Operating out of an ancient workshop in the Cumbrian village of Dufton, Rudd's Rakes, now run by the fourth generation of the Rudd family, is the last commercial wooden rake maker in Britain.
Scratched into the smoke-blackened stone above the fire in the centuries-old Cumbrian barn workshop of rake makers John Rudd and his son Graeme are the initials of those who have made rakes there before them.
As haymaking declined after the war, many rake makers went out of business. But John’s father, also called John, sensed an opportunity. When he took over the firm in 1948, he decided to specialise and modernise, installing electricity and commissioning a handful of unique machines to speed up parts of the process – decisions that have served them well as Rudd’s Rakes is now the last commercial wooden rake maker in the country. Of their output, only a tiny percentage is used for hay. These light yet sturdy rakes have found many other uses: for raking garden leaves, grass cuttings, gravel and sand, and even for spreading concrete.
“There is little difference in the look of the rakes to those my grandfather made,” says John, who like Graeme after him, started helping out in the workshop as a child. Ash wood (for the shafts, heads and connecting bows) and hard-wearing birch (for the teeth) are still used, albeit no longer felled by the Rudds themselves. The rounded rods for the bows are still boiled and bent in the same way as they always have been, using primarily only the lower, most flexible part of the trunk. Quality of the wood is all-important. “With the ash, we’re looking to cut good clean boards with a straight grain and no knots,” explains John. A small table saw cuts these into square lengths before they are planed. “We call the machine the head shaver,” says John, as he strokes a piece of wood. “Because this is a head, and now it’s shaved.”
The prepared heads are then taken to the ‘Demon Dentist’, another of John’s father’s specially commissioned machines, which deftly drills holes and punches the birch teeth into them. Holes are drilled for the shaft and the bow, and then the teeth are pointed before the finished head is once again planed and chamfered. “We tend to work in batches,” says John. “Seventy dozen shafts; 70 dozen bows and then 70 dozen heads. Then we put them all together and start again.”
John and Graeme agree that assembling the finished rakes is their favourite part of the process, with John tending to attach the bows, twirling the head on a measure to make sure it’s straight. “It’s most pleasant in winter,” says John. “We have the fire going, there are no machines, no noise.” It sounds idyllic, so why hasn’t he found the time to add his own initials to the wall? “I don’t know why,” he laughs. “I can’t have been bothered. I like my work and I don’t play.”
The Rudds don’t sell directly to the public, however, their rakes are available from selected retailers, including:
Prices start at around £28.50 plus postage and packaging, although some companies also offer the option to collect.
Words Natasha Goodfellow
Photographs Andrew Montgomery
This article was taken from a longer feature in the November issue of Gardens Illustrated (240)