If you’ve ever replaced an axe handle, you’ll know it’s super frustrating when the head gets added upside down. Avoid having to do the job twice by learning how to work out where the axe’s head is located. We’ve got some simple ways to work out which side of the axe head is the top.

How can I tell which side is the top of an axe?

The easiest way to tell the top of an axe head is to look at the size of the eye holes. The top side of the axe has a hole that is a little larger to allow for the wedge. If you can’t tell the difference, look for text stamped on the head which usually runs from top to bottom.

1. Check the holes in the eye

This is usually the best way to tell the top from the bottom. Although both holes in the eye look the same, you’ll notice that there’s a slight difference on closer inspection. The top of the head has an eye hole that’s a little wider and is needed to accommodate the wedge. It’s essential to stop the handle from slipping.

Keep in mind that some axes have the same size hole at both ends. If that’s the case with your axe, try our next suggestion.

2. Look for stamped text

Most axe heads have numbers or words stamped into one side of the head. Axes made in the United States almost always stamp the left side with vertical text that runs down. Look for where the text starts, and you’ve found the top of the axe head.

Some brands stamp text horizontally, which makes it clear which direction is the top.    

3. Look for notches

Notches make it easy to work out the top of an axe head. You’ll only find them on the bottom side of an axe. Problem solved.

Although a lot of axes don’t have notches, you will find some hatchets have one for tasks like pulling out nails. There are other types like the V-shaped notch that are useful for reducing strain on the handle, by redistributing the force.   

4. Check for a rounded corner

If your axe head has seen some use over the years, the toe of the bit may have a rounded corner. That’s because it has probably hit many rocks and debris that dulls and damages the blade. Regular resharpening will wear the toe down, which is located on the top corner of the blade. Find the rounded corner of the blade and you’ve found the top. 

Tip: If terms like beard, belly, and toe sound foreign, head over to our resource on parts of an axe to learn more.

5. Try to identify an angled blade

Take a close look at the axe’s blade to see if it is angled, with the toe protruding further than the heel. In other words, the section of the blade that sticks out a little further is the top of the axe head.  

Well-used axes may have been worn to the point that the bit is straight. Also, many manufacturers make straight-bit axes, so this option won’t help you out.   

6. Identify a flared heel

It is more likely for axes to have a flared bottom and a flatter top. An axe head with a flat top helps with bucking and when chopping close to the ground. It doesn’t get stuck into the ground and damaged with this axe head pattern. 

Did you know? It’s well worth marking an axe head with the location of the top if you aren’t going to use it immediately. This will save you the hassle of having to work it out later. 

Commonly asked questions

Why are axe blades curved? 

Axe blades are curved to concentrate the force into a smaller area that first contacts the wood. This allows the axe to point-load the force and cut deeper into wood. Curved blades also have a longer cutting edge and allow the blade to rock forward during the swing.

How do axe heads stay on?

Axe heads stay on thanks to friction. The handle fits snugly into the eye of an axe head, then a wedge is driven into a small gap, holding everything together. 

Related reading:

Does a new axe need to be sharpened?  We asked the big axe brands and got answers.
How do I store an axe when not in use?  Ways to avoid rust and other damage.
How to paint an axe head – get the step-by-step guide.

Summing up

Attaching an axe handle the wrong way around will cost you time and money. Unfortunately, most brands don’t make it obvious which side is the top. 

For most axe owners, a quick check of the holes at each end of the eye will solve the problem. The larger hole signifies the axe’s top.

As a backup option, check the writing which is usually on the left side. The vertical writing starts at the top of the head and works down.   

If all else fails, check if the axe head has notches, a rounded toe, angled blade, or flared heel. You can use these features to locate the axe’s top and bottom.   

Good luck with working out the orientation of your axe head. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

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