Once your grass is cut you need to do something with it. Hopefully that means enough warm dry weather to make sweet-smelling hay for the winter but at the least cleaning it from the meadow so as not to smother the new growth. You’re going to need a rake.
This weekend I spent a day with Brian Williamson at Westonbirt Arboretum learning about rake making. For my money, Brian’s rakes are the best I’ve seen so he’s the perfect man to learn from. Among other things, he’s a mine of information regarding stail engines, an amazing old tool for rounding up and tapering the long handle, or stail. A gradual taper over 6ft of stail may make only a small difference to the balance and feel of the tool but when it’s something you could be using it for several hours, those subtleties are important.
Like a giant adjustable pencil sharpener, the engine is rotated along the roughed out stail, peeling off a shaving and smoothing as it goes. The first pass rounds the wood up, the second (and possibly even a third) puts on the taper. The knack is in setting the blade to take just the right cut; too deep and its too heavy to turn, not enough and the wood binds in the hole. Get it just right and lovely long shavings fall away leaving a smooth surface that will glide through the hands.
Brian’s rakes have a split stail where they join the head with 14 tines (teeth) set at 90degrees. At one time there would have been local variations, partly based on the working conditions, partly on the maker’s own preferred style. I have an Austrian rake, and seen old ones over there, with the tines set back at 45degrees . This seems to have the advantage of them lying flatter on the ground when the rake’s held but we agreed more investigation is needed.
I’ve just recently introduced Brian to mowing so we went with his shiny new scythe and cut some grass at the Arboretum so as to have something to rake. Making a tool and then going out to use it is a wonderful feeling and the rake performed well, both for moving the grass around and flicking it up to fluff and dry.
With the photos and advice, I’ll be making my own stail engine soon and then rakes ready for next year’s hay.
A comprehensive and practical guide to working with an Austrian scythe. Perfect if you cannot attend a course or as a reference guide following tuition.