The great Gillette double edge safety razors ruled for decades before the modern safety razors such as the Merkur, Muhle, Edwin Jagger, Parker and others appeared. In the past few years, with the growing trend in traditional wet shaving, we’ve also seen a small explosion of stainless steel safety razors, both double edge and single edge. The Feather, Pils, Tradere, iKon, Weber and Cobra were some of the earliest. Then came a parade of other stainless steel and aluminum razors: Above the Tie, Mongoose, Alumigoose, Wolfman, Timeless, Rockwell and The General, among others.
Stan Hickam, of Tennessee, launched Above the Tie stainless steel safety razors in 2011. These are superb shaving razors, with impressive fit and finish, and every shave den should have at least one.
OBIE: What compelled you to create Above the Tie razors, especially since your background is in radiology and business? I can see the business side, but a radiologist making stainless steel safety razors?
STAN: When we started Above the Tie, we were stocking items from various companies. In the first six months, I had already tried a lot of different razors, especially the vintage Gillettes. So I thought, why not make my own razors, something that would be a compilation of all the razors I had tried?
OBIE: And so you did, and a pretty good razor, I might add.
STAN: That decision was not hard, but finding a machine shop that could produce a razor with the precision I wanted was very difficult. In fact it was the most difficult step in the razor making process.
OBIE: Still, the result of all that work must have been rewarding.
STAN: Yes, it was. It is very rewarding, especially when someone contacts me and shares how much he enjoys his Above the Tie Razor.
OBIE: Did you have help?
STAN: Yes, I did. In fact, I credit my son-in-law Matt for a number of insights and innovations, not only with our web presence, but also with business ideas. The name Above the Tie was his idea.
OBIE: This is a premiere stainless steel safety razor, and it’s been a big hit among shavers. Did you expect this level of success?
STAN: A quality stainless razor should last a couple of lifetimes. I believe we make some of the best razors in the world. I hope that does not sound boastful, and it is not intended to be; however, I take ownership in the design and try very hard to offer a high quality product that also has a distinctive look.
OBIE: And the ATT does. The razors have clean lines and are not overly decorated. Yes, they have a distinct look.
STAN: One of my goals is for someone to view one of our razors and immediately recognize it as an Above the Tie. Secondly, I want style and function. Our new SE line of razors has a different look than most SE razors on the market. The DE razor head design has a rounded cap.
OBIE: How does this contribute to the shave?
STAN: This feature makes it easy to find the proper shaving angle of the razor on your face. This handy feature was incorporated into the head design of our ATT single edge, SE razors. We are passionate about what we do and I believe it shows. We are having our best year to date and I believe these are some of the reasons why.
OBIE: What do you feel is the biggest draw in stainless steel razors and in particularly in the ATT?
STAN: The very first ATT razor was the Titan, which is now the Kronos H1. I based the blade angle on some of the early razors I had tried. The blade exposure was our own doing. It was clear, however, that not everyone wanted a razor as aggressive as the H Series. So I had two more plates made with a cascading stair stepping blade gap. I would shave with them and then decide on any revisions. Thankfully there were very few revisions required. It may sound simplistic, but I believed that if I liked it, other guys would, too.
OBIE: ATT razors are offered in different levels of aggressiveness — M that is mild, R that is regular and H that is aggressive. I’m curious: how did you determine the level of aggressiveness or mildness for these razors? Take the R1 razor: at what point did you decide you had reached the optimum aggressiveness for that particular razor?
STAN: Having seen my dad using a socket set, single handle with interchangeable parts. I believe ATT was the first to offer a fixed adjustable shaving system right from the start. I know at that there was a company or two that had made plates and moved on to additional designs, but I don’t believe they were originally conceived as being an interchangeable system from inception.
OBIE: The ATT razors are not only offered individually, but also in sets of five different shave heads and handles and seven. I think this makes good business sense. What gave you the idea at first for offering the variety?
STAN: When I was growing up, made in the USA meant quality and companies stood by their products. I believe in “premium products with our premium service.” In addition, I was raised to honor the golden rule “Treat People the way you would want to be.” Although that declaration is over two thousand years old, it is still just as true today and it has served the business very well.
OBIE: What do you feel is the best method, which includes angle and other elements, of using the ATT razor? For instance, for the Feather AS D-2 stainless steel razor, you have to use a much steeper angle because of the shave head’s particular design. I use it at a 45-degree angle, because the blade is reset more than that in other razors. Any special tricks to using the ATT razors?
STAN: I advise guys to place the top of the cap to your temple with the handle parallel to the floor. Slowly lower the far end of the handle toward your face until you feel the blade touch your skin. This should be the optimum shaving angle for your face.
OBIE: What determined the type or grade of stainless steel used for these razors? You use the 303 grade of stainless steel. Wolfman, for instance, uses the 316. Explain the difference between these two grades of steel, and the in-between.
STAN: For the purpose of shaving, one is no better than the other. Anybody who says otherwise is trying to sell you something. I use 303 because it is easier to machine. There are a number of stainless designations used in the industry. These are just two of them. If you were to hold two ATT razors in your hand, one made of 303 stainless and the other 316, you could not look at them and discern a difference. Either of them would give a great shave, last longer than you and I will live, and when cleaned up a hundred years from now, will still look new.
OBIE: Is one type of steel preferable over the other for a specific type of a razor.
STAN: For DE and SE razors, no.
OBIE: The ATT razors are machined. Some other modern stainless steel razors use a different method of production — sintered, for instance. Give me a sense of what’s going on here. Explain the difference to a pilgrim like me: machined and not machined.
STAN: Machining from a solid block of stainless like ATT razors are means they are made of “billet” stainless. This material is made from molten stainless steel in a furnace at a foundry. When cooled, it is cut into usable sizes. This hot molten process produces the stainless steel we use. The other process involves the stainless material to be in a granulated or powder like form. This material is then compressed into a mold to form the object desired.
OBIE: I imagine the machined process is far more labor intensive.
STAN: Yes, it is.
OBIE: Can you give me an example?
STAN: For example, each piece is created one at a time and de-burred by hand. This creates a unique hand-worked industrial appearance. It is somewhat like comparing a painting to a photograph. They can both depict the same landscape, but each will give the observer a different experience. It is up to the consumer to decide which they prefer.
OBIE: First stainless steel, now aluminum. What made you decide on making aluminum razors? Obviously, the aluminum razors come at a lower price. Is there another reason to use aluminum for an ATT razor?
STAN: I wanted to offer our premiere product at a price point that more guys could justify. Now they can have a fully machined razor made with the same design skill and the same precise tolerances as a razor that costs twice as much. Our A1 razors are made of 7075 aircraft grade aluminum, which will ensure years of service.
OBIE: You started with the double edge and then added the single edge. I must say, I love the ATT SE1 single edge. It’s as sweetest as they come. Do you have other plans for the future?
STAN: Always thinking about the next “thing.” It looks likely that the AL, aluminum, line will be expanded in 2017.
OBIE: Are we to see more innovations in the safety razor from various makers? For instance, the new Timeless scalloped bar open comb stainless steel DE razor intrigues me.
STAN: This is not intended to downplay anyone’s effort or products in any way, so please do not interpret it that way. But there is a difference between an innovation and a cosmetic detail. It seems to me that what we are more likely to see are attempts to make a razor more attractive, comfortable, convenient or more cost effective in some way. True out-of-the-box innovations are not common as such they should be lauded when they occur.
OBIE: Are we likely to see some price adjustments in stainless steel razors offered by you and other makers?
STAN: Labor is not cheap. Prices could increase. We have maintained our price point by being smart and frugal. You can’t build a cheap Lamborghini; however, this is an issue where using alternative materials such as high-grade aluminum makes a lot of sense.
OBIE: Do you fear a point of saturation with all these modern safety razors, stainless steel and otherwise? I mean, how much room does a razor maker have to work with to keep creating new and different models?
STAN: The market will determine that. We will just keep on going with what we’re doing, offering quality products and providing quality service. The rest is out of our hands.
OBIE: Finally, which ATT razors do you yourself use?
STAN: Currently, I rotate between my custom bronze Atlas R1, bamboo SE, Calypso R1 and occasionally Kronos H2.
OBIE: Calypso R1, of course, is the new aluminum ATT.
STAN: Yes, it.
OBIE: Good name for a razor.