A Guide to Rakes: Types, History and Tips

A leaf rake, just one of several rakes for special uses.

Have you ever attended a fancy dinner and not known which fork to use? That’s kind of how it feels looking at rakes in the gardening tools aisle at the home supply store.

The difference: While all forks will in some manner get food in your mouth, rakes actually have very different purposes. For example, you’ll have a hard time cleaning up those autumn leaves with a concrete rake.

From zen garden rakes to less relaxing “poop-scoop” rakes, there are dozens of rakes to choose from. Our guide covers the history of rakes, what to look for, and types of rakes for specialized uses. When you’re finished, you may realize you may need more than one all-purpose rake.

A Brief History of Rakes

First mentioned in 1,100 BC China, rakes have changed a lot in the past centuries.

In 1874, a U.S. patent was given to a rake design that was something like a dustpan and metal broom combined.

Modern designs began to take hold around the 1920s, and since then there’s been a great deal of advancement in materials.

What to Look for in a Rake

A few things to consider when selecting a rake: size, material, and purpose.

Most long-handled rakes are between 22 and 30 inches in length. To choose the right one for you, place the rake flat against the floor and see where the handle measures. If it is right about at the bridge of your nose, it’s a proper length and should feel balanced while you’re working in the yard.

As for materials, consider what is comfortable for you and what best suits your purposes.

Types of Rakes

Here’s a quick explainer on some of the most common types of rakes. Let this be your guide the next time you find yourself wandering confused and dejected through the aisles of your neighborhood gardening or home supply store.

Garden rake
Garden rake / Pxfuel

Garden rake

AKA: Bow rake, level head

ID: Metal tines are short and thick, and widely spaced, extending from a long handle.

This is the rake Mr. McGregor was always using to chase Peter Rabbit. Primarily for leveling dirt and mulch, a quality garden rake is a necessity for any gardener. Just be careful not to leave it carelessly laying around the yard – a broken nose will only make outdoor chores more burdensome.

Garden rakes may be easily confused with landscape and tarmac rakes. Landscape rakes look similar but have a wider head and are intended for bigger jobs, such as smoothing out the infield on a baseball diamond. Tarmac rakes are for heavy-duty jobs like moving asphalt and gravel.

Leaf rake
Leaf rake / Pxfuel

Leaf rake

AKA: Lawn rake

ID: A long handle with metal, bamboo, or plastic tines spread out in a triangular shape.

Primarily used for gathering fallen leaves, this is another must-have for pretty much any homeowner north of the Mason-Dixon. An important thing to note about this tool is the material from which it’s made. Metal tines are the most resilient, but plastic tines are actually more functional. Plastic does the best job with leaves, especially if they are wet. Bamboo, which is a lighter material and therefore more gentle, is best for raking flower beds.

Shrub rake
Shrub rake/ Wallpaperflare

Shrub rake

AKA: This guy has no known nicknames.

ID: Tines are typically in a fan shape and span less than 10 inches; some varieties are shaped like a house broom.

Similar to a leaf rake, but smaller so it works in confined spaces, shrub rakes fit well between plants, around fencing, and in flower beds. If your garden has a lot of debris, look for thicker tines, as this will more effectively remove unwanted matter from the soil.

Thatch rake

AKA: Scarifying rake, dethatching rake

ID: With a long handle, sharp blades line both sides of the metal head.

Removing the material between the green grass and the soil is important for a healthy lawn, and using the right rake for this task is paramount. Wielding the wrong tool will cause damage to the grass and probably won’t do a good job cleaning up the thatch. One side of this specialty rake breaks up the thatch, while the other side removes it. For large spaces or heavy thatch, it might be best to look into a vertical mower instead of a rake.

Notable Mentions

Leaf scoop rake

Highly recommended if you don’t have any kids around begging for their allowance. This rake allows you to move and scoop the leaves in one motion, making it very easy to fill up the yard waste bin or wheelbarrow.

Hand rake

Similar in size to a trowel, a hand rake is best for detailed work. Flower beds, for example, need to be cleaned up with care not to damage the plants. This little guy will let you maneuver in and out between your flowers.

Lake rake

Intended for removing weeds and algae from water features, pond rakes come in long-handled and short-handled designs. This tool should be dragged along the water’s bottom, and the growth will be pulled out to the edge for easy removal.

Roof rake

With a long handle and lightweight design, this tool is perfect to remove snow and ice from roofs. It’s also handy for leaves and other debris, including fetching the neighbor kid’s flying disc.

Whatever rakes you need, best practice is to hang rakes in your shed or garage, instead of piled in a corner. This prevents damage and frustration when everything gets twisted up together.

Why You May Need More Than 1 Rake

Having the right rakes and other tools in your arsenal not only makes for more beautiful yards and gardens, but it also makes the job more enjoyable. No one wants to eat spaghetti with a shrimp fork.

READ NEXT: Raking Leaves: There’s a Better Way to Do It

Main image credit: A lawn rake / Henry Tseng / CC BY-2.0

Alison Hoover

Alison Hoover

Alison is a Midwesterner through and through, and loves to spend her time baking and reading. Always at home in the dirt, as a kid, Alison raised a vegetable garden with her dad, and flower gardens with her mom.