The country round here is now officially in drought: It’s been the driest April on record and we’ve had only a third of the average rainfall so far this year. There’s been no grass of any worth in the paddocks for many months, so I’ve been hard-feeding the horses and putting out hay for them too.
Hay can get messy once out of the roll or bale and constantly requires tidying up. Nobody (on this continent, at least) appears to sell a quality hay rake. The most common offerings I’ve come across are plastic-headed things with aluminium stails and any I’ve seen in use around the place are missing a few tines.
Back home in Ireland (and England, where I also lived for a while), every farm and smallholding possessed at least one traditional handmade wooden hay rake (figure 1).
Rake-making was (and still is) a cottage industry, usually based in the locality of an ash coppice. Ash was used for every part of the rake and every part was ingeniously and expediently fashioned by hand.
The method of attaching and bracing the head to the stail varied from one region to another, but in most cases, the stail was wedged into the head, or more commonly, the head was nailed to the stail . The tines were simply a tight interference fit in the head so if one did break off, the stub could be drifted out and a replacement hammered in.
In the absence of anything of quality to purchase, I resorted to making a wooden hay rake. Having only my memory to go on (which has been going off for years now), I made the stail 1-1/4″ diameter. In retrospect, 1-1/8″ would have been springier and thus better, but at least it shouldn’t break any time soon. The head is 28″ wide with sixteen tines (figures 2, 3 and 4).
The new rake is lightweight, comfortable in the hand and performs (more or less) as anticipated – what else would one expect from a centuries-old design?