This is the long-awaited review for Vulcan Strength’s new Stainless Steel Absolute Power Bar; the ridiculously strong, pleasantly aggressive, oxidation resistant beast that is literally 100% stainless steel – so long as you don’t count the end caps.
One only has to look at the images of this bar to see that it’s a beautiful piece of equipment, and it looks even more impressive in person. How does it perform though? and how does it compare to its less-costly baby brother; the Black Oxide Absolute? Better yet, how does the SS Absolute compare to the myriad of other badass powerlifting barbells on the market that sell for the same or even less than the $550 that this bar sells for?
Well I will be answering all these questions and more in this review. I’ll cover the Absolute’s specifications, its performance & durability, and I will compare it to various other power bars currently available. As always, feel free to comment or ask any questions you may have.
Table of Contents
- SS Absolute Power Bar – Specifications
- Stainless Steel Absolute Power Bar Review
- SS Absolute Power Bar – Pros/Cons
- Rogue SS Ohio Power Bar vs the Stainless Steel Absolute
- American Barbell SS Power Bars vs the Stainless Steel Absolute
- Black Oxide Absolute 2.0 vs the Stainless Steel Absolute
- Review Summary – SS Absolute Power Bar
Vulcan Absolute Stainless Steel Powerlifting Bar Specs
Here is a rundown on the Absolute’s specs that you can refer to while reading this review or when making a comparison to other bars. You can also find this information on the product page for the Absolute here.
Be aware that this review is specifically for the stainless steel variant of the Absolute Power Bar. Practically nothing in this review will apply to the Black Oxide Absolute Power Bar 2.0, though you can see my review for that version here!
- IPF standard men’s 20 kg bar, 2200 mm in length
- Shaft diameter: 29 mm
- Shaft finish: stainless steel
- Sleeve finish: stainless steel
- Tensile strength: 240,000 PSI
- Loadable sleeve length: 16¼”
- Knurling: aggressive; with 4″ semi-aggressive center knurl
- Rotation: stainless steel bushing system
- Warranty: standard limited lifetime
- Current batch of SS Absolutes has IWF hash marks (see below)
- Price: $550 (includes shipping)
You read that right; the Stainless Steel Absolute does not have IPF hash marks. So on one hand this is kind of annoying because even though it hardly matters where marks are on a non-certified power bar, we still know that it’s incorrect and that can bother the OCD crowd. On the other hand this bar is a beast, and at $550 it is about $100 less than it will be when this issue is corrected; so it’s an opportunity to get a great bar at a low(er) price.
Obviously Vulcan didn’t want the marks to be misplaced anymore than we do, but shit does happen. It’s happened before on other brand’s bars, and it will probably happen again. So if it would eat at you to have the wrong marks, then you’ll have to wait for the next generation, or find another bar. If you can live with it, just know that that’s the only issue this bar has.
Absolute Stainless Steel Power Bar Review
I’ll cover the Absolute’s knurling and center knurl in some detail, discuss the rotation system and use of stainless steel bushings, and of course address all the other usual features of a high-end barbell.
Absolute Stainless Steel Power Bar – The Shaft
At 240,000 PSI, the Vulcan SS Absolute is one the strongest and stiffest power bars on the market. It’s definitely the strongest stainless steel power bar available. It has 30k PSI on the American Barbell Mammoth Power Bar, and 40k PSI on the Rogue Ohio Power Bar. It even has 22k PSI on the $1200 Ivanko SS Power Bar. So yeah the Absolute is pretty sick; I dare say indestructible.
|Vulcan Absolute 20 kg SS Power Bar||240,000 PSI||yes||$550|
|American Barbell 20 kg Mammoth Power Bar||210,000 PSI||yes||$550|
|Rogue 20 kg SS Ohio Power Bar||200,000 PSI||yes||$425|
|Ivanko 20 kg OBXS SS Power Bar||218,000 PSI||yes||$1200|
|American Barbell 20 kg Elite Power Bar||190,000 PSI||yes||$450|
|Kabuki Strength 20 kg NG Power Bar||250,000 PSI||NO||$600+|
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that tensile strength is the be-all, end-all of bar specs, but it is an important factor with power bars. Strong and rigid shafts are less likely to flex & whip at heavier loads, and far less likely to permanently deform or break.
Absolute Stainless Steel Power Bar – Sleeve Assembly
The Absolute SS Power Bar is a bushing bar, but the bushings are not bronze or composite like you will find in just about every other bushing bar. They are stainless steel. This means that every major component and nearly every ounce of the SS Absolute is made using high strength stainless steel; shaft, sleeves, and bushings. Everything but the end caps.
No doubt many of you are already raising one eyebrow and wondering why Vulcan Strength would deviate from tried and true materials like bronze. I surely did. Well it turns out that the reasoning behind this change is simply about the strength of stainless steel vs the strength of bronze. With both the shaft and sleeves of the Absolute being virtually indestructible, the use of a relatively soft bushing between these two components would be the only potential weak link in a bar that could otherwise last for many generations; so the change was made.
Does this seem like overkill? Eh a little bit, but a change like this is technically for the better. It’s unlikely that any of us will ever damage (much less outright destroy) a bronze bushing, but technically deformation over the years is possible. The use of stainless bushings simply decreases the likelihood even more. And why not, right? Bushings of any material make up but a fraction of a percent of the total cost of producing a bar. It’s not as though this change made the already 99+% fully stainless steel bar any more expensive to own.
So how does stainless steel perform (spin) compared to the two other bushing types? Truth be told, it’s about the same as cast bronze or composite. Like most power bars, the sleeves of the SS Absolute aren’t high speed sleeves, but spin is still more than adequate. Matter of fact, Vulcan actually uses a minimal amount of lubricant on their power bar simply because excessive spin is not considered a positive trait for a power bar. In other words, it spins less out of the box than it’s actually capable of.
Now on the off chance you require excessive rotation from your power bar (like if you are a huge power clean fan), lubricant can be added to bring rotation up to those sintered bronze levels. Stainless bushings won’t retain oil internally like sintered bronze will (neither will cast bronze or composite btw), but with a few oilings per year you can really keep those sleeves moving.
When it comes down to it the use of stainless steel bushings doesn’t really offer any change in performance so much as it offers us increased durability. I’ve got no problem with this.
Absolute Stainless Steel Power Bar – The Knurl
The knurl of the Stainless Steel Absolute is insane; definitely more aggressive than Vulcans black oxide variant. It is basically like 95% of the Ohio Power Bar in terms of sharpness and depth (in my opinion), making it true competition to both the OPB and the NxG Power Bar for those of you who like a real knurl.
You’ll have no problems holding on to this bar for seriously heavy deadlifts, and you’ll know you’re pushing heavy when you bench with it. This is easily Vulcan’s most aggressive bar – and I’d say by a long shot, but the re-knurling of the black oxide 2.0 variant showed us that Vulcan is willing to get aggressive for us.
Now consider the solid grip that is attainable by this sticky knurling and combine it with the naturally grippy feeling of raw stainless steel and you have a highly tactile surface that just clings to the hands. The knurl literally couldn’t be any better without being uncomfortable.
It gets better though. Just like the black oxide Absolute, the center knurl is less aggressive than the outer knurl while still not being totally passive. That means we get the benefit of a center knurl with some bite to it, only without the discomfort associated with bars that have the completely same center knurl as outer knurl; like the Ohio Power Bar.
Fun fact: The SS Absolute Bar is knurled entirely with the same knurling tool, but because of how strong the 240k tensile strength steel is, only one Absolute can be knurled per tool. Usually a knurling tool (which wholesales for about $20 per) can knurl multiple bars before needing to be replaced, but then again most bars aren’t 240k PSI stainless steel.
What makes this interesting is that the center knurl is actually cut using the same tool, only it’s done dead last. First the bar is knurled inside the IPF marks, then outside the IPF hash marks, then finally the center knurl is cut. By the time the tool gets to that center it’s cutting a shallower, dulled down version of the outer knurl. This is how Vulcan gets an aggressive but not quite too aggressive center knurl on their high tensile power bars.
To summarize the knurl of the SS Absolute, I would say that this bar would actually be fairly intense to anyone not used to aggressive knurl. It’s not quite the Ohio Power, but it’s close enough that I wouldn’t tell someone who hated the Ohio Power to try the SS Absolute. I still think this is another solid 10/10 for knurl and grip security though.
Remember that knurling is very subjective. We all have different sized hands, preferences, tolerances, max lifts, etc. The SS Absolute may actually look more aggressive than say the OPB, but the tighter spacing (more points per square cm) has a sort of softening effect.
Absolute Stainless Steel Power Bar – Elasticity
As is typical of a 29 mm diameter power bar with a 200,000+ PSI rating, the Absolute Bar displays no elasticity. It’s rigid as hell (or rigidAF for you millennials.)
Absolute Stainless Steel Power Bar – Finish (or lack thereof)
I think we all know by now that this bar lacks a proper finish being that it’s a stainless steel bar. Other than to let those who are new to barbell shopping know that stainless steel is a premium, oxidation resistant metal that is unrivaled in the grip department, there is nothing else to add.
Stainless steel is the ultimate shaft material; end of story.
Absolute Stainless Steel Power Bar Pros & Cons
- The aggressive knurling is appropriate for a power bar, and although it does feel more aggressive than the black oxide 2.0 Absolute, I still think it deserves a 10/10 for knurl quality.
- The center knurling is a toned down version of the outer knurl. It’s not passive, but it’s less aggro than some other very popular power bars; making it more comfortable for power cleans and back squats.
- The stainless steel shaft offers the same natural, grippy feel as raw carbon steel, but without the oxidation.
- Stainless steel sleeves are strong and beautiful, and without a finish will wear less and age better than chrome/zinc coated sleeves.
- The use of stainless steel bushings offer strength, reliability, and solid rotation without being excessive or erratic.
- The SS Absolute is the strongest stainless steel power bar on the market.
- Price includes shipping.
- Sleeves are grooved for change plates (which could be either a pro or con depending on your preferences.)
- Obviously the misplaced hash marks are a con, and one I will not try to defend because I know for many, this absolutely (no pun intended) matters.
- The SS Absolute is expensive, and will ultimately be even more expensive.
- Aggressiveness is probably a bit much for novices.
- Sleeves are grooved for change plates (which could be either a pro or con depending on your preferences.)
Vulcan SS Absolute Power Bar vs…
Let’s see how the Vulcan Absolute stacks up against a couple other bars.
Vulcan SS Absolute vs Rogue SS Ohio Power
The Rogue Ohio Power Bar is currently the lowest priced stainless steel power bar; at least in terms of the major manufacturers that are using high quality stainless steel. For $425 you can own the IPF-certified, 20 kg Ohio Power Bar, and for only $395 you can grab the non-certified 45-lb Ohio Power Bar. Both of these bars are rated at 200,000 PSI tensile strength, and both are significantly less costly than the Vulcan SS Absolute. So why should you even bother with the Absolute?
The Vulcan SS Absolute is a more expensive bar because it’s a higher quality bar. It has a [much] stronger shaft, it has stainless steel sleeves rather than the chrome-finished carbon steel sleeves on the Ohios, and it even has stainless steel bushings instead of cast bronze. The Vulcan has knurling that is marginally more comfortable without being at all weak, and a center knurl that isn’t so aggressive that it almost forces you to own a second bar for back squats and power cleans.
Now I could definitely make an argument for either of these powerhouses, especially since the Vulcan currently has the misplaced hash marks while still costing $550, but objectively the Absolute is a superior product. It’s tighter, quieter, prettier, and it should shrug off abuse with ease (and forever) considering how tough the steel is. That said, cost is priority one for a lot of people, and the difference between an indestructible bar and a nearly-indestructible bar may not be worth the extra money (especially when these bars don’t really feel different in the hands).
Personally I’ll always favor the option with the milder center knurling. I already have a fairly expensive accessory bar that I can only use for deadlifts, I don’t really want to own a power bar that only gets used for the bench or overhead press, but can’t comfortably be squatted with or power cleaned. *
* I am looking at this from the perspective that you probably aren’t going to want to own a different $300+ bar for every single lift your perform; deadlift bar, squat bar, bench bar, etc. Even if you do find the idea of that appealing, for practical or financial reasons you’ll really just want a bar that can handle all big three lifts and the accessory lifts.
Absolute SS Power Bar vs American Barbell SS Power Bars
American Barbell offers two different stainless steel powerlifting bars – the Elite Power Bar and the Mammoth Power Bar. The Elite is a 190k PSI power bar that sells for $450, and the Mammoth is a 210k PSI Cerakote finished power bar that sells for $550. Yes, the Mammoth is still a stainless steel bar despite the finish.
Both of American Barbell’s stainless steel power bars are high-end, well-refined bars. The stainless steel is high-quality, the composite bushings are very reliable and smooth, and the manufacturing tolerances are the tightest in the industry; which results in a very quiet bar.
The drawback of the American Barbell Elite is the tensile strength of the shaft relative to the price of the bar. 190,000 PSI is just not a very impressive number for a power bar that costs $450. Having said that, the Elite is one of my favorite bars in my collection. In addition to all of the pros that I just mentioned, the AB power bars are the only premium power bars in the industry with a moderate knurl. This can be a big selling point for those who desire stainless but who don’t want a super aggro knurl.
The Mammoth is a different beast altogether. It has a much stronger 210k PSI shaft, but the benefit of that shaft being stainless is nullified since the shaft is covered in Cerakote. I kind of get the whole Cerakote thing, but I don’t get wrapping stainless steel in any finish. In any case, I don’t consider the Mammoth to be a stainless steel bar; it’s a Cerakote bar.
Just like with the Ohio Power Bar, I can make a case for the AB Elite for those who prefer a milder knurl. The price may be high for a 190k PSI power bar, but the price is still $100 less than the Absolute, and the build quality of the Elite can easily match that of the Absolute.
The Mammoth isn’t really a contender in my opinion; even though it’s the same price as the Absolute. I definitely recommend the Elite over the Mammoth if you plan to go the AB route.
Stainless Steel Absolute vs Black Oxide Absolute 2.0
The basic Absolute Power Bar 2.0 is a black oxide power bar with dense chrome sleeves. It has a very high tensile strength rating of 221k PSI, a wider-spaced groove formation on the sleeves, and a laser etched VULCAN logo on the inside of the collars. The 2.0 is a beautiful power bar with a firm knurl, grippy oxide finish, and extremely reasonable price tag of $339.
The Stainless Steel Absolute is clearly a nicer bar than the Absolute 2.0, but it’s also over $200 more (simply think of the SS Absolute as the luxury edition of the 2.0). If your budget doesn’t allow for the SS version of the Absolute, don’t even sweat it. The 2.0 is as solid as any other mid- to high-range power bar on the market. But if your budget does allow for it, well, what’s wrong with luxury?
Absolute Stainless Steel Power Bar Review Summary
The Vulcan SS Absolute is a very unique power bar. The use of stainless for every possible component makes it not only a functional and strikingly resilient bar, but also a beautiful bar. The aggressive, stainless shaft clings to the hands, the assembly is tight and quiet, and I’m fairly confident that no amount of weight that could be lifted by a human being could deform its shaft. The Absolute is both beauty and beast.
Not to oversell the resilience aspect of the SS Absolute, but in the 45+ days that I’ve been lifting with it I have failed to make the bar look like it’s actually been used. Such strong steel with no finish doesn’t really show the normal scrape marks on the sleeves that you get from plate loading and unloading. There’s obviously no signs of oxidation anywhere, and without the need for chalk the shaft still looks brand new. Could the Absolute be the closest thing to a timeless bar?
I’m convinced that the SS Absolute will not only survive me and remain functional for many decades, but I trust it will still look just as classy five, ten, and even 20 years down the road. Keep in mind that stainless steel is one of the few materials that can actually be restored if ever allowed to fall into disregard. Stainless can be brushed, oiled, and buffed; and without any risk of destroying an irreplaceable finish.
All that said, the SS Absolute is expensive; definitely a luxury purchase. The current $550 is not even the bar’s permanent price, as that price will go up with the next batch (when those misplaced hash marks are corrected.) Now I don’t think the price is at all unreasonable, nor do I think $550 is too much to spend on a bar that will last a lifetime. I mean how different is buying a fully stainless, 240k PSI power bar from buying an NxG Performance Power Bar for $850, or the $600+ Kabuki Power Bar (neither of which are even stainless btw)?
The SS Absolute is a great bar, and an easy 5/5 stars in terms of build quality, performance, aesthetics, and value, but if you don’t think it’s a 5-star bar with misplaced hash marks, well then wait a minute for the new version. A $650 SS Absolute (if it’s even as high as $650) is still $200-$300 less than the NxG power bars, and maybe even more bar.