The rakes that Wonkee Donkee is looking at in this guide are hand tools which are used for various clearing, levelling and breaking jobs in gardens and other landscaped areas. Although in industry the hand rake is now usually replaced by a mechanical version, it is still a common tool. The history of rakes is entwined with the histories of gardens, farming and landscaping.
It’s widely believed that the first rakes, for scraping soil or moving leaves, would have been human hands and branches from trees and bushes. As humans developed, so did their tools. Rakes resembling modern rakes, with wooden tines attached to a head through holes, have been found in China dating from 1100 BC.
The basic design of the rake hasn’t really changed since ancient times, with its long handle attached to a head with tines. However, there have been a few adjustments to make rakes more suitable for particular jobs. Technological advances have also seen additions to improve the efficiency of individual rakes, such as ergonomically shaped heads and handles.
Before the industrial revolution, all tools were handmade, and usually custom made. Due to the labour involved in tool craft, rakes and other tools were important possessions to the people who owned them. Garden tools, like rakes, were valuable, time-saving objects.
The industrial revolution saw a big leap forward in tool production, through advances in metalwork and machinery. Although the basic designs of tools like rakes haven’t altered much, the value placed on their possession has. We now often view tools like rakes as common household items, which are easy to obtain and replace.
You’ll find many books written on gardens, and gardeners, and their histories. However, there’s not much information on the history of garden tools. This is probably because they don’t usually survive through generations, as they wear with use. Also, rakes are so common we hardly notice them and while fashions in garden designs have changed over time, the essential design of the rake hasn’t changed much at all.