For the next five weeks we are going to enrich your Holiday Garden Gift buying experience by teaching you about the history of some of the most beloved heirloom garden products known to man. If you purchase these products from us, we can assure you that they will become some of the most treasured and most frequently used products by your loved ones, family or friends.
In this newsletter, we are going to discuss The Handrake, an heirloom gardening tool that is as old as ornamental gardening.
In 1997, the original Smith & Hawken published an interesting book entitled, The Tool Book. It was written by William Bryant Logan and published by Workman. Unlike other tool books, it included histories of the various tools that are a part of our daily gardening lives and their cultural significance as well as the standard tool information. Sometimes, consulting this book is a somewhat spiritual experience because the text reminds the reader of the universal significance of gardening and how gardening, more than any other practice, civilized mankind.
In the chapter on raking and sweeping, Logan states,
“Raking and sweeping are practices common to all cultures…No matter where you go, people understand what it is to rake and sweep. The tools are so universal that you could pass them from hand to hand through the whole human family without a word of explanation…”
Rakes consist of a handle which is secured to a tang which connects the handle to the rake head. The rake head can be flat or bowed and holds the teeth. The rake evolved chiefly as an instrument of the harvest. The Romans created rakes with willow or ash handles. The tangs were part of the handle. The rake head was usually made of oak. The teeth were made of iron or wood that was screwed into the rake head. The teeth were blunt ended so that the rake would not damage roots or get caught in the stubble. This rake was used primarily to harvest grains and to build them into sheaths.
The design of the rake changed near the end of the eighteenth century when the drag rake, precursor of the bowhead rake was invented. Iron A-frame side supports stabilized the rake head on the handle. This allowed the rake to be tough enough to rake and move soil and gravel.
The rake enjoyed its greatest glory in England during the early 1800s just before the advent of mechanized agriculture. A passage from The Tool Book described the utilization of the rake in this way,
“Reapers would range over the hayfield with their scythes, cutting down the tall stalks. Behind them came rakers, wielding great rakes as large as 4 feet across, with long flexible willow handles and tough ash tines. The rakes would sweep the hay into windrows, where men and women would throw it high into the air with forks. Rake again, fork again – the process was repeated over and over again until the hay was dry enough to bind into sheaves. At the end of it all, the rakers would move over the field one more time, clearing away stray straw and smoothing the surface in preparation for the next year’s crop.”
There are basically two kinds of garden rakes: a flathead rake and a bowhead rake. The flathead is best for preparing and leveling a bed and breaking down clods of soil. The bowhead rake is used for raking out pebbles, rocks and other impediments. The bowhead is very useful in preparing a wide vegetable garden. Our handrake is a type of flathead rake.
Our Heirloom-design Handrake, pictured above, is the most traditional design for this tool. The tool consists of a 5 inch long varnished, hardwood handle that is heavily secured to a 5 3/4 inch metal tang with, not one, but two, stainless steel screws. At the end of the tang is a 2-inch wide, flat head which carries 6 metal teeth. The spread of the teeth broadens from 2 inches at the head to 3 1/2 inches at the end. Two inches before the end of each of the 6 teeth, the metal is bent to form a claw-like shape. The teeth are 8 1/2 inches long. The entire rake is 19 ½ inches long and weighs approximately 12 oz. The rake comes ‘gift-wrapped’ in a burlap bag reminiscent of the way tools were shipped decades, even centuries ago. Included in the bag is a history of this tool and its impact on gardening.
Most long established, highly experienced gardeners will advise you that a handrake is an essential tool for a basic gardening tool collection. It is ideal for removing debris from small, delicate or low branching plants or hard to reach areas. The hardwood handle nestles comfortably in the palm of your hand and gently allows you to gather up leaves, etc. without disturbing shallow roots. If a gardener you care about does not have a handrake, this tool would make a great gift.
William Bryant Logan obviously understood the horticultural and cultural value of this tool. I love the comment he made in his ‘spiritual’ discussion of rakes:
“Whether you are raking clods out of a vegetable garden, …or picking up autumn leaves, you participate in the steady, rhythmic, repetitive task of humanizing the earth. The process says of your yard and garden that here lives a human being whose love of nature is tempered with a love of order.”
How true and how lovely!
Celebrate your uniquely American horticultural heritage
Harvest Your History
Seed Your Future
on orders $50 and above
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