Warning: This is gonna be pretty damn boring if you don't care about your leaf rake. If that's not you, either start caring, or leave now (Ha ha. Leave. Get it? Huh? Get it?). I woulda tried to make it funnier, but I tend to make things longer when I do that. ~800 words is ee-nuff, don'cha think?
So what does he know about raking, anyway? Any idiot can rake leaves!
Ever raked sawdust off a lava-rock path? Any idiot can do it, but even a genius needs to pay attention.
I work for a tree-trimming and yard care company. My job involves a lot of raking: leaves off gravel, dirt out of grass, sawdust off the patio. If it's organic matter and it can be moved around your yard, I move it.
Tell it then, master!
Go easy with the
master there, but okay.
Rakes are useful tools in their place, but they do not replace shovels, pitchforks, brooms, or leaf blowers. Professionals who "work fast" aren't so much putting out a superhuman effort as they are switching tools often, moving each kind of debris efficiently.
For instance, let's say I have to remove a mixed pile of leaves, blackberry canes and dirt, all sitting on concrete. I'll start with a pitchfork, heaving canes and leaves into the truck (or other receptacle) until most of the largest chunks are moved. I then use a rake and a scoop shovel to move smaller debris, switching to a broom for whatever dirt the rake won't pick up and then blowing the last bits aside with a leaf blower as a final finishing touch.
Note that the rake is only part of the process, but I'll ignore the rest of the tools for now. Let's rake some leaves.
Hard Surfaces are easy. As we established above, any idiot can do it. I like a plastic leaf rake, but bamboo works decently as well. I tend to bear down hard even though it makes the tines wear out faster. You can figure out the rest of it.
Grass isn't too hard to clean either. I usually start with a metal-tined leaf rake (not a garden rake, the tines need to be flexible) and keep my strokes light at first, pulling as much debris off the surface as I can. Once the grass is visible again, drag the tines a little deeper to pull out debris that's packed in around the roots. Don't get too vigorous unless you want most of the grass removed as well. Dog shit calls for quick, light strokes with an upward pull to lift it out of the grass. Also, many lawns were started from commercial sod, which is reinforced with a plastic mesh embedded in the roots. If your rake catches a corner of this mesh, you'll pull up half the lawn.
Bare Dirt calls for either the leaf rake pulled lightly over the surface without digging in (for surface debris on loose soil) or a garden rake pulled smoothly (to remove mixed-in debris). In either case you need to look out for any plants you intend to leave in place. Nothing looks quite as bedraggled as a tulip freshly mangled by a steel rake. Once you have your debris gathered into small piles, sift out some of the mixed-in dirt by sort of lift-drag-mixing it back and forth across a foot of ground, using strokes even lighter than you used before. With practice this move only takes a couple of pulls, and you can sift the pile two or three times in the course of five or ten seconds, leaving nearly all the soil behind.
Now for the fun bit. Once you've mastered the above surfaces, it's time to take the raking master class. What if we have an unwanted layer of leaves, twigs, sawdust, fruit or other prospective humus on top of a
anyway? Cedar chips cost $30 a yard, so we don't want take them away with the pine needles.
The trick here is to control the depth of the rake, so we remove the top layer without disturbing the loose stuff underneath. I use fast, light strokes and try to aim so the tines barely skim through the underlying material. I think of it as a "lifting" motion, biting slightly deeper at the beginning of the stroke and moving upwards at the end. If that doesn't make any sense, just visualize the rake lifting the crud out of the good stuff. Once things get mixed together, it's hell to sort them back out, so get it right the first time or settle for taking some gravel (or other valuable material) and leaving a little sawdust (or other unwanted debris).
There you go. More than you ever wanted to know about raking. Enjoy.