Revisiting the Buck Rake

 A number of years ago, before I experimented with mini horses, I built and used a buck rake (or sweep or push rake) with my Haflingers. I watched several archived video clips of these in action, read up on their efficiency, and discovered that they were actually used here and there in the northeastern U.S., not just in the west, as I had believed. This motivated me to build several prototypes before actually building a decent working model for use on my central New York farm.
As with a lot of Internet research, there are many opinions interspersed with the facts. I finally decided that Lynn Miller and his book “Haying with Horses” held enough practical value as far as present-day production estimates and working experience.

One of my goals was to use off-the-shelf materials, namely “normal” lumber and hardware.


This means that my unit is not as nice looking as those of yesteryear, but it works and is not overly expensive.
ponies packing
The first buck rake in action pulled by Haflingers.

My major reason for reconsidering the buck rake was that my kids “suddenly” grew up and moved out. So, when I read that a hay sweep can move more hay with less labor at distances under 1/4 mile than other horse-powered methods, I figured it was worth a try. My experience verified this estimate at distances out to at least 1,000 feet of travel distance from the barn. No other special equipment was added. I successfully used the same hay grapple and trolley system as for wagon loads of loose hay.

I found that it worked really well on long first cutting but failed to perform well on the much shorter second cutting hay that my farm produces. That is part of the reason I built my little hay loader several years ago. Since then, I experimented more with the buck rake and found that a reasonable job can be done on short hay by raking many windrows together into a very large one. Then, most of the hay will push up on the rake teeth and leave only a little bit in the field. I also found that the short hay must be very dry or it will stick to itself and make balls that roll under the teeth, dragging wads of hay off the rake.

ponies packing
The first buck rake with a full load.
Just to mention, when I worked with the minis, I did not consider a sweep rake a viable option for them. Looking back, I believe that an 8-foot-wide rake with 6-foot-long teeth and smaller diameter wheels would have been within their capabilities. I may have shortchanged myself on that one.

Lynn calls the buck rake an adventurous design for horse-powered machines. It is steered by braking one animal and urging the other one on. It can be made to spin within its own length with one horse backing and the other moving forward, especially if a side hitch version is built. Lynn suggests, and I agree, that a set of team lines, using one line for each horse, with the longer side of the “Y” to the outside of the horse and the shorter side to the inside works well. In addition, the horses are tied to the side poles from their halters (under the bridles) by lead ropes so that they are pulled around when the opposite horse is slowed or stopped while steering. It takes a few tries to get the length right so that the horse can back and turn, since both the backer and the lead rope connect at the same spot. The basic movements are forward, stopped and back. Sidestepping is mostly “figgered out” by the horse as it happens when turning.
ponies packing
Ken's second rake viewed from above and showing how the poles spread to the outside.


I settled on the side hitch design because it is the simplest to construct and shorter in length, which mattered for unloading between my barn and the neighbor’s fence. I also think that it was easier for my horses to learn the buckrake as a side hitch because there is nothing in front of them as with a push model.

There are several side hitch styles, although the basket remains the same for all styles of push rakes. My first model, seen in the photos on the previous pages, was built with a lifter and seat. It worked fairly well, but I eventually took the whole seat affair off and used it without any riding position.

packing fjord with pannier
Ken used muffler clamps to center the wheels and positioned greast fittings for easy access.

With my second one, I chose to eliminate the various ride-on options such as a sliding seat on a board, caster wheel mounted seat with a lifter and the stand on platform. It may add to the draft since the teeth are always down, but it has not seemed significant even after a long hot afternoon sweeping hay up to the barn. It does help with steering, since I am 6 feet, 2 inches tall and can see over the hay bunch easily.

I bought my first set of wheels for my first rake at an auction. The second set was custom fabricated by a local Amish welding shop. He used existing steel rims about 20 inches in diameter, and he welded a heavy pipe in the center of the spokes as a hub, which fit nicely over the 2-inch pipe used as a full width axle as seen in the photo3. I added 2-inch muffler clamps on each side of the hub to keep the wheels from shifting sideways and rubbing on the wooden teeth. I also put grease fittings in the wheel hubs so I could grease it every time I used it. The hay sometimes gets into the hubs and dries up the grease. It is best if the wheels are slightly rounded on the edges so that they don’t cut the sod when turning sharply. It may be possible to use rubber wheels and mount them like wheelbarrow tires between two teeth, but I haven’t tried anything like that.

packing fjord with pannier
The tooth tip shown from the side (left) and from above (right).

I combined several sets of plans found online, the photos in Lynn’s [Miller] book, ideas from several of my failures and the stuff I had on hand to fabricate my latest rake. The present rake is 9 feet wide between the horses, and the teeth are 8 feet long, spaced 12 inches apart on center. The rear frame is only a pressure-treated 4-by-4 a little more than 9 feet long (because it was handy). I would rather have used a 14-footer, but, instead, I added u-channel iron extensions to make it wide enough for the singletrees to fit beside the hay basket. If using full-sized drafts, I would definitely use a 6-by-6, 16 feet long and add three more teeth, making the basket 12 feet wide.

To mark out the holes in the back 4-by-4 and pipe axle, I measured from center. Since I have an even number of teeth, I had to mark center and then make my first holes 6 inches out from center and then every foot out to either side after that. If you choose to use an odd number of teeth you can just start marking and drilling from the center out. Be sure to leave at least 2 feet on the ends for the singletrees; this gives the horses room to move a bit when turning.

Untreated boards that are 2 inches by 6 inches by 8 feet make the teeth, set flat side to the ground, tapered to a rough point with a slight up cut on the last 2 inches like a ski (to keep the teeth from digging into the dirt). They are bolted to a 4-by-4 post spaced 12 inches apart on center, with carriage bolts and fender washers. When I cut the teeth, I cut from the 4-foot mark (halfway) and left 1 inch either side of center on the pointy end. Then I tapered the end to a flat-topped point by cutting in more sharply from the sides about 4 inches back and up from the bottom for the ski effect.

The rear holes are drilled centered in the board to align with the holes drilled along the centerline of the rear 4-by-4. The second hole is 24 inches away from the end. This is for the pipe axle, which has holes drilled every foot as well. It leaves a lot of room for the wheel to clear between the two cross members. It also makes the angle of the backer poles nearly the perfect height for Haflingers. The spacing could be slightly closer for drafts so that the end of the poles are higher.

ponies packing
The pole mounts under the rear frame rail and over the axle to give the right height at the front.
packing fjord with pannier
The bracket pole angles out and up toward the front.

The two side hitch poles function as one-sided tongues. They angle out and up from the basket for the backing straps. Also, the angled poles guide the horses so that they do not step into the teeth when turning. Note that the side poles are bolted under the rear frame 4-by-4 and over the pipe axle. This gives enough upward slope to be comfortable when the team backs out of the hay load. They are angled from inside the outside tooth to align just about center of the singletree at the far end. When set correctly, the ends of the poles are almost the same width as the singletree centers. They must have angle braces to keep them properly positioned and to strengthen them.

I also added two angle braces that cross from the rear 4-by-4 to the pipe diagonally, forming triangles. These keep the rake square. The two on the side poles help to keep them from bending or breaking while backing or turning. These four pieces of angle iron were the biggest improvement over my first successful rake.

ponies packing
Overhead view from the rear showing the angle braces that strengthen the whole thing.

 

packing fjord with pannier
Chain cinched around backer pole. There's a similar mount for the singletrees.

 

I used threaded rod to cinch 3 feet of 1/4-inch chain around the pole ends to hook to the horses' breast (backer) straps. The easiest way to connect the singletrees is the same. Wrap a 30-inch length of 5/16- inch chain around the end of the rear 4-by-4 (or 6-by- 6) and cinch it tight with a threaded rod. Use a screw link or clevis to connect the singletree to the chain.

I installed the back board to keep the hay from being pushed off of the back of the rake. I added short vertical boards to act as fenders for the wheels. All the bolts are galvanized since much of the rake is pressure-treated lumber, which eats untreated bolts. They are mostly 3/8-inch diameter. I added angle iron braces to stiffen the whole affair and keep it square when turning. My total cost was under $300 and it took me the better part of three days to fabricate since I was making some of it up as I went.

A final recap on parts and dimensions of my buckrake, (bigger size inbrackets):

  • 10 2-inch-by-6inch-by-8-foot tapered from 4 feet to the point with a slight up sweep on the very tip to keep them from digging into the dirt for the teeth (like a ski, add 3 for 12-foot-wide)
  • Two 12-foot 4-by-4s for side poles (this length is fine for drafts too)
  • One 2-inch inside diameter heavy wall pipe 9 feet long for the axle (12 feet for a wider rake) .
  • Two 20-inch steel wheels with pipe hubs to fit the 2-inch pipe
  • One 14-foot 4-by-4 for the back frame (6-by-6- by-16 if building for draft sized horses)
  • Assorted 2-inch angle iron for bracing (all scrounge or even old bed frames)
  • 10 5-inch-by-3/8-inch galvanized carriage bolts, nuts and two washers each (three more for 12 feet)
  • 10 8-inch-by-3/8-inch galvanized carriage bolts, nuts and two washers each (three more for 12 feet)
  • If using a 6-by-6 add 2 inches to the bolt lengths
  • Four 2-inch muffler clamps for the wheel guides
  • 6 feet of 1/4-inch chain
  • 5 feet of 5/16-inch chain
  • 2 feet of 3/8-inch threaded rod with nuts and washers for each end
This implement can be scaled larger or smaller to suit different sized animals. Some things are not mathematical; just cut and try.

I should conclude by confessing that I am not a carpenter nor a horse whisperer. I believe that if I can do this, just about anyone can. Use good judgment, enlist experienced help when possible, and be willing to fail a bit. I personally try new things with my horses after they are worked down at a familiar job for a while. They tend to be more willing to “whoa.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION These links may provide some points for the aspiring sweeprake/pushrake/buckrake builder/operator.

 Several Sweep Rake Plans: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/aben-plans
 Excellent Video: https://vimeo.com/9972998

 A Good PDF Pamphlet: https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc96479/m1/

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Author
Ken Gies farms in central New York. This article appeared in the April/May 2019 issue of Rural Heritage magazine.

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