One popular explanation for the origin of the 士 character is that it originally shared virtually the same form as the 王 character (see forms circled in red below), where 王 depicts a broad axe and symbolizes political power.
More importantly they also explain that 士 is actually a drawing of a farming tool and NOT an axe despite their similar early forms, because it's associated with a lower rank not comparable to that of a king. And therefore an additional stroke was added to distinguish 王 from 士.
(王 character evolution)
(士 character evolution)
However the farming tool explanation for 士 still seems a bit confusing to me, assuming it does actually represent a hoe. The blade is clearly shown by the bottom horizontal stroke, but I'm not sure what the top horizontal stroke is supposed to portray.
Since a hoe differs from an axe in that its handle is actually perpendicular to the length of the blade instead of parallel to it, it would seem odd for the upper horizontal stroke in 士 to represent the handle. Being perpendicular, the handle would actually be going into the plane of the page (or, alternatively, sticking out of the page towards the viewer in 3D space). Which obviously isn't feasible to draw. So you'd expect a pictograph of a hoe would have been better represented from a side view, much like 斤 shows the side view of an adze, and much like the depiction of a person's belly in the character 身 can only be clearly shown from the side and not looking head-on.
Having said that, can anyone offer any insight as to what the top horizontal stroke in 士 represents? Is it just a decorative stroke? And where/how would the handle attach to the blade, assuming they deemed it important enough to include a handle in most other weapon-related Chinese characters?
Or is 士 just a picture of an axe all along?