Vintage Gear Exploration: Gillette “Knack”

Posted: October 11, 2016 in Shaving Articles
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The Gillette Knack’s introduction date is a topic of some debate. If the most familiar source for info on Gillette date codes is correct, it was introduced a year AFTER mine’s date code. So…mine purports to be from quarter 4, 1967. Perhaps they spooled up production in late ’67 to introduce it in ’68. I won’t get into that weird realm of the theoretical. Okay, no promises. Who knows? I probably will. I’m obstreperous that way.

Back to business. The Knack was re-branded the Double Edge, it seems, in 1972. It may well have had another moniker late in its run. Something in my memory banks says that it was called something like the G-1000? Eh. I have no solid evindence of that. I probably dreamed it after being slipped something in my drink. I believe that the Knack, or whatever iterative name they chose to give it, carried on until the bitter end in regard to Gillette’s double edge razor sales, but details are sketchy.

The Knack had a British equivalent, called the Slim Twist. The commonality between all the models of this oeuvre was that the twist knob was directly below the head, with the remainder of the handle having no moving parts. This close-coupled design allowed the handle to be made of resin (plastic), and be shaped with a constant taper toward the end. Some of the Slim Twist razors had a significantly different handle, and typically bore an off-white plastic, rather than blue or black. The alternate handle was more of a rounded rectangle, narrowing to something of a wedge at the distal end. My understanding of the two razors is that they pretty much shaved the same and had the same head design. Someone who has both in their stable can confirm or deny this, if they choose to chime in.

My view of this design is two-fold. On one hand, I appreciate the efficiency of the design. Having the mechanism not work from the distal end of the handle, but rather over the shortest distance possible is kind of brilliant. You could do anything you wanted to do with the handle. Making it shorter or longer would require no real change to the mechanism. In addition, the shorter push rod opening and closing the unit means that the resistance is low. It also means that material costs are decreased. The torque on the push rod is less, and a shorter piece of the same stock is relatively far more resistant to twisting, shearing, and bending forces. Finally, it’s possible to tighten and loosen the doors with one hand.

However…the Knack is like a front wheel drive car. All the “go” parts are in the same spot. Efficiency aside, that has a dramatic effect on the balance of the device. This makes the Knack its own animal in terms of handling dynamics. It is top heavy. It has to be. Okay, it doesn’t have to be. If one wished to affix a heavy, all metal handle to it, the balance point could be anywhere. But…there we go into the theoretical. Built as it was, with the materials Gillette chose, it has a strongly top-heavy bias. Not that it is at all heavy in the scheme of things. It probably weighs half what some of my burlier razors do. Stretched over its relatively rangy total length, it feels quite svelte. Sort of like a lollipop you can shave with.

Many view the Knack as a sign of the cheapening of the Gillette product, which had enjoyed a whole lot of years as an all metal line of razors. Still, you can’t keep time from progressing, and new materials will take their turn upon the stage. I myself tend to appreciate all metal razors more than those that contain plastic parts. Truth be told, the Knack is the one of only a few razors I own that isn’t entirely metal of one sort or another. Being a sucker for expensive materials is, I suppose, a quirk I bring to safety razors from my prior obsession, that of a pocket knife collector. I’m actually surprised that I don’t own a razor made of titanium or something. They start making them available, this fool will probably be in line to get one.

Materials Discussion: (Digression alert)

I feel that I should point out that, in most cases, safety razors are not under such stress as tools that they require space age materials. Gillettes were made of brass and usually coated with nickel. They last nearly forever if they’re cared for and do not meet some unexpected calamity (like falling out the window of a fifth story walk-up, caroming into the street, and being smashed flat by a passing road grater. Most razors today are made from Zamak, which is a zinc alloy that is often classed as a “pot metal”. It’s cheap and easy to machine. Most razors made of this material are then given a hard coat of chrome, as Zamak itself is prone to oxidation. Step up from there, and you’ll find brass razors, coated with all the typical plating metals, such as nickel, chrome, gold, and rarely rhodium (which is awesome, but really pricey). The top-line razors are made from stainless steel, typically marine grade, such as 303 or 410 stainless. While this isn’t expensive metal, it’s much more demanding to machine, and also far, far tougher than any of the materials listed on the cheaper razors. It’s tough to find a razor for under a hundred dollars that’s made of all stainless. I know that titanium is used in at least one razor, made by Wolfman, but it’s rare. Some razors are also made of aluminum. The extreme lightness of aluminum makes it a less than ideal medium. It also tends to be very soft as a material. Finally, good old plastic. The earliest razors made of plastic date back to the 30’s, I believe. Early (and even current) razors were made of a type of plastic called Bakelite. Interesting stuff. It is a hard, unbending plastic, and has been used in some well-beloved razors. Your more standard, slightly porous, fairly bendy plastic has been used in some razors, too. In the handle element, the resin has no real downside except for a dearth of weight (unless lightness is what you’re looking for.) In the head, though…I’m not sold on it. I know some people like the Wilkinson Sword Classic razor, and a few others that make extensive use of plastics, but I remain somewhat unconvinced. Those are the biases I brought to the review of the Knack. You see, I’m actually getting back to the point, just as you’d given up all hope and decided to end it all.

<End Digression> 

I wasn’t really expecting anything particularly noteworthy from the Knack. I figured it would be a good shaver, but I primarily got it because I wanted to have an example of that model for my collection.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised. The Knack feels natural in hand and shaves really well. I find myself going back to it in preference to a lot of other razors I quite like. I find that, weirdly, I suppose, I can get every bit the shave with the Knack that I can with my Feather AS-D2. That doesn’t seem likely or rational, but there you have it. Looks are not everything. Nor is price. It is a pretty safe shave, quite mild, but it can get in there and give you an excellent shave. This is especially true with a blade on the sharp end of the spectrum. In this way, it is similar to the Superspeed design, with which it shares many similarities in head dynamics.

The Knack is worth your time, and worth a spot in your collection. Not revered as many of the other Gillettes might be, but a nice design, nonetheless. This is a vintage razor that should be available in good condition, and for a small price tag. I’d recommend trying out out if you rather like a two tone razor, and have had some good luck with mild shavers in the past.

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