Does anyone have any experiences of /advice about "universal" knife blocks, i.e. blocks that hold the knives in place with a dense bunch of plastic bristles instead of the usual slots in the wood.

I've recently got some decent knives, some that I've bought, some received as presents and I'm about to add a ceramic honing steel too. The problem is that they are all different makes and (I presume?) a ceramic steel isn't magnetic so a strip is out.(Besides, I hear ceramic steels are easy to damage so a block would provide more protection).

The solution would appear to be a "universal" knife block that could accommodate all brands, but I'd like to know:

1) Do the bristles damage or wear the knives as you draw/replace them?

2) Are there hygiene issues storing the knives like this?

3) Are these blocks ok for storing honing rods or just knives?

Any info would be much appreciated, thank you.

  • I found an image of one with with a steel but I don't post as I don't know if it is copy protected. I think it would work but don't have first hand experience.
    – paparazzo
    Apr 28, 2017 at 17:23
  • @Paparazzi, didn't think to try that, I'll Google some more images, thanks. Apr 28, 2017 at 19:07

3 Answers 3


The only hygiene issue would be if you put away dirty knives, which would be an issue in any knife block, or otherwise contaminate them. It's not like the slots in traditional wooden knife blocks can be washed.

Because you'll take the knife out, use it, wash and dry it then put it away any wear should be negligible. The bristles are made of plastic with a similar hardness to chopping boards. Whether you sharpen your knives frequently or are lazy you won't notice the difference.

The ones I've seen wouldn't have room for honing steels - there isn't enough room between the bristles.

  • 2
    Dish knives? Do you mean dirty knives?
    – Catija
    Apr 28, 2017 at 16:42
  • 3
    I have a universal block and it works well for me. Not much to add except to say that I have not noticed any additional damage or dulling beyond what I would expect based on my usage. The one downside is that you can have blades knock against each other, which might damage them, but that's pretty easy to avoid if you're careful. Have not tried putting my honing steel into it, but I will try to remember to test it out tonight.
    – Duncan
    Apr 28, 2017 at 17:24
  • 1
    Jarring and skidding a knife into a plastic cutting board is not at all good for your edges. Mind that a piece of LEATHER-very soft and tough material, right, so it should do absolutely nothing to metal? - can be used as a honing tool! Apr 29, 2017 at 0:52
  • 1
    @rackandboneman you have to use a knife on something and plastic boards are common in both domestic and professional situations. Jarring and skidding aren't compulsory.
    – Chris H
    Apr 29, 2017 at 6:23
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    Yes. But plastic straws seem to be doing just that on the edges, I was trying to explain why "same plastic your boards are made of" doesn't completely hold water. And some edges that will even stand moderate chopping on a medium hard (acacia) wood board will very quickly dull on plastic boards. Apr 29, 2017 at 18:33

Yes, very sharp/thin edged blades (think of something like a yanagiba or laser gyuto) will take damage because they will bite lengthwise into the plastic straws and get dulled and/or deformed/chipped. Also, an overfull plastic straw block can bend the edge out of hone because of uneven pressure applied to its sides.

ADDITION: Example experiment I did: Take Takamura HSPS (not the pro version), sharpened to the same angle these come with from the maker (around 18 degrees inclusive(!!). Very delicate knife but usable on a cutting board with care.), arm hair sharp. Stuff it in a bristle knife block a few times. No longer arm hair sharp.

  • 2
    And on that note -- I've heard it's better to put knives into blocks blade up, so it's not putting as much pressure on it.
    – Joe
    Apr 28, 2017 at 21:33
  • Blade up? As in upside down? That sounds dangerous. Or do you mean the drawer-insert, horizontal blocks? Apr 29, 2017 at 0:49
  • @rackandboneman I think "upside down" refers to the common wooden blocks with slanted blade slots
    – Chris H
    Apr 29, 2017 at 6:24
  • @rackandboneman : Chris is right ... I was talking about the countertop slanted ones. (I've thought about switching to one of the under-cabinet ones, for those that aren't on my magnetic bar)
    – Joe
    Apr 29, 2017 at 10:24
  • One could furnish a drawer or box with some balsa-plywood or other soft wood bulkheads and saw/cut appropriate slots in - if the wood is soft enough pressure/weight should be irrelevant. Done so for a few boxes - boatload of work to do (fitting slots in the constraints of a box or drawer is a lot of carving and saw hacking) but works. May 1, 2017 at 1:53

Second answer, because I'm dealing with a separate aspect of the question here.

One good way to upgrade these universal blocks is to use balsa wood (available in stores that sell scale modeling supplies) boards to make inserts as needed. In the simplest case, use alternating boards and spacers to get a number of slots. Discard the bristle insert.

Balsa is an extremely light wood that can be cut to size with a ruler and boxcutter and glued with superglue (if paranoid about contaminants, there are NSF certified brands of superglue). If making more complex inserts, be aware that balsa stability is VERY dependent on whether you are going against or with the grain - if you need stability, make a simple plywood by glueing two thin boards together with their grain at an angle to each other.

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