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. Lora O. says:

    Sometimes you find them at estate sales, for a dollar or two! Head straight for the garage! I always pick up hand tools and light weight snow shovels that are not plastic too..

  2. Sheryl says:

    I’m with you! My husband and I always used bamboo rakes and have been “making do” with the inferior metal or plastic ones. We were just commenting the other day about why the companies stopped making them. The rake you have pictured looks like it might work – please let us know how it does the job!

  3. To help prevent the clamps/straps from giving way, try adding a metal hose clamp or two, the kind you can tighten down. I’ve never had a bamboo rake, but the plastic and metal combo things that I have to put up with always fail at that connection point too. Grrr.

  4. Vickie says:

    I’m with you. I grew up using bamboo rakes and they always lasted a long time. I’m from Hawaii and my father loved bamboo rakes; most islanders do. The tines were deep enough for raking mango and avocado tree leaves — my task. I’ve never seen one that looks like the one you pictured, however. I wonder if some garden store in Hawaii might stock them? Hasegawa General Store is one. They cater to locals, and they are located in the Hana farming community on the island of Maui. I’ll bet they can help you. Right now, I am using the telescoping metal kind, but now that you have mentioned it, I just might go to the Hasegawa General Store myself. There’s even a song in Hawaii that sings their praises.

  5. Vickie says:

    Well, I didn’t get much from that website I posted to you, Hasegawa General Store. Maybe a phone call? I don’t know. I didn’t find a rake you did speak of at True Value online, but they only ship to another True Value store in your area. Sigh…

  6. Katherine says:

    This is slightly off topic, but when is the best time to rake leaves in the spring? Also, do leaves protect plants and grass from frost? I’m zone 5b, upstate ny! :)

    1. margaret says:

      Not off-topic. I like to get leaves up ASAP after snow melts, and the ground is firm enough for moving around on without making a worse mess. Thick mats of leaves on top of early bulbs and perennials will thwart them from popping up straight and rapidly, and are harder to remove once those earlybirds arise. So I attack those first, and the ones on the lawn (which can disfigure it) once I can rake the grass without pulling it up! I don’t worry as much in beds where there are no perennials or bulbs; that can come later. But it really is hard once things re up to not decapitate while raking.

      Leaves can be used as winter mulch, but if too thick and matted they can also make good hiding places for voles and mice!

    1. margaret says:

      Yes, I have broken every brand sold there, Marilyn. :) And fast! So sad that the better, more securely made ones no longer exist. Sigh.

  7. SJ says:

    I SO agree. I am down to one bamboo rake (at least 10 years old) but it has a couple of broken tines and no replacement in sight. So sad.

  8. Rocky says:

    I feel your pain.
    Last year I went on a search for a broom with a wooden handle.
    When did they all change to skinny cold metal ones which snap off?
    After all the box stores I finally found one in a good old fashioned hardware store.
    Mostly I buy my tools at tag sales, gonna have look for a bamboo rake, haven’t had one in years.

  9. Donna says:

    Oh Margaret….. I understand completely your love for a certain tool or in this instance, something as simple as a leaf rake. I’m so anal with the curve of tines, handle, construction, etc. I comb the garage sales all Spring, Summer and Fall in hopes of finding an older leaf rake of this kind.
    I had my very large Norway Maple pruned as you suggested couple weeks ago. Thank you.
    My next question: Can I till some year old cow or horse manure in my vegetable garden. I’d like to get the raised beds ready for planting and have been told I should do this in the Fall instead of Spring. Your thoughts?

  10. Sandra R says:

    I am astounded. I have never heard of bamboo rakes. Ever. I wonder if they were a regional item. I just use the adjustable metal one, and usually go after the square frame metal one for anything serious. But you do have me wondering after a product that is apparently not available!
    Perhaps all the bamboo is now going to flooring and T-shirts or socks (so soft).

    1. margaret says:

      Interesting, Sandra. They are everywhere (online and in stores) but they are just so poorly made now compared to even the quality 5 years ago, they’re almost “disposable”. :) So they’re being manufactured, but in my opinion not very well!

  11. Peter B says:

    Hi Margaret, have you tried an English rubber tipped rake? I have one I purchased MANY years back from the original Smith and Hawken…when it was Smith and Hawken!! I love this rake for a soft touch in the early spring to lightly sweep leaves out of perennial beds, fluff up matted turf and rake out snow mold etc.
    I see Clarington Forge offers them. A little pricey but mine is about 15 years old and is still going strong!

    1. margaret says:

      So funny, Peter B, I was looking at those with curiosity, trying to imagine what they’d be like (the shape/structure is so different, besides the material being different). I may have to bravely go for it, and send the ransom in to get one!

    1. kathy donohue says:

      I had a friend stop by East Haven Landscaping to get a rake and was told that Ames had bought out McGuire and Terra Verde and the rakes are no longer being made.

  12. nancy says:

    As I read your description more closely I could see that the last link probably wouldn’t work so I looked at one of the best Japanese tool companies I have used and this might be better. They have different sizes of bamboo rakes and their customer service is great. Good luck.

    1. Vickie says:

      you have made me one happy gal today. I went to the Hida tool web site you provided and found the exact sickle I’ve been wanting for a long, long time. Upon looking around, I found several things I would like to have. Fabulous hand pruners! Their hardware page is terrific. I have ordered the sickle and can’t wait to use it. The sickles they sell here in Kansas just don’t work well for small work. I don’t want to cut wheat. The Japanese sickles have a curved blade that works perfectly for working in flower beds or cutting grass in smaller areas. You don’t hack at the grass, you just gather a bit of it with the blade and pull toward you. You made my day!

    2. margaret says:

      Hi, Nancy. Unfortunately, their rakes (except the 8″ head child’s/shrub size) are out of stock. Good idea to look at Japanese toolmakers, though, so I will pursue others!

  13. Susan says:

    I had no idea the bamboo rake that was in the garden shed when we bought our house almost 20 years ago was such a jewel. I grew up with bamboo rakes in western PA (I’m now in RI) and I considered this rake to be a standard item when we discovered it. I guess not! I can’t imagine why they are so poorly made now, or so scarce. To me, they are ideal and I plan to take good care of mine.

  14. tara dillard says:

    Never liked the bamboo rake. Working at a nursery in the 80’s they sold a good one. Your post reminds me they haven’t been available for ages.

    I adore the metal adjustable rake. However, won’t buy another. Have purchased 2, been given 2. Each broke in a season.

    What to do? Garage/estate sales.

    Shovels too. I should have enough shovels to last past death. I will be a good estate sale.

    Garden & Be Well, XOTara

  15. Joy says:

    Hello there : )
    We use a plastic one VERY carefully … but funny enough I have bamboo ones from the Dollar Store meant for kids … but it works really well on small patches as I go in the perennial border.
    It is the intermediate one from the large rake to the hand rake … good heavens, I didn’t realize how many different ones I use ! LOL
    They all have a purpose though … so the system works for me and my garden : )

  16. Linda says:

    I have two bamboo rakes at least 35 years old, each with a few teeth missing. They still work better than plastic or metal. I didn’t realize they couldn’t be replaced. I’ll be kinder to them, and maybe they’ll last as long as I do!

    1. margaret says:

      Nurse them along, Linda! You won’t like the current generation of badly made ones. They are still sold online and in stores, but wow, what junk!

  17. jerre says:

    I have the rubber tine rakes that Smith and Hawken (in the olden days before Scotts bought them) used to have. The tines are replaceable. I have a large one and a small one. They work well with dryer leaves because they don’t immediately snap anything that has emerged. Very wet matted leaves just bend the tines. My husband just finished raking the solomon seal bed (three different types) and didn’t break a single tip.

  18. Linda S says:

    As a “professional” raker I have tried them all over the years. I am now in love with the Fiskers, guaranteed for life, lite weight rake. Does a better job than anything else I’ve tried. Just my 2 cents….

  19. Lorrie Lewis says:

    Have you tried a length of foam pipe insulation to pad rake, or any tool handle? Cut to comfortable size, slip on, secure with duct tape, works for me!

  20. Bette says:

    Margaret, Two apparent sources of McGuire bamboo rakes: Arett Sales (Bristol, CT & Troy, OH) and East Haven Landscape Products (East Haven, CT). If the wholesellers will not deal directly perhaps they will provide vendor names/locations in your area. These may be possibilities along with various local hardware stores, at least that’s what a ‘google’ search is indicating. Best of luck with this hunt. Bette

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Bette. My nearby garden center owner explains that the McGuire company was sold some time ago to another manufacturer. I think it became a division of Dejay, which then sold to Kaz, which then folded apparently. The rakes in those listings are Flexrake brand, which are sold around here, too, but I have not had good luck with. I fear that everyone striving to reach a competitive price point for big-box stores and to compete with plastic has done in the strength of the old version of this rake.

  21. LESLIE SHIELDS says:

    I found a rake that works better for me than bamboo. I have a lot of ground covers and this double tines rake is like using your fingers to get the leaves etc. out. Strangely, I have only found them at a llama ranch. Think you may like them.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Leslie. The place says they are out of stock with no prospect to get them in stock again (apparently the supplier hasn’t responded to multiple outreaches). Sigh. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.