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is the perfect bamboo leaf rake extinct?

gloves, rake, clipperWANTED: Bamboo leaf rake that doesn’t lose teeth or handle for at least one season. Preferably with a padded sleeve to grip, rather than just a skimpy, plain wood rod. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so; I fear my ideal of the bamboo rake—a tool I have always loved for its light weight, easy on the raker and the residents of the bed being raked—has gone extinct.

It has joined the perfect long-handled shovel, another tool I just cannot seem to replace since mine broke years ago. Sigh.

strap on bamboo rakeI am not a bruiser, nor is the person who helps in the garden part-time. We don’t try to rake gravel or too-heavy piles of wet, matted leaves, with a bamboo rake; we know it’s not the right tool for those jobs. But one recent spring we busted three brand new bamboo leaf rakes in their first month of use, raking borders and lawn. The crappy metal strap (above) that holds the tines in place let go in no time on all; on one, some teeth snapped, too.

One recent raking season we were virtually rakeless, down to a couple of those awful green plastic rakes that have become the fashion, purchased in emergency mode the previous fall when nothing else was available nearby.

vintage bamboo rake adSearching for my dream rake, I found myself in the tool aisle of the nearest garden center talking bamboo rakes. Three of us—the owner, a nursery employee and I—recollected the good old days when McGuire made them. No more. (I did find a vintage newspaper ad for them, though, above.)

Of the current bamboo contenders, the teeth are often too long and too curved, but most important: that damn strap is inadequate to hold the fan of tines together.

yard butler rake detailNo bamboo types at any local outlet made the cut, so I reluctantly took home something called a Yard Butler rake (model LT-20). This unusual metal spring rake violates my rule of never buying any tool with a cute name. It’s very tough and flexible, compared to a typical metal spring rake, a tool I never use. The tines sort of float in a perforated metal strap that spans them (above), creating that combination of durability but extra flexibility.

The new rake cost much more and will presumably last much longer than my coveted bamboo one. It has a slightly too-small head and an unpadded handle. But I had leaves to rake, miles and piles of them, so onward it and I go together. So far, so good, I’ll reluctantly admit, though I confess to continuing bamboo fantasies. A couple of brands I cannot find locally are on mail-order–just in case they prove any good.

yard butler rakeWhat tool are you armed with as you tackle garden cleanup? Steel spring lawn rake? Or maybe the telescoping, expandable metal kind some friends favor, but I’ve never fallen for? If you happen to know a source for vintage McGuire bamboo rakes or the equivalent, I’ll be forever grateful.

(Disclosure: Purchases from Amazon affiliate links yield a small commission.)

  1. Donna Frankiewicz says:

    Okay, so that’s great for the rakes. I have a different problem. I have a 3 tined cultivator that must be 40 or 50 years old. It’s the only thing I use in my garden for weeding and working fertilizers into the soil. I’ve looked and looked and never seen one in my local stores. I live in Northern Minnesota. Anybody know what I’m talking about??? And yes, this probably is off-topic. Sorry.

    1. Jeanne M. says:

      Is that the “Garden Weasel” you speak of? I have one of those. The middle wheel is removeable and the long handle can unscrew to be used as a hand tool for more control around mature plants.

    2. Sharon Meany says:

      I have my dad’s cultivator. I haven’t used it, but if it’s great on weeds, I should try it out. Now is the time to get some of those favorite ( aka really good tools back on the market. I own 3 McGuire rakes and I’d like to replace one. I’m bummed that I might not find them available any more.

  2. Judy Hines says:

    Know how you feel about a favorite tool not being made anymore. I, too, loved our old bamboo rake but alas, as you learned, they are made no more. You know what? With the emergence of bamboo being used for so many items, cutting boards to floors, I bet the rakes will be offered!

  3. Jan Lewinsohn says:

    Totally my experience too….love using Bamboo rakes, gentle, don’t make noise and lightweight. But they seem to self-destruct. Have looked for quality replacements to no avail, the metal devices or the ties that hold bamboo blades seem to get caught & pull away. I still find the smaller 6″ or so which I use but find only the much too wide bamboos that don’t work for me. So I have just acquired from nursery center a bit noisy metal rake called Yard Butler –“World’s greatest rake” it curves in a bit, with spring-back tines for leaves and needles and cones…..testing so jury still out.! Supplied by Lewis tools, Poway, CA.
    Please manufacturers out there hear are plea!….Jan

    1. margaret says:

      That’s the one I got, too, Jan, about two weeks ago. It works well, but as you say: noisy, and not my dear old bamboo rake. But for now it’s my best choice, or at least the best one I can find.

  4. meredith says:

    I sell vintage things online and haunt my local Habitat for Humanity Restores. They always have old tools. I’ve gotten many handy things to use around the house for $1 or less….and old things that were quality made….not the cheap junk manufactured today. I would pay a visit there every now to see what they have……you never know. Craiglist too. People clean out old garden sheds all the time. I have several of the little version of the bamboo rakes….inherited from my grandfather….probably dating to the 1950s. Still going strong. Excellent to use in my rather packed flower beds.

  5. Colleen says:

    After reading about your “perfect” rake, I went out and lo & behold my favorite
    rake is a McGuires too. Mine is still in good working condition and has only lost one
    tine. I wonder if you could remove the padding and put it on the new rake?

    1. margaret says:

      Funny, Colleen; a good old McGuire! I think there are probably DIY methods of applying foam tape or foam tubing to the handles…so I will investigate (if I ever take a break from raking up winter’s mess). :)

  6. Rebecca says:

    A shared experience certainly can bring a smile. I refuse to give up my bamboo rake which is missing 8 tines ( I just went outside to count). The gentle sound of a working bamboo rake is indeed part of its appeal. I will keep an eye out for bamboo rakes lurking in some old hardware store’s back room.

  7. Yorkie says:

    Bamboo rakes are in CT Star Hardware stores by a co called Rudd out of Greenfield, MA. made in china but have 30″, 24″ and small 6″ ones for under bush cleanup.
    Too bad McGuire are not made anymore. Sad that US can’t reboot a good product like that.

  8. Jack Russell says:

    As a retailer, I to am frustrated by the lack of quality bamboo rakes that are available. The ones I have been able find so far, are at best what I would refer to as disposable after a single use, if that.
    The idea of a rake with a padded handle concerns me though. Within the industry, most of the padded and painted handles are sold that way to disguise the inferior quality of the wood, and or the poor alignment of the wood grain. Never buy a long handled wooden tool where the grain is hidden in any way, even if it is a so called beneficial feature.
    Buy some nice padded palmed gloves, that way all of your tools will have padded handles!

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Jack, for sharing your common frustration — my local garden center owner says the same. Disposable is right. Ridiculous. Interesting on the padded handle/disguise aspect. Thank you.

  9. Alice says:

    In addition to seeking a well made. used bamboo rake at yard and garage sales, try Freecycle in your area. Tools don’t get Offered too often here at the Jersey Shore but if you ask if anyone has one to get rid of, you may get lucky and it will be free.

  10. Anne Franges says:

    Hida Tools and Hardware in Berkeley CA has bamboo rakes both large and small. Their store and catalog are fascinating for gardeners, lovers of kitchen and other knives and woodworking. I enjoy visiting the store when I visit my brother in Berkeley and have found their tools are of high quality and often a comfortable fit for a woman’s hands.

  11. Jessie McGuire says:

    Thanks for the compliment. My family invented the flexible lawn rake and manufactured McGuire rakes for years. So sorry to see that the company that purchased the business from us has let them die. They WERE the best. – Jessie McGuire

  12. Jessie McGuire says:

    I just read the rest of the comments. McGuire Industries is NOT the George W. McGuire Co. I guess that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. I think they started in rafia lawn furniture from the Philippines.

    The McGuire rake was unique for many reasons: the choice of a certain species of bamboo and only the male of that species; the fact that the larger ones were made from the a single piece of bamboo. A stalk of bamboo was fed thru what looked like a bicycle wheel with blades as spokes. Normally when the tines fall, they are put into a bin. Someone grabs 18, or 24, or 36… and assembles them into a fan shape. When the larger McGuire rakes were assembled, all the tines were from the same stalk in the position in which they came out. Their tendency was to pull together. It’s a small thing, but it definitely led to the sturdiness of the McGuire rakes.
    My grandfather invented the flexible lawn rake and it was a product we were always proud of as a family. It’s very nice to hear that the name at least is still respected. I tried to buy one a couple of years ago also… couldn’t find one. They were just too labor intensive for the firm that bought the company. We had the raw heads shipped into the country and assembled them in Queens, NY. The little rakes you mention were originally made for my cousin who wanted to rake under her porch steps in Florida. My grandfather sent her a dollar for the idea! They were made by a school bus driver on his down time.
    It was a nice, small family business for several years. Thanks for remembering it.

  13. Frank McGinness says:

    Here it is nearly 2019 and my bamboo rake which I have many times tuned and replaced screws had finally died after 25 years. I’m surprised to find there’s none to be bought locally in the San Francisco area. There’s only metal tined rakes which I can’t stand the harsh sound against pea gravel. It also doesn’t lay the gravel more flat, nor is able to quickly access between boarder rocks. The sound and process of a bamboo rake is tranquil and even meditative. Wish me luck, ordering online. Any idea why metal not bamboo is marketed in stores?

  14. Carl Muhlbauer says:

    I have been able to get fairly good life out of the cheap bamboo rakes. I replace the inadequate tine clamp with a hose clamp. They are not very expensive and can be reused on the next rake after the tines wear out. Next problem is I can even get a bamboo rake locally. Last one I ordered online and picked up in an Ace hardware store to avoid shipping cost.

  15. Tobey Llop says:

    I’m nursing five bamboo rakes of various ages and spans, one I’ve repaired with new steel wire binding, three missing at least one tine each, so I was browsing to shop for enhancing my collection, given their tendency to fail with age and raking too close to a chain link fence which occasionally catches a tine. I’m reading good reviews about a poly something Lowes has, so there’s something here to contemplate. Sad news that I can’t find a source for new bamboo rakes.

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