Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

How does Above the Tie convey that feeling of holding a very precise machine, using only 3 parts?

with 19 comments

SOTD 7 Oct 2014

I said I’d use my wonderful R&B brush this morning, and so I have: it did a great job with the Paislay vintage shaving soap.

I shaved using my Above the Tie R1 baseplate on the Kronos handle (though I think I might like the Atlas—the spiraled handle—a little more in terms of the engraving; if it were only 3.5″ long like the Kronos instead of 3′ long!), using a Personna Lab Blue blade. I commented on Wicked Edge yesterday about my impressions of the Above the Tie razor, and here I revise and extend my remarks.

The first important point is that Above the Tie offers a 30-day 100% satisfaction guarantee. Obviously such guarantees are important when ordering on-line, but it’s particularly important with the ATT razor since their baseplates are so specifically tuned. I have tried 4 baseplates: the M1 (mild straight-bar), the R1 (“regular” bar guard), the H1 (“H’ for “harsh,” so far as I’m concerned, though clearly perfect for some), and the R2 (“regular” comb guard).  The 30 day guarantee allows you to try a different base plate if the one you picked doesn’t suit you. The exchange is done with no questions asked.

That guarantee is important and it should be emphasized because the ATT razors are precise, so the differences among the various baseplates are quite noticeable: only the R1 really worked for me. The others were definitely off the mark by a little (the R2, for example) or a lot (the H1). The guarantee means you don’t have to buy a pig in a poke. You get to drive the car for a while.

It’s an amazing razor: as I shave with it I feel that I’m snapping off that stubble precisely. With the right baseplate for you, the ATT razor definitely lies in the mild-aggressive category. (I’m trying to get a little more insight into that category: see this post on Wicked Edge.) The differences (and the different preferences people have) are yet another proof (if one be needed) that YMMV is real. Above the Tie recognizes and accommodates YMMV in a very good way: it makes each baseplates to work for a relatively narrow range, knowing that such a baseplate will be extraordinary for some, at the cost of not working so well for others—but then ATT provides a range of baseplates so each shaver can find a baseplate tuned to his particular mileage, as it were.

The quality of the razor is superb. Somehow holding an ATT razor feels like holding a vintage Leica rangefinder camera or some high-class target pistol: even though the razor is clearly simpler than those, it feels as precise. It’s quite a trick, to convey the feeling of a precision machine while using so few parts.

It reminds me carom billiards. Take a 5′ by 10′ billiard table (side-cushions but no pockets) and put one ball on the table. You can hit it with the cue, but it’s hard to make a game of that. So add another ball, and now you can hit one ball with the cue and make it strike the other.

That will be of interest for perhaps three shots, then it gets old. So add another ball, making a total of three. You can now hit one with the cue and make it strike both of the others, those being the object balls. Hah! Suddenly—and in a discontinuous manner, I point out—the game becomes quite interesting.Three is the magic number, and the interest jumps with the third ball.

And when that game gets dull, throw in another requirement using the magic number 3: in making the shot, the cue ball must hit the side cushions at least 3 times before the shot is completed—i.e., before the cue ball strikes the second object ball. (It doesn’t matter which cushions are used—the 3 required impacts can all be on the same cushion so long as they happen before the shot is completed; moreover, hitting the cushions more than 3 times in the course of making the shot is perfectly acceptable.) And now it’s a game of a lifetime. For years the longest run was 27 points, but 28 has been achieved. Here’s a run of 28 points.

This is an example of how an unexpected complexity can suddenly emerged with very few parts involved. I’ve been trying to figure out how ATT gets the feeling of a precision machine in so few parts.

First, the machining is evident—look at the underside of the cap, examine the baseplate, feel the handle. Everything feels precisely machined with sharply defined edges.

And then the two small blade-alignment pins in the cap fit so precisely into the pits on the baseplate: no slop at all. And when you screw the handle onto the cap, you can feel how smoothly the threads work, how the tolerances clearly are close. Even the chequering on the handle feels more precisely machined than is common.

So you feel the precision as you assemble the razor. And the assembly operation is important: you cannot really “assemble” only one piece—even with two pieces, it’s more “joining them” than “assembling” them. But three pieces, interlocked, one held between two: that does indeed feel like “assembling.” That feeling is helped by the clever way the design finesses a typical novice problem with many three-piece razors: misassembling the razor with the baseplate upside down (whereupon the razor won’t cut anything). Instead of the cap having blade-alignment studs that go through holes in the baseplate, the ATT razor uses precisely placed small pins that fit into corresponding pits in the baseplate—and the pits are only on the top side of the baseplate, so that the razor cannot be assembled incorrectly. That feeling of precision of assembly, together with the razor’s compact heftiness makes it feel like a machine, though one having few parts. But it really does the job.

A little of D.R. Harris’s After Shaving Milk, and I’m good to go.

My idea of how to order an ATT razor: pick a handle you like, and order that, the cap, and one baseplate—that is, one complete razor. Exchange the baseplate as needed to find the one that works perfectly. For me that was R1, but (of course) you may find another is best. Still, I would start with the R1: if it works well, great; if not, you probably can tell whether you want the milder M1 or the more aggressive H1. When you have found the right baseplate, you’re home free. The Kronos handle at 4″ feels good to me; the Atlas at 3.5″ feels a tad bit short. Stan at ATT said that he is thinking of offering a slightly longer Atlas. (I do love the spiraled engraving of the Atlas.)

Postscript: Since writing the above, ATT has come out with two slant baseplates (and corresponding cap: the same cap works with each, but it differs from the regular cap). The two are the S1 (bar guard) and the S2 (comb guard). The S1 was perfect for me, but the S2 was harsh and thus returned.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 October 2014 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Shaving

19 Responses

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  1. If you don’t mind me adding?

    At Badger&Blade we have some brand/manufacturer satisfaction surveys which are over half way finished, and I think they are yielding interesting results.

    39 (78%) out of 50 responding members answered the question, “From personal experience, how happy are you with Above the Tie (ATT) razors?” with, “5 stars (extremely happy)”.

    Adding context, the runner up for this metric, on 21 brands, is currently Feather, with 23 (62%) out of 37.

    Both have excellent brand reputations to be sure … but it seems that most people are very happy with their ATTs.

    Link:
    http://badgerandblade.com/vb/showthread.php/422639-Above-the-Tie-(ATT)-razor-brand-customer-satisfaction-survey

    Cheers,
    Shawnsel

    shawnsel

    7 October 2014 at 6:00 pm

  2. Very interesting indeed. And I wonder of the ones who are not happy with the ATT whether they’ve done much in the way of baseplate exploration. Small differences turn out to be quite noticeable, at least to me, and while I could have used the M1 and the R2, neither gave me the highly precise yet carefree shave that the R1 does.

    LeisureGuy

    7 October 2014 at 6:08 pm

  3. A recent (and ongoing) poll asks:
    “Which ATT shavehead did you settle on finally?”

    27 responses so far, with the R baseplates in the lead, but not by as much as I would have thought….

    http://badgerandblade.com/vb/showthread.php/426272-Poll-for-ATT-users-which-head-did-you-pick

    Cheers,
    Shawn

    shawnsel

    13 October 2014 at 10:42 am

  4. Very interesting. Thanks. I can’t wait for their slant to be released.

    LeisureGuy

    13 October 2014 at 10:46 am

  5. Yes there is much interest in their slant. Personally I hope they release M/R/H versions of it, but it sounds like they might not (at least not initially).

    shawnsel

    13 October 2014 at 10:58 am

  6. Probably won’t see a modern adjustable slant anytime soon…. 🙂

    LeisureGuy

    13 October 2014 at 11:00 am

  7. The ATT Slants are available for pre-order with “Approximate shipping time: 3 weeks”:

    http://www.abovethetie.com/?Slant-Stainless-Steel-Safety-Razor-Head&store_item=927&sub=34

    frugallyfit

    2 November 2014 at 2:01 pm

  8. Also, following up on my prior post, Above the Tie finished the Razor Brand/Manufacturer Satisfaction Surveys at Badger & Blade with a strong lead over the other brands:

    http://wiki.badgerandblade.com/Modern_Double-Edged_Safety_Razors_Ranked_by_Aggressiveness#Razor_Brand_Manufacturer_Satisfaction_Star-Rating_Survey_Results

    Additionally, while only about 1/3rd complete, a currently-running “Stainless Steel Razor Brand/Manufacturer Satisfaction Survey” at The Shave Nook, has Above the Tie with a good lead over the other established brands:

    http://shavenook.com/thread-stainless-steel-razor-brand-satisfaction-surveys-complete-list

    (note: LA Shaving Soap Company’s BBS-1 and the upcoming SE Mongoose have strong leads over even over Above the Tie … but the only people to have used these newest offerings are early adopters, and by their survey responses, I am suspecting that they are a more enthusiastic and perhaps less picky group of consumers)

    Cheers,
    Shawnsel

    frugallyfit

    2 November 2014 at 2:12 pm

  9. My Above the Tie slant head is on order, but my! what a premium! It’s about $100 more than the iKon Shavecraft #102 slant, another humpback slant. Does using stainless instead of aluminum really drive the cost up so much?

    LeisureGuy

    2 November 2014 at 2:45 pm

  10. As you recently mentioned in your article on the Feather AS-D1, manufacturing consistency and Quality Control can be very important for razors, as even differences indiscernible to the naked eye (especially in blade exposure or blade angle) can potentially make a perceivable difference in shaving. While I have no manufacturing expertise, the the methods of manufacturing to tight tolerances seem to be readily accepted as also being inherently more expensive. Also, throwing away any rejects that don’t pass a rigorous QC inspection would add further to the cost.

    While iKon prefers to keep their razor materials and manufacturing as competitive trade secrets, their Shavecraft slant seems to be either sintered or cast aluminum. Also, there may or may not be a coating of some sort applied for aesthetic reasons? (If so, coatings can make DIY repairs difficult or impossible … where as a bare-metal can usually be buffed/polished to look like new.)

    Above the Tie openly shares that their razors are CNC machined from solid blocks of 303 stainless steel. While the razors are finished with a process called passivation, where an acid bath removes surface contaminates, and accelerates the protective, self-repairing oxide film (enhancing the corrosion resistance of the stainless steel) … there is no coating to obstruct DIY repairs.

    CNC Machining is usually thought of as being the most precise method of shaping metal. In the context of razors it offering greater consistency between razor heads within a given model, and truest to the intended design. It is also a significantly more expensive method of manufacturing. Machining a single razor head can reportedly tie up a CNC machine for almost an hour, plus a portion of a skilled operator’s time. Additionally, the router bits (or whatever they are called?) are partially consumed during the manufacturing, and machining stainless steel seems likely to wear through the likely-expensive hardened-steel bits much faster than would a softer metal like aluminum.

    Plus, two additional reasons for the added price would be that ATT offers a 30 day satisfaction guarantee, and they also manufacture their razors in the USA….

    frugallyfit

    2 November 2014 at 4:50 pm

  11. Good point on the cost of quality. However, I think you are mistaken about iKon keeping their materials a secret: pretty much everyone knows that the Shavecraft line (now that there are two points—the #101 and the #102—I think that defines a line) consists of aluminum heads mounted on stainless handles. I haven’t noticed any coating on my #101 and #102, but there may be some transparent protective coating. I don’t think so: it looks like bare metal.

    The iKon stainless heads are indeed sintered, I think I’ve read. And I’m pretty sure—willing to bet, because I believe I’ve read it—that the Shavecraft aluminum heads are cast aluminum. But your points on manufacturing costs are excellent—thank you for pointing that out. Now I understand.

    LeisureGuy

    2 November 2014 at 4:57 pm

  12. My apologies if my guesses on iKon’s materials were off. I did look on their website for information and did not find any.

    However, again looking at iKon’s website, I do wish they were more forthcoming on the materials (stainless steel or aluminum) and manufacturing (sintered or cast). For instance, the Shavecraft #101 current description is IMHO arguably somewhat misleading:

    “iKon Razors Has The Best and Most Extensive Selection of Stainless Steel Razors on Todays Market
    The ShaveCraft Line is an expansion of our success

    “Offered is complete 2 Part Head That Will Work on any iKon Manufactured Handle
    Similar in Theory to our Best Selling iKon OSS Model;

    “The #101 ShaveCraft incorporates a dual option head , made to the same high specs as our stainless steel models but at lower retail price point.”

    Source:
    http://ikonrazors.com/shop/ikon-heads/shavecraft-101-head/

    Also, from this massdrop discussion, I am pretty sure that at least some of the prior iKon razors have had an unadvertised coating/plating on them, but I have never seen confirmation as to what it was:

    https://www.massdrop.com/buy/ikon-slant?s=ikon%20slant
    (note: requires free login account, see the discussion tab on the link above … specifically pages 5 and 6)

    Thoughts?

    iKon of course isn’t the only one. For instance, the Feather AS-D1 and AS-D2 are chrome plated … but most English-speaking consumers don’t seem to be aware of that. While the chrome is reportedly of very high quality and is also suspected to be formulated in a way so as to not promote rust due to galvanic corrosion, if the chrome is ever deeply scratched or chipped, a DIY repair is likely less feasible.

    I’m not saying that companies shouldn’t keep their trade secrets. I’m more so saying that I personally appreciate the up-front disclosure and honesty that I’ve seen from ATT’s website and descriptive forum postings from their owner, Stan.

    Thanks,
    Shawnsel

    frugallyfit

    2 November 2014 at 5:50 pm

  13. The color of the Feathers does indicate something is going on, coating-wise, though I agree that they are not forthcoming. Indeed, now that I think of it, the color reminds me of the Weber ARC (Advanced Razor Coating, for Pete’s sake): a bluish cast. As I recall, that was known to be a type of chrome coating used on medical instruments. (Very nice razor, BTW.)

    Yeah, open disclosure is helpful and good. No argument there.

    I do recommend you try the #101 and/or #102 for yourself, BTW: they are wonderful razors, whatever they’re made of. I have ordered the ATT slant (bar guard, not open comb), and I’m eager to compare its performance to the #102. (As you can tell, I certainly like the R1.)

    LeisureGuy

    2 November 2014 at 6:02 pm

  14. A quote from Stan on the precision of ATT:
    “Here are a few nuggets about the our new razors that you may not know. The degree of drop or “slant” on the S1 and S2 is three degrees. The blade retainer pins in the cap were tweaked, shifting them from the mid-line by 2/3 of a degree. The blade gap was enlarged by 1/3000 as well. Believe it or not but these are big changes when you are working with specks as tight as those used on our razors. ”

    http://badgerandblade.com/vb/showthread.php/414393-Something-new-from-Above-the-Tie?p=6814248#post6814248

    Cheers,
    Shawnel

    shawnsel

    3 November 2014 at 8:19 pm

  15. Cool. Very exciting. I_Like_a_Clean_Bowl (who admittedly have not tried a humpback slant) states that the torqued slant is considerably better than the humpback slant from a theoretical perspective. See this thread.

    LeisureGuy

    3 November 2014 at 8:45 pm

  16. I_Like_a_Clean_Bowl has some good ideas … I honestly don’t know if the twisting of the blade (as opposed to simply curving as most razors do) is an important part of increasing a slant razor’s relative efficiency. I look forward to your comparisons between the torqued and humpback slants this week!

    The Merkur slant didn’t really work that well for me, and I currently have no plans to personally purchase the ATT slant, as my shaving needs seem very well met by my ATT 5 piece set … and I just don’t have the extra money for RAD. Also, of my M1/R1/H1 set, the R1 is surprisingly my least favorite (steep angle shaving with the H1 makes it much more mild for me).

    However, as both an R1 enthusiast and a general slant advocate … the ATT slant is hopefully a great fit for you. I look forward to your review of it.

    Cheers,
    Shawnsel

    shawnsel shaver

    4 November 2014 at 1:22 pm

  17. Yeah, it’s an interesting possibility that the twist improves the cutting, and so I’m alternating humpback (non-twisted) slants and twisted slants this week to see if I can detect the difference.

    It is clear, however, that simply slanting the blade (as with a humpback slant) does in fact improve cutting efficiency—and I am sure that he, a mechanical engineer, understands this well. Apparently he does not understand analogies well: he criticized the guillotine analogy because human necks are unlike prepped stubble—but that, of course, is what analogies do: point to analogous situations. In the case of the guillotine we have a slanted blade, and with the Scottish Maiden a straight-across blade, both aimed at beheading. But the Scottish Maiden, even when the blade seemed sharp, often crushed rather than cut the victim’s neck, whereas the guillotine (a slanted blade—with no torque) cut the neck cleaning.

    I did provide him with this link, which discusses why a slanted blade is an advantage, but that discussion does not touch on torqued blades.

    Still, it does indicate that slanting the blade is a help even before torquing it. More anon.

    LeisureGuy

    4 November 2014 at 1:39 pm

  18. Hello,

    As far as leaving the blade in the razor after every shave, and just disassemble it and clean it between blade changes. Does the razor develope any rust spots? I owned a Mongoose razor and when I would change the blade once a week there would be rust spots were the blade was, and it all wouldn’t come off. I do take care of my razors, but I don’t think a man ought to have to disassemble his razor after every use to clean it, only once a week for a good cleaning. By the way thanks for the great shaving knowledge you have out!

    Thanks,

    Michael

    Michael Shults

    19 January 2016 at 4:19 pm

  19. I don’t do much cleaning of my razors at all, including when I change blades, although I will occasionally do a good cleaning with an ultrasonic cleaner that I have. I have experienced occasional tea stains (as they’re called) from a blade rusting somewhat—Gillette Rubie blades tend to be prone to this problem, and of course carbon-steel blades are naturally prone to rusting. (Gillette Rubie blades are stainless steel, but seem to rust readily in stainless razors.)

    It’s easy to avoid the rust if you want: rinse the head of the razor well under the hot-water tap following the shave, then swish it in a jar of high-proof rubbing alcohol. (I use 99% rubbing alcohol, but 90% would be fine and might be easier to find.) I do this for carbon-steel blades. The alcohol displaces the water and then evaporates immediately, leaving the blade dry. In the Guide, where I describe this procedure, I also recommend decanting the rubbing alcohol into a wide-mouth jar that once contained food, since those lids open/close with one quarter-turn.

    You can give it a try. It’s just one small additional step at the end of the shave, but it should eliminate the problem.

    LeisureGuy

    19 January 2016 at 4:32 pm


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