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Build A Wooden Hay Rake: Making Hay the Old Fashioned Way

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: hay, wooden hay rake, homemade hay rake, scything hay, making hay, Hank Will,

Hakn Will in the corn patch.I'll admit it, I've been forever fascinated with old ways of doing things. And even though I love the sounds and smells associated with making hay using diesel-powered equipment and modern, self-tying large round balers, I've always wondered whether I could pass muster with my ancestors and make sufficient hay to feed some critters through the winter using only a scythe, wooden hand hay rake, pitchfork and wagon. I've used a scythe off and on over the years to whack weeds, and I would always rather do something physical around the farm than go to the gym and run on a treadmill, so I decided that making hay the old fashioned way would be good for me. I already had access to an Austrian-style scythe and we had a few old pitchforks, but I needed something to handle the raking. I've seen vintage wooden hay rakes in antique stores -- and they sell for pretty good money so I decided to have a go at making one myself. I took a look at some rakes online and even took a look at some "plans" in a couple of green woodworking books and then just decided to do like my German ancestors would have done when they hit the Dakota territory in the late 1800s -- make do with what I had around.

Homemade Wooden Hay Rake 1

My first step was to head into the small copse of woods in the center of the farm to harvest a Hackberry sapling of sufficient length and dimension to shape into the handle. I cut and limbed the sapling with a machete that the folks at SOG Tools sent me to mess around with. I next cut a Hackberry log about 30 inches long and 6-inches in diameter from a snag left by the dozers when they repaired one of the pond dams on my farm (my chain saw came in handy for this work). I carried these pieces along with a 20-inch by 8-inch diameter Black Walnut log, sourced from the same snag, back to my improvised woodworking shop in the barn and went to work.

Homemade Wooden Hay Rake 2

To begin shaping the handle, I shaved the bark from the Hackberry sapling using a drawknife I bought in 1978 to shape boat parts (my boat building phase lasted about 10 years).

Hank and the Beachcomber Alpha dory he built from a John Gardener design.

Hank sails his first homemade boat in Lake Michigan in 1979

Once the sapling was free of bark, I shaved it down until it felt good in my fielder's-mitt-sized hands. At one end, where the handle would be connected to the rake's head, I shaved the sapling into a tenon that was roughly 1.5 inches by 1.0 inch in cross section - and I set the handle aside to dry out for a week or so. Meanwhile, I used a splitting maul and antique forged froe to rive out a Hackberry billet about 30-inches long by 1.5 inches thick by 2.5 inches wide. I used the drawknife and a flat-soled spokeshave to shape that billet into the rake's head and then trimmed the ends with a handsaw.

Homemade Wooden Hay Rake 3

By the time I got all of that completed, the handle was sufficiently dry that I traced the tenon's cross section onto the center of the head and using a hand drill and chisels, cut a slightly tapered mortise that gripped the tenon snugly with just a few whacks from the mallet. I then located positions for 7 teeth and bored half-inch holes through the rake head, top to bottom. I took care to eyeball the drill so that the holes were more or less perpendicular to the bottom of the rake's head.

Froe splitting maul and Black Walnut bilets

Next, I used the splitting maul and froe to rive out Black Walnut billets that were about 5/8-inch square in cross section and 20 inches long. These I rounded to slightly more than 1/2-inch diameter with the drawknife and spokeshave and then I cut them to length. I got about three teeth from each billet. I left the center tooth considerably longer than the others. I next sized the teeth using my SOG Flash II folding knife so they would fit tightly into the holes I bored earlier.

Sharpened hay rake teeth

Once sized, I used the SOG Flash II to whittle a crude, dull point on the rake teeth and drove them home with a hardwood mallet. Although the rake was fully assembled at this point, and I was tempted to try it out, every wooden hay rake I have seen uses some means to brace the handle and head in a triangular fashion. I've seen iron strapping, wire, steam-bent wood and sawed braces on antique rakes. I decided for this first and somewhat primitive attempt, I would use looped wire twisted taught like the diagonal on a fence brace to do the trick. It's not pretty, but it works great.

wire braces on homemade wooden hay rake

So far, I've used the rake to put up a little more than a ton of hay and to gather at least that much fresh-cut forage for the pigs. It works surprisingly well with its 7-foot hand-hewn handle and riven head and teeth. I will probably make my next rake a little wider and will take the time to rive out diagonal braces and steam-bend and rivet them to the handle and head using a few square-shank copper nails and dished roves (left over from my boat building phase). I plan to put up at least 5 tons of hay yet this year (yes I know it's late) -- I'll report on the progress and on the rhythmic joy of swinging a scythe later this month, hopefully. 

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

hans quistorff
4/13/2013 7:04:50 AM

I ordered a broom handle tap and dye set a few years back to repair some tools. We had a big snow after they arrived so I drilled and tapped a short piece of 2x4 and screwed it to 6 inch by 20 inch piece of scrap paneling. screwed that onto a long handle and it worked great for pulling snow off the roof. Think I will shave the bark off an apple limb and use smaller limbs for the rake pins. If by some chance my brace fails and the handle breaks off I can re thread it and screw it back in again.

4/8/2013 3:45:16 PM

very nice. I want the plans for the boat!

9/9/2012 11:03:21 PM

Great idea. After I've finished building my shed - . I should have enough wood left over to build rake as well.

vicki mangum
8/25/2010 6:38:37 PM

Even when I lived in Denver I was a country girl. Now that I live in the country I LOVE magazines like Grit. I was introduced to The Mother Earth News back in the '70's when living in Denver. I am glad to see other "sister" magazines on rural back to nature living now. I did subscribe to this magazine not too long ago. I look forward to digging into this magazine when I get home from vacation.

hank will_2
8/12/2010 7:16:01 AM

Hey Pam -- I think it is really fun to make things with the stuff that grows around the farm. The rakes are fun because you really never need to fire up a power tool, although I did use a chain saw on some of the larger pieces of wood. For that first boat, which was 21 feet long I made everything, even the mast. They were tearing down a big warehouse in Chicago and I bought some 10 X 16 perfectly clear douglas spruce beams from the wrecking company and used a huge 36-inch throat Crescent bandsaw that i salvaged from an abandoned foundry to resaw the beam into a suitable billet for the mast and then I shaped it with an adze and hand planes. After that boat, I did 7 more and then quit. I'd love to see your husband's boats. Thanks, Hank

8/11/2010 5:12:22 PM

What a coincidence! I wanted to read about your wooden hay rake to tell my husband(who loves to build things). Then I saw where you were into boat building awhile back. My husband is working on building a boat now. He built a small one a couple of years ago and wanted to try building one a little larger. We love the old ways here also. You did a great job on the boat and the wooden hay rake. Do you think you will build another boat? Have a great day. gafarmwoman Pam Life on a Southern Farm