Above The Tie 7-Piece Stainless Steel Razor System

The Above The Tie (ATT) razor system is a new product from a very young company. This Tennessee-based firm designs, engineers and manufactures its razors locally using U.S. steel and U.S. labor. My recent experience with their Titan model demonstrated to me the company’s close attention to manufacturing detail and quality control showed me that they are capable of producing high-quality razors that are competitive with manufacturers worldwide.

The Above The Tie 7-piece stainless steel razor system is beautifully made, and its quality is readily apparent on first sight and touch. It has a fine satin-matte finish and surprising heft for its size. The gleaming texturing of the handle makes for an attractive and sure grip and the balance made it immediately at home in my hands. This is a fine razor system, there is no mistaking that.

This is the second stainless steel razor in my den (the other being the ATT Titan H1), and my first razor system. I was attracted to it based on my experience with the Titan, which I liked very much, and because the concept of a system appealed to me. The idea of being able to customize razor components to suit my needs-of-the moment was attractive, and I wanted to try out the various component parts see if they really did contribute to my every day shaving experience.

On first examination, I was impressed with the stainless finish and the subtle, even brushing on the top cap. The bottom plate is absent the usual large holes for the posts that DE razors normally use to help with blade alignment, and an examination of the top and bottom pieces showed why—they have been replaced by small pins and divots that don’t require through-drilling. This makes for a very clean appearance under the bottom plate, and a place for fine engraving to identify “ABOVE THE TIE 2012″ and “MADE IN USA”.

When I inserted a blade, I could appreciate the genius of the mini-pins and divots, which ensure perfect blade alignment every time. I wondered why no other manufacturers had thought to do this. When I turned it over, I also noticed the blade exposure, which is large. An examination from the side showed that the blade gap was significant, too.

I performed my usual prep, which is quite thorough, and loaded my Carrington custom ultra-dense silvertip badger brush with Mitchell’s Wool Fat soap to start my shave.

I knew that the “H” base plate was aggressive, given past experience with the Titan, but my over 400 shaves with the Mühle R41 had taught me a lot about aggressive razors. I was not intimidated. I was surprised at how easily the first shaves went. The system did not seem at all to be hard on blades, like the R41 had been for me. It also did not take any more care to use than my Merkur HD. It provided excellent audible feedback, which to me makes shaving easier.

But why a razor system? What real-life needs might a system address? In my personal experience, I primarily use aggressive razors because I have a very wiry beard that mild razors have never been able to cut effectively. With my usual four-pass approach, it is rare for me to get true BBS results. In the past, my favorite razors have been those that are generally considered to be aggressive, and I’ve used longer, heavier handles to boost their heads’ natural aggressiveness. These razors come with a price: due to the curvature of my neck, the longer handles require me to adjust my shaving technique because they are less maneuverable. Very aggressive razors like the R41 require a fair amount of concentration—and despite my best efforts, sometimes require a time-out when irritation builds. For these reasons I keep a Merkur HD on hand for backup.

For me, the ATT system meant I might find a single, high-quality tool to address all my shaving needs, with minimum need to adapt my shaving style. I found that the Atlas system did this very well, in fact better than expected. In my review, I will address each component individually, and also give my impressions of the system as a whole.

Overview

The ATT 7-piece stainless razor system includes the following components:

Top cap (2). The stainless top caps have a finely brushed satin-matte finish. It’s the same cap provided with the Titan H1, and the same included with all ATT razors and systems. The finish is high-tech and modeled after finishes used in the aerospace industry. It is both beautiful and unique in the shaving world.

Barber Pole Handle. The Atlas barber pole handle is a beautiful piece of functional artwork. At 3″ long and 56 grams it provides very nice balance. It is the shortest handle I have used in several years, since I have generally used long, heavy weight handles for the extra boost they give me in terms of aggressiveness. The system does not need an edge in this department, and the noticeable increase in maneuverability and balance provide a big plus in shaving ease and enjoyment. Unlike other barber poles I have used, the ATT handle does not have a tendency to twist while in use.

Knurled Handle. The outstanding knurled handle that comes with the 7-piece system is the same that’s included with the Titan razor. The texturing is attractive and provides a secure grip. The handle is large enough to be well-suited to most users, but small enough to be very nimble. It is 3.5″ long and weighs 71 grams, and provides the best grip and balance of any DE razor I have ever personally used. I feel that the grip and balance contribute to great control and performance.

Both handles provide a comfortable, secure grip even under slippery conditions. The system also permits use of a large number of handles from other manufacturers for those shavers who want further customization.

H Base Plate. The H plate, the most aggressive/effective of the plates included with the system, provides a blade gap of .036″. I am familiar with this base plate because of my experience with the Titan. I expected that like the H1, the shave experience would be very close to that of the Mühle R41. Unlike the R41, however, I find that I can use the H plate freely and without the need for close attention and concentration. The H plate, in use, is like using a well-behaved R41. My shave results are identical—with BBS results guaranteed nearly every time, and in just three passes, without need for worrying about nicks, cuts or irritation.

R Base Plate. The R plate provides a lesser blade gap of .023″. I had imagined that the shave experience would be similar to a Merkur HD, but found that it was closer to that of a slant. The R plate is easy to get BBS shaves with, and carefree in actual use. The quality of shaves were not as close as those of the H plate, but very, very close with three passes.

M Base Plate. The M plate provides the mildest shaving experience of the three. With a blade gap of .010″, I anticipated that the shave experience would be similar to that of a Gillette Tech or other mild DE razor. This class of razors is generally not well-suited to my wiry beard, and I have difficulty getting a BBS shave with my standard four-pass approach. In actual use, the M plate provided an excellent BBS shave nearly every time in four passes. The shave was close to or better than the results I get from my Merkur HD.

It should be noted that the 7-piece system includes enough components to make two complete razors, and that all components are covered by a generous guarantee.

The Results

Over the past six weeks, I tried the ATT system with both handles, in every possible configuration using a variety of different blades, soaps/creams and brushes. The following are my detailed observations:

Price: The retail price of the 7-piece all-stainless razor system is $399. Considering the durability and craftsmanship, as well as the versatility of having multiple base plates to modify and customize aggressiveness, the investment is attractive—although at the very limit of my budget. The system is compatible with a large number of handles to further fine-tune the razor. I think the system offers good value for the money. You will never need to buy another razor, and there are enough components to make two complete heirloom-quality razors.  There are ATT products for other budgets as well.

Quality: This system screams “quality” along every dimension. The brushed-satin stainless finish is very well done. It even holds up to close inspection under magnification. It is a great marriage of form and function. The heft is solid, but not over-the-top.

The razor is easy to clean, especially due to the innovative pin-and-divot blade alignment feature that does not require drilling holes through the base plate. The feature also guarantees perfect blade alignment every time. It is my understanding that this feature is a rarely-found feature in the industry, and I think it’s a good example of the care and thought that goes into the design and execution of Above The Tie’s razors.

User Friendly: I prefer three-piece razors for ease of cleaning. The extra few seconds it takes to replace a blade every few days I find negligible. The pin-and-divot alignment feature, while ensuring accurate blade alignment, was sometimes a little tricky for me personally because of arthritis in my hands. For most shavers, this will not be an issue, and you will only appreciate how perfect the blade alignment is every time.

Grip: The grip and its finish are two of the system’s finest features. On the longer, knurled handle, the texturing is attractive and provides a secure grip even when wet and soap-covered. The handle is large enough to be well-suited to most users, but small enough to be very nimble. It has superb grip and balance, which contributes to great control and performance. The gleaming knurling on the handle makes for an attractive and sure grip and the balance made it the best-functioning of any handle I’ve ever used. This is a fine handle, to be sure!

The barber pole etching on the shorter handle is both precisely machined and perfectly executed to provide a solid, non-slip grip. I have had the experience of barber pole handles that want to twist in my hands. Not so here. I should note that because I have used heavy, long-handled razors for so long, I did encounter a short learning curve that took three shaves to resolve. The first few shaves were accompanied by unexpected but minor irritation. It took a few shaves for me to learn to correctly use the incredible maneuverability that the razor provides.

Ease of Blade and Base Plate Replacement: Personally, I like three-piece razors, including this one. For me, with limited dexterity in my hands, the feature could be a little tricky at times, and take a few extra seconds. I’ve always enjoyed the ritual of inserting a fresh blade, and with this system, the time it takes provides a visual reminder of the excellent quality and craftsmanship of these shaving tools.

Aggressiveness: This is an effective razor system capable of giving fine, close and comfortable shaves. I have discussed the aggressiveness of each base plate above, and won’t repeat it here.

No matter which base plate I chose, I found it remarkably well-behaved. I was able to shave quickly, and with little concern for nicks, cuts or irritation. I tried the system with a variety of blades, soaps/creams and brush setups. I especially like it with Feathers, Perma-Sharps, Personna Med Preps and the included Astra SPs, though the system seems to tolerate any blade well. Where some razors, like the R41, seem to magnify differences between blades, this system minimizes them.

Adjustability: This is non-adjustable razor in the traditional sense, but with a range of options for modifying aggressiveness/effectiveness by replacing the  razors’ base plates. I found that the range of aggressiveness could be modified from near-R41 levels to what felt to me like Merkur HD or R89 levels. Base plate swapping is no more difficult than blade replacement with this three-piece razor system.

Balance: For me, this is a finely weighted and balanced DE razor system. Shaving with it is as easy and carefree as it could be, in my opinion.

Packaging: The ATT system comes in a good looking, custom cardboard box with a pack of Astra SP blades, which work very well with all system configurations. For the cost of the system, however, I would have preferred a more durable, custom metal or wooden box. This is an heirloom-quality purchase, in my opinion, and an upgrade in this area (or an available optional accessory) would be desirable.

Overall: This stainless steel razor system is a remarkable achievement, especially since this is the first razor system offered by a very young company. It is designed, engineered and manufactured in the United States by an American company using U.S. steel and labor. The manufacturing detail and quality control are competitive with high-grade razor manufacturers worldwide. Above the Tie’s first entry into providing a stainless steel razor system deserves a close look by serious shavers everywhere.

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Comments

  1. D says

    This was an excellent and very thorough review. The product looks outstanding in quality and sounds like it has the performance to match. And while I do not question the value for what you get at this price, I do find that price to be such that many shavers will not embrace this system. For $400, you can buy a half dozen or more excellent razors to start or supplement your shave den. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about wetshaving is experimenting with a variety of different makes and styles of razors. To be sure, some work better than others, but it makes the morning ritual more interesting. For me, there are certainly a couple of razors that I would say if I could only have one or two razors… but otherwise, I enjoy the change in the routine. And I feel that $400 could get me a variety of different shave experiences that this system, despite its interchangeable parts, won’t offer. If I were just starting out, I’d use this money to buy a slant, an Edwin Jagger, an adjustable (maybe a vintage Fatboy or a new Merkur Progress), a TTO razor, and a couple of other razors (a Merkur classic HD or a Weber) to round things out — this of course, assuming I’ve budgeted $400 just for razors (in reality, most are going to use some of that for brushes, creams, blades, aftershaves, etc.) As it is, I have enough razors in my rotation already that at least aesthetically share some features with this system (at first blush, I was reminded of my Stainless Steel Feather, and the Edwin Jagger head I fixed to an iKon bulldog handle). I can’t justify the $400 outlay for something that isn’t dramatically different from what I already use. So while this looks like a tremendous product, that may very well be fairly priced, I would for someone just starting out, the the price would be a negative. And for more experienced shavers who may already have a half dozen razors or more, it would still seem like a very pricey addition. It will be interesting to see how well this system sells. Personally, I prefer to keep it simple and not have to interchange parts or keep two razors ready to go for a single shave. I feel like between varying razors, blades, brushes, creams/soaps, and aftershaves over the days and weeks, it’s fussy enough as it is! So they system isn’t as appealing to me as it might be to others.

    Again, an excellent review of what appears to be an excellent product, but unless someone who is very generous wants to give me one as a gift, it probably won’t be appearing in my shave den.

    • Jim says

      Your comments are fair, and I think that many shavers will agree with you. What I’ve found over the years is that I originally acquired several dozen razors, brushes, soaps, creams, blades, etc., and loved trying them all. I also found that I tended to settle on “favorites” and that most of my purchases sat unused for months/years. I found that one or two of the best products in each category were all I really used on a regular basis.

      I sold most of my seldom-used products last year, and began borrowing/trading with other shavers to find the products that were the absolute best for me, and ones I was sure I’d use daily. I used the money I got from selling my backup stocks to acquire only a few items in each category that work the very best for me. Now my den is much smaller, but I am happy with everything in it and use everything frequently. In the end, my unused items financed all of my new den.

    • Glenn says

      I appreciate your point of view, I’ve been there myself, on account of a very modest budget for personal grooming. But what I’m finding now, as I’m trying different razors and finding that the differences are NOT in fact that great between them, whether stainless or pot metal or plastic, the shaves are not that far apart (for me), so what I focus on now is purchasing one product that I will NEVER have to replace, nor feel the need to replace for want of something “better”. This set fills those needs for me. I can’t want for something better, when I already have the “best”. And it’s versatile enough to fill any need that I might have, YMMV of course.

      But what sold me on the purchase, I weighed my cost in disposable cartridges over a ten year period (the old life) vs. my cost of DE shaving over the same span of time. In four years, my cost for M3 carts alone would pay for this set twice over. Put into that perspective, the price point, though initially high, is actually not that bad when you figure you’ll never again need to frequent the bay looking for a good deal on a tech, or the BST forum looking for a better handle option for your R41. Ultimately, it’s up to the individual and where their priorities lie, but as for me, I’m happy to own a set like this. It keeps the den clean and simple, efficient and effective. And it still, in spite of the price, will ultimately save tons of money over disposables. Not to mention, leaves my family with hardware that can be passed down for generations, if properly cared for.

      It is a very steep price point, but at that, it is also an investment as much as an expense.

  2. Jim says

    One clarification that I think is due. This review is about Above The Tie’s complete razor system, which includes components for more than two complete razors.

    ATT has other razors and components available for less than half the price of this top-of-the-line system. They also offer fine vintage razors, and hand-crafted brushes and soaps. There are two links to their website within the review above.

  3. Justin says

    +1 on the very thorough review. Thanks. By the way, do you or anybody else have an idea of how the blade gap measurements compare to popular vintage and modern razors?

    • Jim says

      The blade gaps are surprisingly modest for the level of aggressiveness they provide. A Google search for “de razor blade gap chart” will provide several excellent sources for comparison.

    • Jim says

      Nope, four hundred for two razors, plus. And unless I’m having flashbacks to the ’70s, it wasn’t due to any “wacky weed”.

  4. GDCarrington says

    Jim,

    An excellent review of the ATT system, or should I say “Dual” system based on the two complete razors with an extra baseplate.

    This is the ticket for the person who wants a limited amount of hardware to perform from mild to aggressive, with heirloom quality craftsmanship that can last for decades and perhaps even centuries.

    I have had my hand at trying a vintage Darwin razor as a loaner and those can run twice as much as this system on the bidding market. So while expensive, it still is not the highest end of the safety razor market.

    For those who buy this system, enjoy!

  5. Jerald says

    An excellent and thorough review! Thank you very much. I am finding that I too have accumulated a great deal of hardware – 56 razors I think the count is at – but really only use 3-4 that perform well for me. And doing so has cost far in excess of the $400 this system cost… This system makes good sense – a fabulous gift for a young man, one that would serve him well thru the stages of life, especially if, as is often the case, his beard thickens and toughens with time and the level of aggression he needs changes with it.

    • Jim says

      I can relate to your statement: “as is often the case, his beard thickens and toughens with time and the level of aggression he needs changes with it.

      When I started shaving in 1963, my dad gave me a new Slim adjustable which worked best at “3”. Now that I’m in my 60s, I find that my Gillette adjustables work best at their highest setting because my beard is so wiry. I’m proud to say that I still have my original Slim and fond memories of dad.

  6. robin says

    one of the best reviews i,ve read.A good looking solid razor by what i can see. Myself, at this moment have a taylors of bond street travel razor for my dopp bag a badger brush and chatsworth razor from the EJ range and beleave or not a small gillette butterfly head razor with the words patent pending made in england which came in a bakelite brown box ,lord knows how old it is.perhaps the above is just what im looking for,and stainless does appeal.

  7. robin says

    After thought Jim,i do agree with what you said about a wooden box,the new Japonese feather razor comes in some type of cardboard box……….the older one came in a neat wooden one…..much more zen..to my mind !!

  8. Alan says

    Great review! Have been eying the “5 piece set”. The one thing I was hoping to see you address is the amount of ‘drag’ (if I can use that term) of a matte finish stainless head vs a slick chrome finish on other razors. Also, with corners and angles appearing less rounded, did you feel any sort of ‘sharpness’ (for lack of a better term) from the edges of the head while shaving. Again, really great review. Thanks!

  9. Alex2363 says

    Jim, as always a very eloquent and detailed review. The ATT website also offers replate services for anyone considering to restore their razors. Reasonable prices too.

  10. frankw says

    Thank you for the detailed review – an informative read. I have the five piece Kronos set and am a contemporary all-steel razor fan. I remain disappointed by the widely reported ‘high quality’ of finish of the ATT set. As another poster alludes to, there are sharp edges on the cap, plate edges. The machining on the plate top and edges is ‘course’ and lightweight – sadly, appearing machined down to a price and not up to a standard… and ultimately represents a poor value for money. Most reviews fail to report this fact…

    (IMO) the standard for steel razor quality production and value for money is set by Tradere – compare the two side by side, it’s chalk and cheese… enjoy frankw

  11. Domenic says

    Hello. I have a question and would really appreciate an accurate answer. I want to buy a Above The Tie razor. Which one could possibly be comparable to the Merkur 34c HD?

    Thank you!
    Domenic

  12. Spanky says

    Just to keep price in perspective…. I understand [yes] stainless is better (but not stain free), the durability here is better and more consistent and the options including making two razors. Nor would I want demote the funding of specialist and their getting more, for doing more. Nor hinder your choice at all. In fact freedom is why I support competition and the following observation.

    One could simply order 1 or 2 “cheap” REMEI Razor(s) (the three piece), nice handle, chrome, mild/mid/average closeness, safety bar, from China for $2.00 shipped that’s including (about 30 days boat) delivery! Then you could simply use a shim (scissor cut-off the shiny sharp part of each side of a used DE blade and that’s your shim) about 1 to 3 shims, dropped on “top/after” your blade (on the head while upside down) and right-side-up that becomes under the blade to raise it. This achieves the same larger-gap effect of a progressive, stubble removing (LIGHTER PRESSURE) closeness(aggressiveness), without any classic adjustable razor bulk to work with, or expensive razors parts.

    Note: You may not need a blade as sharp with the greater closeness, or bad/different prep AT THE SAME PRESSURE. However, with very warm water, time, cushion, slip, experience with your razor and a LIGHTER, NO pressure, that’s now not required for closeness, you could go with a sharper blade and enjoy less cutting resistance, fewer passes, no irritation(nick, cut, burn), almost zero stubble or razor bumps. If you have to shave spots such as on the lower neck (outside beard area), AND with DE razor (try trimmer on non-dense areas), go only WTG and leave a tiny amount of stubble to prevent bumps. The skin has to many peaks competing with the stubble there. Back of the neck also may get bumps. These do not require baby smoothness (usually). …Right tool for the job.

    • Mstr. Sgt. B. says

      Your talking about rigging a cheap Chinese razor that can compare to a high end stainless precision crafted tool. Your time must be worth more than that, if one cannot or will not pay for a high quality product then simply find something in your price range. I agree that the ATT razor is way overpriced in fact riduculously overpriced, but there are alternatives to all that work, and waiting a month for a POS razor you plan to jerry rig seems a bit excessive for and inferior result. Edwin Jagger, Merkur, Muehle and others make razors that are precision crafted at reasonable prices.

      No one NEEDS an ATT razor and in my opinion there is no justification for spending $400.00 on any razor or shaving . This is a status thing and if people truly believe they are getting a better shave for that much money then let them throw their money away.

  13. Hector says

    Very nice review indeed. A very interesting system for sure, but I don’t know it is for me.

    The price is just that, the important thing is how it would perform in my face.

    Personally, I would take the 400.00 and buy some good products :-)

  14. says

    While the article does discuss the five and seven piece sets one can also purchase a single stand alone razor as well. The cost of any single Above the Tie stainless razors in any configuration is $185.00. Some of the comments in this thread could leave the impression that a minimum purchase is $400.00. Just wanted to clarify to anyone who may erroneously come to that conclusion.

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