Giselle: Knife Fan who Wants a Matching Set

Giselle has always appreciated a beautiful knife, and she’s now decided that she wants to own a set. She’s looking for a set that has high-end knives that are practical and beautiful. She’d like an attractive way to display them, whether it’s a wood or magnetic block. She’s willing to spend what she needs to have a showpiece.

Features to Look For:

  • Japanese-style knives, as they tend to be showpieces
  • Wooden handles because they’re beautiful and long-lasting

Recommended Products: Miyabi Birchwood SG2 Knife Block Set, Miyabi Artisan Knife Block Set

Find the Best Knife Block Set for You

A knife block keeps your investment handy as well as safe. Photo by Giorgio Tovato

A knife block set is a serious investment, so a lot of research goes into finding just the right one. If you’d like to omit part of that or want a second opinion, start a chat with a Curated Kitchen Expert. Our experts are happy to answer questions, make recommendations, or even just talk shop with a fellow enthusiast. And it’s completely free!

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Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

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