Friday, 6 December 2019

Folding spring rake - how to make them last forever

Ever used a folding spring rake? It's like a normal spring rake (brace yourself for gardeners' joke: "which we mostly use in autumn" *groan*) but is adjustable, which makes it sooo much more useful than the fixed one.

I love my folding spring rake, not least because by varying the width of the tines, I can use it to rake up big leaves, or small leaves, or border detritus; I can make it very narrow and use it as a scoop, with which to pick up leaves etc, I can make it very wide and use it to gently lift debris and leaves from between and around plants, without damaging them.  It's an excellent tool.

My first one lasted for years, until the tines were all bent and twisted, and it had trouble opening and closing because they were so far out of line, so I bought a new one.

Then, within just a month or two, I found that the tines kept falling out. The metal clasp which kept them in place was fixed with a simple nut and bolt, and it kept working loose. When it loosened, the tines would fall out, suddenly, disastrously, all over the floor, like, err, what's that kiddies' game? Kerplunk? Jack Straws?

Whenever this happened, it was a right pain to get them back together, not least because it needs three hands to do it. So I learned to regularly check the bolts to ensure that they were tight.

This extended the useful life of the rake to the point where the tines, once more, become bent and twisted. So I bought a new one, and imagine my surprise and delight when I found that now, they come with an extending handle, so you can simply twist to adjust the length of the handle.

Super useful! No more getting the handle caught in your jacket pockets when leaning over to pick up the piles! (Don't laugh, it happens...) Plus, it fits in the car perfectly! (I used to have to hacksaw off about one inch from the handle, in order to get it across the car...)

But oh woe! It did the "falling apart at the most embarrassing moment" trick, and when I took it all home to sort out, I found out that the clasp was no longer fitted with a nut and bolt, it was riveted. Riveted! Huh! Presumably it was cheaper to make? Maybe a machine could rivet them, instead of some poor person having to manually fit the two nuts and bolts?

But this means that you can't tighten them, and once the tines fall out, you can't get them back in, and even if you could, they'd just fall out again.  I tried packing the clasp to make it tighter, but to no avail. Now, call me a skinflint if you wish, but I'm not throwing away a perfectly good rake every few weeks, just because they have changed the way they construct them.

So I found out how to replace the nasty cheap rivets with proper nuts and bolts, and here's how I did it. I've explained in lengthy detail, for the benefit of any gardeners, female or male,  who might not have had to do this particular diy task before....

You will need:

a metal file (no, not a nail file, a great big proper hand tool for woodworking)
a centre punch (mine came in a pack of five different sizes) and a small hammer
a pack of 4mm bolts and nuts to go with them: I bought a small pack from my local hardware store.
a screwdriver and a small pair of pliers to do the bolts up (or a very small spanner, depending on what sort of fixing they have)
a junior hacksaw (not essential)

Right! Here's what we do.

1) assemble all the bits, and find a worksurface to do it on.

Here, I am using my battered old metal shelving in my porch - well, it saves having to cover up the carpet!  It's a mercy that it's turned milder this week, I would not have been doing this outdoors last week, I can tell you!

Look at the rake, look at the green clasp, and identify the two silver-coloured rivets, one to either side of the "fan" of tines.

Rivets are like bolts or screws with no thread and nothing to put a screwdriver in: they are designed to join two things together and never, ever come loose.  They are pushed through pre-drilled holes, then on the underside, they are hammered to spread out the metal shank, forming a ridge ("shoulders") which prevent the rivet ever coming loose.

2)  Turn the rake over, and you will see that on the underside, the rivets project out onto that silver coloured plate.

If  you run your finger lightly across them, you can feel how "proud" they are, how much those shoulders stick up above the flat plate.

That's the bit we have to file off.

3) Take your metal file, and file off the projecting edges of the first rivet.

Just rub it to and fro, try to keep it parallel to the plate if you can, but it doesn't matter if you scratch the plate, who's going to notice?

Here you can see that I've made a fair number of scratches, but I don't care, the important point is that I've filed off all the bits of the rivet which were sticking out.

Not sure if you have removed all of it? You can test, by running your finger across the surface, but be careful because the metal edges are often very sharp.

 4) Now take your centre punch: use one that is smaller than the size of the rivet, otherwise it won't be able to push it all the way through.

I have a set of five, and for this, I use the smallest one.

You can see I've put blocks of wood underneath the clasp part, otherwise the rivet would not have space to pop out.

Now whack it with a hammer!
 5) Keep tapping it with the hammer, until suddenly whooosh! the punch goes right through the clasp, and the rivet fall out, clinnnggg! onto the bench.

You can see the rivet - right - lying loose on the bench top.

How long does this take? If you hit it with confidence, just a few taps. If  you are a bit tentative, then it might take a while longer, but you will get there. As long as you have filed off the shoulders of the rivet, it will eventually fall out.
 6) Insert bolt.

Here is my hardware shop pack: M4 means 4mm, "x 20" means the shank of the bolt is 20mm long, there are ten sets in the pack, and they cost £1.25 which is pretty darned reasonable.

These particular bolts have a screw top to them, so you do them up with a screwdriver, not a spanner.

They are also designed to be countersunk, which is not perfect, but hey, who cares!

 7) Thread a nut onto the underside of the bolt, use either a very, very small spanner to hold it, or - my personal choice - a pair of needle-nosed pliers, while you apply the screwdriver to the top.

There, that's half the job done!

Now repeat this for the other side.

Don't do them both together, otherwise the tines will fall out and go all over the floor: do one, then do the other. It's always quicker to do the second one, because now you know what you are doing!

 8) Check the underside, here's the bolt sticking through the nut, which is now as tight as I can get it.

You can leave it like this or - if you are tidy-minded, like I am - you can file off the excess length of bolt.

This is a quick job with a Junior Hacksaw.

There you are, excess bolt filed off, job done.

And there, ladies, you have it: a folding spring rake that now will not fall apart in five minutes, but which should last for month after month after month....

...and if, like me,  you keep all the old tines from previous ones, then if the tines on your newly enhanced rake get bent out of shape but the clasp is still working well, then all you have to do is undo those bolts, allow the bent tines to clatter to the floor, and put in some second hand but straighter ones.

Tip: get someone else to hold the far ends of them, while you get them all lined up in the clasp, otherwise you will be there all day!

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