If you have a large garden or backyard, chances are that you already own a rake. I actually like raking; it gets me outdoors at my favorite time of year.
It’s also a great form of exercise, with studies showing that raking your garden can burn between 200 and 224 calories per hour.
However, if you have the wrong rake for your task, raking can become tiresome and a chore. Not all garden tools are created equal, and nowhere is this truer than rakes. A leaf rake will be great for picking up all those leaves and other debris, but other tasks will require something more sturdy.
A bow rake, also known as a garden rake, is one such rake that offers more versatility. Keep reading if you want to find out more about bow rakes, including how and when to use them.
We’ll also consider what you should be looking for in a bow rake, before recommending the five best bow rakes you can buy.
What Is a Bow Rake?
A bow rake is the workhorse of the raking fraternity. If you're only going to have one rake in your shed, then these are the ones which will lend themselves to more jobs. They are heavy duty rakes that can gather much more than just leaves. They can also be used for moving heavier loads.
Bow rakes tend to be shaped very differently to your average leaf rake. They feature tines—the spikes—which are perpendicular to the handle, on a straight head. The tines of a good quality bow rake will normally be shorter and thicker than those of a leaf rake.
Curved bows, hence the name, extend from both sides of the head and give the rake an efficient spring action. The extra stability and sturdiness of the head make the bow rake more suitable for heavy-duty tasks, or hardscaping projects.
When Should You Use a Bow Rake?
Bow rakes can be used for removing those excess leaves from your garden, and will often pull away any of the compacted dead turf. However, the narrower space between tines will mean leaves often need removing from the rake manually, or become impaled on the sharper tines.
A much better use for bow rakes is when moving heavier items, like mulching your lawn or spreading soil. The tines can be used for breaking up and spreading the materials, before using the smooth side of the head for leveling the surface.
Thicker tines, made of steel, are able to deal with larger stones in your soil beds, and compacted or sodden patches of soil. Some more sturdy bow rakes are even suitable for moving gravel. The design of some bow rakes will allow you to push forward as well as a pulling action.
The following YouTube video better explains the difference in rake style, in a manner only the Irish could!
What to Look for in a Bow Rake
You may think a rake is just a rake, what’s so special about the highly recommended ones? I certainly thought that the last time I bought a cheap generic rake from my local hardware store—what a mistake that was!
The quality of rakes in the big-box hardware superstores, or even your local hardware shop, tend to be pretty poor. They mainly consist of mass-produced tools, using low-grade materials.
They may last you a season or two, but carefully looking at the following factors will provide a tool which you’ll be using for many years to come.
I generally prefer a traditional hardwood handle, but many of today's rakes use aluminum or fiberglass.
Wood handles, though, are still perhaps the most common, and they’re fairly lightweight. If looked after correctly, they can last the lifetime of a rake—just be careful of those potential splinters, especially if the handle is damaged.
Aluminum handles are common, too. Super lightweight, and often collapsible, meaning the rake can be made shorter or longer. A longer handle can prevent tall users from having to hunch over while raking.
Unfortunately, aluminum handles are not always the sturdiest option, and can easily dent or bend if they encounter a tough obstacle.
Modern fiberglass handles offer a compromise of both weight and strength. They are a similar weight to aluminum handles for easy handling, but much stronger. A fiberglass handle is much less prone to damage if you should hit a large rock, or drop something on the rake.
The most durable handles are made out of steel, but they can also be a little heavier than others. Steel handles can withstand the elements better and, with the right coating, will be rust resistant too.
The extra strength of a steel handle will allow for more leverage as you push and pull the soil around.
The Handle’s Grip
Just as important as the length of the handle, for your comfort, is the grip that it has.
Ergonomic grips are specifically designed to place less stress on the user, and can be invaluable for people with mobility issues. If you plan on using your rake for longer periods, a cushioned grip should make it easier to use and the extra width allows for less cramping of your hands.
Long days of raking, especially in times of poor weather, can often result in you losing your grip on the rake. While it’s unlikely to injure you, it’s a good idea to ensure you have a non-slip handle. You then don’t have to worry about dropping your rake, and can even use it with damp or wet hands.
The spikes on the head of your rake are referred to as tines, and should be made of a strong metal, like steel. Metal tines will provide the appropriate strength needed for moving rocks and other debris, and will last longer if properly cared for. Avoid the plastic or bamboo tines you often find on leaf rakes.
A bow rake will normally have 16 or 18 tines, which will be shorter but thicker than those found on other rakes. A curve design on the tines will provide more of a springy feeling, which can be beneficial when moving larger amounts of soil or debris.
Some models may feature adjustable tines that can be widened or made narrower, depending on the job.
For a good bow rake, you should always look for a head made of forged steel, rather than stamped, hardened or cast steel.
The forging of steel is the strongest and most labor intensive method of manufacturing steel. It provides a better edge and a slight flexibility, which will add to the durability of the head.
A head which has been welded to the handle is less prone to falling off and it will offer more power to your raking. However, should the handle break you’re likely to need to replace the whole rake rather than just buy a new handle.
Always ensure the welds of the “bow” are secure and unlikely to separate from the head.
Combining the features we have looked at above, an all-metal, or steel, rake will be the most durable.
Your rake is likely to get wet and be exposed to harsh weather conditions, so ensure it has some form of waterproof enameling or paints on any exposed surfaces.
A wooden handle should be thoroughly dried before you store your rake, to avoid any rot or weakening of the wood. A weatherproof varnish or yacht varnish will help protect it from damp outdoor conditions.
Fiberglass will generally need the least maintenance, being rust and corrosion proof.
It may be advisable to cover metal handles and tines with a thin coating of oil before storing away for the winter months. A good rake will last you decades, if you maintain it carefully.
Our Choice of the 5 Best Bow Rakes
With all the aforementioned in mind, here are our recommendations for the five best bow rakes you can buy. They may cost more than those generic ones you see in your local store, but they should last much longer.
#5 Seymour Structon Bow Rake
This solid rake from Structon seems to tick all the boxes of what we’re looking for. A high tech handle uses fiberglass reinforced plastic, which is exceptionally strong, yet lightweight. At 60 inches in length, it’s comfortable for users of all heights.
This is the perfect rake for clearing beds of rocks, with the 16-tine forged steel head providing all the strength you will need. The bow has slightly rounded teeth and a nylon collar for that little extra spring.
A cushioned grip on the handle provides better hold and comfort. A feature we really liked, and could be useful for the partially-sighted, is the safety yellow color and a reflective strip on the handle. No more losing the rake in the undergrowth or accidentally standing on it—we’ve all seen those “slapstick” comedy films.
Forged steel head for extra strength.
Strong and durable fiberglass handle—it won’t rust.
Rounded teeth won’t gauge your garden as much.
Nylon collar for extra strong fixing to the handle.
Bright yellow color is more visible.
Lightweight, at only 3.25 pounds.
Comfort grip handle can deteriorate if left outdoors for too long.
The handle may be too long for some users.
Forged steel head is made in China, not the US as stated in specs.
Quite expensive for fiberglass bow rake.
#4 Emsco Group Workforce 14 Tine Bow Rake
The Emsco Workforce range of garden tools is designed to get the job done without breaking the bank. This bow rake is no exception, and can handle even the toughest of landscaping jobs.
A heavy-duty steel head uses a 16-gauge metal, with a black powder coating for more durability. A 54-inch fiberglass handle is both lightweight and strong, with an attractive bright red finish. The design of this rake will withstand extreme weather conditions, and won’t rust, warp or splinter.
This rake has been built to perform heavy duty tasks, like seasonal mulching or leveling of soil and gravel, with no compromises. The powder-coated head is waterproof, for even the dampest of conditions.
Lightweight and sturdy fiberglass handle.
Heavy duty 16-gauge steel adds more strength for heavy tasks.
54-inch handle helps to avoid back strain.
No cushioning or extra grip on the smooth handle.
Head is not as securely attached as more expensive rakes.
Powder coating paint can become chipped and leave the metal prone to rust.
#3 Bully Tools 92379 16” Bow Rake
The standout feature of this 100% USA-made bow rake is the lifetime warranty that Bully Tools offers. If you ever wanted the reassurance of how long a garden tool will last, it doesn’t come much better than that.
There’s no need to suspect it will ever break its extra thick 10-gauge steel construction of the 16-inch head. The 16 tines of the head are secured to the handle with welded l-beam supports.
A triple-wall fiberglass handle is designed to resist breakage, while still being easy to use, and lightweight. That 66-inch length of the handle allows for more reach when raking larger areas, without stretching your back too much.
The thicker shaft makes this rake easier to grip, although the black rubber handle at the top can feel flimsy.
Built like a tank, with extra thick, commercial grade, 10-gauge steel.
Triple walled fiberglass handle is lightweight yet extra strong.
Long 66-inch handle allows for more area to be covered.
Limited lifetime warranty.
Inexpensive considering the build quality.
Black rubber grip at the top of the handle can slip off in use.
Thick, commercial-grade steel makes it heavier than fiberglass bow rakes.
Can be too unwieldy for smaller people or those with mobility issues.
#2 Ames Jackson Pony Bow Rake with 60” Handle
The AMES Companies holds one of the longest histories in tool making, dating back to 1744. Its products are certainly a good choice when it comes to heavy duty gardening chores.
Sticking with tradition, this bow rake from AMES features a stylish white ash wooden handle. It is heavier than some fiberglass or aluminum handles but it’s extra strong. At a length of 60 inches, it’s long enough for even the tallest user to avoid back strain.
A 16-tine forged head uses tempered steel, for a professional grade tool and the toughest of jobs. It’s securely attached to the handle with a steel ferrule, for a strong connection that won’t come off mid-raking.
If you’re worried about the security of the head, a 15-year warranty offered by the AMES Company should put your mind at rest.
Stylish hardwood handle looks more traditional and offers strength.
Tempered steel used in the forged head is very strong and durable.
Long 60-inch handle to prevent back strain.
Secure attachment of the blade and head with a steel ferrule.
Formed, shaped and tempered in the USA.
No cushioned grip on the wooden handle.
Wood can eventually splinter or split if it gets too damp.
Prone to rust on blade and ferrule connection.
#1 Bully Tools 92309 16-Inch Bow Rake
Our number one choice for the best bow rake is another quality tool from Bully Tools. Whether it’s the lifetime guarantee or the tank-like build of these rakes, the company certainly offers the best option at these prices.
This time the rake uses a 14-gauge tempered steel head. The head is firmly welded to a steel wrap, using a rivet that goes through the handle.
There’s no way this head is coming off unless the rivet should fall out, or the rare occasion the fiberglass handle should snap. If that does happen, you’re covered by the company’s lifetime warranty.
Shock absorbing rubberized parts, on the rake head and handle, prevent jarring, stress on the shoulders or fatigue of the wrist. The long triple layered fiberglass handle is both strong and comfortably lightweight, for extended use without back pain.
Wide rake head with tines constructed using premium quality steel.
Extra thick 12-gauge steel—a commercial grade tool.
Fiberglass hand resists breakages and is low maintenance.
The angled design of the head provides more pulling power when moving soil.
Steel wrap keeps the head more secure.
Shock absorbing features make it more comfortable to use.
Heavy steel rake head can be too heavy for domestic lawns.
Better suited to heavy duty landscaping work.
The rubber grip is prone to popping off the end of the handle.
If you have many heavy duty tasks to perform, the bow rake can soon become your new best friend in the garden. They’re built with strong heads, and the bow construction can withstand more force than rakes that simply sweep leaves.
In our opinion, the best bow rake you can currently buy is the Bully Tools 92309 12-gauge 16-Inch bow rake. With its commercial-grade construction, it is virtually indestructible and will last many years of heavy use and abuse.