Designing a knife block

Recently the what-can-I-optimize-next? gaze fell upon our knife block, but my exhaustive web searches for a suitable replacement came up empty. In the world of knife blocks, something with a smaller footprint and more capacity did not seem to exist. Once I’d reached the end of the internet-of-things-to-buy, I turned to Etsy, which I’ve started to use lately as a marketplace for custom-made goods. I’ll search for something, and if I’m lucky, there will be a “Request a custom order…” banner beneath an item I like. In this case, I found a design that inspired me made by a seller, Jimmy Essien of The Aurora Artisan, who was willing to work with me.

Maple Knife Block by Jimmy Essien of The Aurora Artisan
The knife block that got my wheels turning

So I dug up some graph paper and started sketching designs, trying fit my existing (and future) knives together as tightly as possible. There were several nights in a row where I had to force myself to stop drawing (at one in the morning) and go to bed. I settled on a design where all the knives were lined up in a single row, but the challenge was finding a place for the steel and the scissors. I knew I had something special when I realized that the weight of the steel would hold itself in place, sitting in an open groove along the sloped side. Not only was this solution space-saving and functional—it allowed for easy access—but it also added a unique design element to the block.

Knife block design on graph paper by Justin Watt
My knife block design

I sent my final design over to the seller, paid for the item, and hoped for the best. I should say that I would love to have the time and space to one day become an accomplished woodworker (along with so many other hobbies!), but in the meantime, I found it extremely satisfying to focus solely on the design, while leaving the implementation to an experienced craftsman (who would undoubtedly elevate the finished product beyond my humble sketches). Indeed, when it arrived three weeks later, the knife block was far more beautiful than I could have imagined. It’s hard to express how it felt to hold in my hands something so full of craftsmanship that had, until that moment, only existed in my mind and on graph paper.

Custom knife block, designed by Justin Watt and built by Jimmy Essien of The Aurora Artisan
The knife block, showing off the steel in its “groove”

Custom knife block, designed by Justin Watt and built by Jimmy Essien of The Aurora Artisan
The knife block in profile

Custom knife block, designed by Justin Watt and built by Jimmy Essien of The Aurora Artisan
The knife block in context

· Art