If you’ve spent any time raking leaves, you know how much easier the job can be when you have the perfect implement for the task; otherwise, you end up fighting for control and losing your grip. The ideal rake is lightweight: you should be able to make repeated quick sweeps without fatigue or stress on hands, wrists or biceps.
I want the rake to feel almost like an extension of my arm, with a handle of the appropriate weight-to-length ratio, and a rake head that effectively grips, lifts and gathers. But not every rake (or every gardener) is built the same, as I learned when surveying various rakes with my friend and colleague Stephen. We tested leaf rakes with metal and plastic tines, flat and spring-loaded forms, and wide and narrow heads, as well as stiff garden rakes for soil preparation. After trying out rakes with plastic and metal tines, we realized the need to own two or three rakes for different surfaces.
Right rake, right gardener
The issue of right rake, right gardener was quickly apparent when we tried out a classically beautiful rake of generous proportions. Stephen sailed across the lawn, building leaf piles in minutes, but using the same implement, my own efforts were clumsy and laboured. If a rake is effective only when used at a slow pace with a strained, dragging motion, that’s a sign the tool and gardener are mismatched. Stephen’s additional 15 centimetres in height and large hands gave him greater control of the long handle; the same rake was out of scale for me. With a shorter handle, I could keep pace with similar speed and precision.
The rake head and fanned tines are important factors in efficiently building a leaf pile. They must collect both dry and wet leaves, small twigs, dead grass blades, thatch and tree flowers and fruits (catkins, nuts, cones and keys). An effective leaf rake collects from a broad area and gathers both lawn and turf debris in front of the fanned tines on the first sweep.