The Rake’s Progress

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).

Fig. 1. Old wooden hay rake. (Wikipedia)

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).

Fig. 2. New ash hay rake.

Fig. 3. Rake head nailed to ash stail.

Fig. 4. Rear-leaning ash tines for optimal performance.

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?

Jack Plane

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About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
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13 Responses to The Rake’s Progress

  1. Can you please show the connection between the stail and the rake’s handle? I’m having difficulty understanding how that works.

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  2. Sylvain says:

    For those interested, Steve Tomlin (in UK) has a blog post about making hay rakes.
    Looking at Steve’s picture, it seems the rear leaning is obtained by boring the two holes for the stail’s ends askew instead of doing it for each tine. It might be easier to get all the tines aligned if you don’t use a drill press.
    Sylvain

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  3. tupper wallace says:

    That is a thing of beauty! Good job!

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  4. Where did you get ash from? I only get offered Mountain Ash or blank looks.

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    • Jack Plane says:

      I felled and planked a few ash trees some years ago. I normally make furniture with it, but it’s the supreme wood for tool-making.

      If you can get it, Spotted Gum would be a suitable Australian timber for making a rake.

      JP

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  5. Paul Huckett says:

    My Shetlands are doing exactly the same at the moment . This is so much better than anything you can purchase. Form and function creating the perfect tool . Thank you .

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