We were greeted by the very welcoming and friendly Graeme and John, who generously showed us around their fascinating workspaces, and the production processes that go into the making of each of their fine wooden rakes.
This begins in the yard with logs of ash, which are cut down to size for the rake heads.
Electrical tools were incorporated into the process around 50 years ago. In this workshop the 'teeth' are inserted and shaped, and the heads are fitted to the shaft. The head, which is about 2’ 6” wide, is of British ash, as are the bow and shaft. The teeth are made from Scandinavian birch, which is chosen for its strength.
An outbuilding is dedicated to the bending of wooden dowels for the rake 'bows'. A wood-fired oven heats a large, shallow bath of water, which is used to soften the dowels until they are ready to be bent over wooden forms - the ends tucked in and held in position by a wooden strip - until the dowels set in their new, bowed shape - ready for fixing into the rakes through holes in the shaft and head.
Once set, the bows, shaft, and head are assembled by Graeme and John in the old workshop, warmed by a fire fed with plentiful off-cuts of ash - traditionally the finest wood for burning.
'But ash-wood wet and ash-wood dry
A King may warm his slippers by.'
John at work at his bench - fitting the bowed brace and checking that a rake is square by inserting the end of the shaft into a hole in the wall and spinning the head. Both ends of the head must land at the same point on the workbench for the head to be pronounced square.
So far as we (or they) know John and Graeme are the last British craftsmen hand-making wooden rakes in any quantity. Whilst historically they were employed most often for farm work - gathering straw and tedding hay - nowadays they serve many uses, including raking gravel, leaves and long grass, making a fine tilth, turning compost, dredging duck weed from ponds, pulling down apples, and levelling wet concrete; they now even manufacture an especially wide toothed rake used for marking out patterns in zen gardens. Surprisingly lightweight and sturdy, they swiftly find regular use once taken home.