"Knife care" is one of those areas, like prompt stain removal and regular oil changes, the discussion of which can really make you feel terrible. It's hard to be as diligent as the authorities want you to be, with the result that they can shake their heads sadly and mutter "no wonder." No wonder there's that blotch on your skirt, that gum in your engine, that gouge out of your knife blade.

So here is some advice about knives. Prompt stain removal and regular oil changes will have to remain private matters between you and your conscience.

Once you've got more than one knife, you have become a responsible party whether you like it or not. This is even more true if you have good knives, and you must have good knives if you like to cook. "Keep your knives sharp," dictated Julia Child in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" back in 1961, and the dictum still holds.

So what you need is something that will protect you and your knives from each other. This will probably be either a magnetic rack or some kind of wooden holder.

The first thing to assess is who's in your household and how far out of their reach sharp knives need to be. The second thing to consider is which kind of space you can afford to give up. Knife holders can go in drawers, on walls, on the sides of cabinets or heavy tables, or, if you're putting in a new kitchen, they can be custom made and installed at the back of the counter where it meets the backsplash so that the handles are visible but the blades are out of sight below counter level.

If you decide you want to keep your knives in a drawer, there are several good ways to do that. My favorite is a relatively new (out in the last year or so) wooden holder made by a Vermont company, J.K. Adams. It keeps the knives safe but visible, and it does it in the least possible amount of space. The knives are held in slots, blades vertical. More of the knife is visible with this holder than with the blocky wooden holders that sit on counter tops, and it has slots to hold the largest chef's knife.

This drawer holder only holds six knives and it has no place for a steel as do other varieties. But if you have a large troupe of knives you can buy more than one -- they're only about eight inches wide.

The other possibility for drawer storage is to install a magnetic holder on the bottom of the drawer. You can do this with wooden or formica cabinets, metal cabinets only if you have tools that can drill through metal. If you have a number of very large chef's knives, you may want to install two of these racks in the drawer -- one to hold the bases of the large blades and one to anchor the tips.

Magnetic strips are commonly available in 12- and 18-inch lengths, and of course they can be installed on walls as well. If you decide you want to wall-mount them make sure they are mounted at such a level so that if you reach out absentmindedly for a knife you'll be more likely to run up against a handle than a blade.

Professional kitchens sometimes have these racks mounted at the side of a work table, which is the most efficient level for a kitchen in which things move quickly. Sometimes in the home kitchen it's possible to install them at the side of an island or at the end of a row of cabinets. If there are small children in the family, however, this is exactly the wrong level.

In any case the rack should be installed so that no handle rises above the level of the work surface. If you want to attach the rack to a table you also need to make sure that either the table is very solid or the magnetism of the rack very strong -- otherwise knives could get jostled off.

Wooden racks also can be mounted on walls, cabinets or tables. They have different-sized slots to hold any size knife and they'll most often hold a steel as well. They are sized only for knives and steels, however, so you can't stick your ladle in them or your cleaver either, as you can with the magnetic racks. Some people feel more secure with wooden racks, as there is no way the knives can be dislodged.

If it's counter space you'd rather give up to knife storage, your choices are limited to different sizes and configurations of the solid wooden knife blocks. These have space for a steel and varying numbers of knives, but not usually for a cleaver. The angled kind, though they sprawl more than the straight-up kind, have become the most popular because they make the knives available at a much more reasonable level.

These racks are widely available at kitchenware and department stores. For the wooden ones, both wall-mounted and counter top, you can also write to J.K. Adams Co., P.O. Box 248, Dorset, Vt. 05251. Phone is (802) 362-2303.