There’s a lot of different types of axe heads, and I have seen a lot of axes installed upside down.
But don’t worry – there are 6 easy ways to tell which side of the axe head is the top. You can usually tell from the first one or two tips alone. And most of these tips are true for both single and double-bit axes.
TIP: If you are not immediately hanging the head on a handle – use a pencil, marker, or tape and draw an arrow on the axe head before putting it down. Save yourself the hassle in the future.
1. Logos, stamps, stickers are on the left side (usually)
Logos, words, and labels are almost always on the left side of the head. They are almost always stamped (or stuck) on the axe heads so the start of the word or numbers is at the top side of the axe.
This is not a 100% guarantee – there are oddball axes out there that do it differently. I know German Ruhr axes tend to have the brand on the right side, and sometimes there is stamping on both sides.
But the vast majority have the brand mark is on the left side, especially in the US.
2. The top of the eye is larger than the bottom
You can tell the top of an axe head by measuring the eye (the hole in the axe head). While both sides will often look identical, the opening on the top side of the axe should be a little wider or longer.
When hanging the head on a handle, extra room is needed for adding the wedge to lock the head in place. The smaller hole on the bottom ensures the (now) wider top can’t slip back through.
This is the most sure-fire way of telling the top from the bottom of good quality or vintage axes.
Cheap, newly made axe heads may have eyes that are too close to tell, or that are identical.
3. Is the blade angled?
A slight angle in the blade is common, where the toe (top corner) is further forward than the heel (bottom corner).
This one can be hard to tell if the axe has been well used and crudely sharpened (many times), and the blade has been well worn (see point 6).
This angle should only ever be inwards from top to bottom, as it can add a mechanical advantage when chopping. This inward angle is often referred to as being angled “closed”.
Some axes have a straight perpendicular blade, and older well-worn blades may be misshapen due to years of sharpening.
But an “open” angle, with the bottom more pronounced, will only ever be found on specialty tools like carving axes.
4. Notches go on the bottom
Notches on the axe head are found on the bottom side of the axe head.
There are 3 common “notches” found on axe heads that all show up on the bottom side of the axe:
- Nail pulling slots that can be found in the blade of various hatchets.
- V shaped notches between the blade and the eye of the axe redistribute the force of impact reducing the strain on the handle.
- Large U shaped gaps under the blade allow for the user to choke up on the axe and get better detail control (see previous image above).
5. The top is flatter and the bottom flares out more
You can also generally tell the top of an axe head by the flare of the blade. The blade will flare out more on the bottom than the top.
While they can look symmetrical at glace, simply rotate the axe head a few times and it will become apparent which end of the blade extends out further.
This is especially easy with most American patterns, as the tops tend to be much flatter.
The top corner (toe) of the axe needs to be flatter to work when chopping on the ground, and performing tasks like bucking. Otherwise, it would dig into the dirt and get chipped.
Restoring an axe? Check out my article on the nuances between the different kinds of curved axe bits.
6. Is there a rounded corner?
A rounded corner on one side of the axe blade (bit), is almost certainly the top (toe).
Well-worn axes can often have a rounded toe from years of accidentally digging into the ground and dulling or chipping on rocks.
That corner gets pulled back more than the rest of the blade each time it gets damaged or resharpened. This can throw off the angle from point 3 but is generally a good indicator of the top.
If I missed something or you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment below. I do my best to respond to everyone.
About the author:
I’m just a guy who likes axes – as a tool, the craft of restoring them, and the history. I got tired of only finding crappy websites, so I set out to build a better one myself.
Jim Bell. – Owner, Creator