A computational procedure is described for assigning the absolute hand of the structure of a protein or assembly determined by single-particle electron microscopy. The procedure requires a pair of micrographs of the same particle field recorded at two tilt angles of a single tilt-axis specimen holder together with the three-dimensional map whose hand is being determined. For orientations determined from particles on one micrograph using the map, the agreement (average phase residual) between particle images on the second micrograph and map projections is determined for all possible choices of tilt angle and axis. Whether the agreement is better at the known tilt angle and axis of the microscope or its inverse indicates whether the map is of correct or incorrect hand. An increased discrimination of correct from incorrect hand (free hand difference), as well as accurate identification of the known values for the tilt angle and axis, can be used as targets for rapidly optimizing the search or refinement procedures used to determine particle orientations. Optimized refinement reduces the tendency for the model to match noise in a single image, thus improving the accuracy of the orientation determination and therefore the quality of the resulting map. The hand determination and refinement optimization procedure is applied to image pairs of the dihydrolipoyl acetyltransferase (E2) catalytic core of the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex from Bacillus stearothermophilus taken by low-dose electron cryomicroscopy. Structure factor amplitudes of a three-dimensional map of the E2 catalytic core obtained by averaging untilted images of 3667 icosahedral particles are compared to a scattering reference using a Guinier plot. A noise-dependent structure factor weight is derived and used in conjunction with a temperature factor (B=-1000A(2)) to restore high-resolution contrast without amplifying noise and to visualize molecular features to 8.7A resolution, according to a new objective criterion for resolution assessment proposed here.