KNIVES do not belong in drawers. If they are kept loose, it is merely a question of time before you reach in and cut yourself. And it is also bad for the knives: Nothing destroys blades faster than having them bumping and banging against each other.

So store them property, in one of the three basic methods: magnetic racks, slotted racks and blocks.

The well designed magnetic knife rack consists of a 1-by-2 inch strip of wood from 12 to 8 inches long, with a set of very strong magnetic metal bars recessed into the wooden strip and running from end to end. There are a number of manufacturers producing magnetic racks and there is a wide disparity in quality.

Do not purchase those with only a single magnetic strip - one is not sufficient to hold large chef's an slicing knives safely. And look for a rack with the widest magnets: The best models have two strips each 3/8 of an inch wide. The wideth is important to obtain a proper grip on the blade.

The unit must be securely attached to a wall or work table. The rack itself is rather weighty to begin with; and with a full set of knives, the strain on the mounting system is considerable. Use heavy-duty screws of mounting onto wood surfaces and special boltings for plaster walls. It is best to describe the project and your mounting surface to a competent hardware dealer and follow his directions.

Make sure that your knives are completely free of grease and moisture before you put them onto this kind of rack or you may find them sliding about. And be careful where you mount it.High-traffic areas, like the working side of a chopping table, are dangerous and strong vibrations may shake the knives loose.

A dependable model is called Magnabar Mark 7 with two magnetic strips and a retail price of $8 for the 12-inch model and $12 for the 18-inch. Another two-strip model made by TenGam even holds heavy skillets and sells for $12.98.

Slotted racks are usually made of wood into which the knife blades are set. The wide bolster points keep the knives from sliding through. The Tommer Brodein Corp. from Sweden makes a slotted rack with places for sharpening rods, kitchen scissors and even a Chinese cleaver. A smaller model made by J. Ka. Adams with also comes in a block style, holds 8 knives and is priced at $23.

With slotted racks you need have no fear of inadvertently knocking a knife loose as you might with a magnetic bar. On the other hand, there are some limitations on which knife goes where, since most racks have slots of various but fixed sizes. These racks are widely available in maple, walnut and painted pine. My choice is always the solid polished woods, not only because of esthetics but because the painted units can chip (as can those in plastic). The same considerations of locations and mounting recommended for magnetic modesl should be given to slotted racks.

The past few years have seen the introduction of the "knife block." Quite simply, this is a cube of solid or laminated wood in which there are a series of slots of holding knives. Most models are rectangular, with a base about 5 by 6 inches and a height of 12 inches. The best models are heavy enough to sit firmly on a counter top without any tendency to tip over, even filled with knives - be certain of this stability before you purchase a standing block. The real joy of this system is that you can easily move your knives from one work area to another, there are no mounting problems, and very little danger of a knife working loose.

The original knife-block designs have been modified, and there are now models that tilt foreward (for easier access) and still others that stand upright, tilt forward or mount on to walls or sides of work tables and cabinets. Two recommended block-style holders (not widely available in this area) are made by Case and Reliance Wood.

No matter which system of knife storage you use, it is important to:

Estimate the total number of knives you will be working with and to purchase a storage system that will accommodate all the various blade sizes.

Select a safe and conveniet spot for the unit.

Make sure that a proper hardware system is ultized for models that mount. CAPTION: Picture, Knives from Kitchen Bazaar Photo by Douglas Chevalier - The Washington Post