Steel Vs. Plastic Rake: Does It Make A Difference

Most people do not spend time thinking about rakes. We know they are garden implements, but apart from that, we don’t know too much. Avid gardeners may have more knowledge about rakes. The average person might ask, “what is there to know about rakes?” One of the most common queries about rakes is, “should I get a plastic rake or a metal rake?” Surprisingly there are several different kinds of rakes that can be made of various materials. There are large hay rakes attached to tractors, but we will only look at handheld garden rakes for this article.

Plastic rakes are cheaper than metal but are less durable. Plastic rakes are used with light materials. Metal rakes are used with heavy materials. The material used to construct the handle of the rake affects its durability. Your budget and the rake’s function will determine the best rake for you.

Nobody knows how long rakes have been used. The first mention of rakes occurs in Chinese literature from 1100 BC. These rakes were made from wood and bamboo. Modern rakes are made with many different materials and have some features that weren’t even thought of in 1100 BC.  This article will cover the difference between metal and plastic rakes, different kinds of rakes, and the various functions of rakes. This post will provide you with enough information to make an informed decision on the correct rake to purchase. 

Structure Of A Rake

A rake consists of a pole that functions as a handle. These are usually made of metal, wood, fiberglass, or sometimes plastic. Attached to one end is the rake or head, which has teeth or tines used to scrape material together. Rakes may come in different shapes depending on the purpose for which they are intended. Rakes may be made of metal, plastic (polycarbonate), or bamboo.

The Shape Of Rakes

Most people are familiar with either the straight bar rake with tines attached at a ninety-degree angle to the bar or the fan-shaped rake. The fan-shaped rake is also known as a lawn rake or leaf rake. The straight bar rake is sometimes called a bow rake or a garden rake. The shrub rake is also fan-shaped but is narrower and often smaller than a leaf rake. A hand rake can look similar to either a leaf rake or a bow rake. A thatch rake has a similar shape to a bow rake but has tines on both sides. 

Plastic Rakes

There are some advantages to plastic rakes. The first one is that they are inexpensive as they can be cheaply manufactured. Some companies make rakes from recycled plastic material. The second advantage is that plastic rakes are very light. Their weight makes them ideal for children, older people, or disabled people to use. It is possible to work for much longer using a lightweight weight plastic rake if you have some limitations to your strength. Plastic rakes are appropriate for use in areas with delicate plants as they are less likely to damage the plants. 

Which Rakes Are Usually Made Of Plastic?

Roof rakes ( more about them later) are commonly made of plastic because they are used above your head. The plastic makes a roof rake safer as there is less chance of injury if the rake falls. A plastic roof rake is less strenuous on your arms when holding them up for extended periods. 

Leaf and lawn rakes are also commonly made of plastic as they are used to scrape together lightweight materials. Proponents of plastic rakes say that the tines are less likely to become clogged with leaves. Therefore, the job can be completed more efficiently. Leaf and lawn plastic rakes can be made very wide as they are light. They can therefore cover more ground in one movement.

Disadvantages of Plastic Rakes

Plastic rakes are not as durable as metal rakes. The tines snap easily, and because they are inexpensive, handles are also usually made of cheap material and often break. Plastic rakes left outside exposed to the elements will crack even quicker due to the plastic’s degradation. Plastic left outside becomes brittle, which would cause the tines to fracture with very little pressure. Plastic rakes are inferior when you need to move heavier materials. The tines will bend under the weight of the material and snap. 

Metal Rakes.

Metal rakes are more expensive to purchase, but they are more durable and are probably more cost-effective in the end as they last longer. Although the initial outlay may be higher, you will not have to replace the rake as often or have the rake break inconveniently while you are busy working. Metal rakes can be used with a large variety of materials, and they can cope with heavier materials such as wet leaves, stones, concrete, etc. 

Which Rakes Are Usually Made Of Metal?

Pond rakes, concrete rakes, picking rakes, stone rakes, leaf rakes, lawn, garden, and shrub rakes are sometimes made of metal. Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about all these rakes mentioned here. We will discuss them later. 

Disadvantages Of Metal Rakes.

Metal rakes are much heavier than plastic rakes and therefore not suited to gardeners with limited strength. They can cause you to tire a lot quicker if you have a long job to complete. Metal rusts if it is not kept inside and cleaned after use. Rusting will cause the rake bar or tines to break eventually. It will, however, take quite a long time before this happens. Metal rakes are more expensive and can cause damage if used on delicate plants. 

Some gardeners complain that metal tines are more likely to get jammed up when raking leaves. This is gardeners’ most common complaint with metal rakes. These gardeners prefer to have a cheap plastic rake to use just for raking leaves.  

Other Materials Used To Make Rakes.

Sometimes rakes are made of other materials. These are not as common as the plastic and metal rakes, and you may have to search several stores before you find these rakes. 

Wooden rakes consist of wooden poles with the head and tines made from either wood or bamboo. They are favored by people who try to be as eco-friendly and as kind to the environment as possible. Once these rakes are finished being used, they are biodegradable and decompose to become part of the environment again. A disadvantage of these rakes is that tines rapidly lose their edge and become blunt. This reduces their effectiveness, especially when using them with thick matted grass or heavy materials. Wooden rakes left outdoors will rot. 

Steel rakes are the strongest rakes. They are tough and relatively inflexible, making them perfect for use with heavy materials. They do not rust and so do not require the same care and maintenance as metal rakes. They do not bend or break under the weight of items such as stones. A steel rake will probably last you nearly a lifetime. They are, however, the most costly of all the rakes, so be prepared to expend a lot of money on a steel rake.   

Rake Handles.

Rake handles can become fairly elaborate with telescoping poles for extended reach or for different height gardeners. Some rakes have special padded grip areas of the handles to prevent blistering of the gardener’s hands. A rake’s durability is determined by its handle. It is not uncommon for the handle to break and leave you with a totally unusable rake head. Rake handles are made from a variety of materials. 

Plastic handles are the weakest handles, and it is advisable to avoid these rakes if possible. They seldom last long and can be broken by being accidentally stood on. 

Wooden handles are commonly seen on rakes where the heads are made of metal or plastic. The wood used can determine how long the handle lasts as some woods are more durable than others. Unfortunately, manufacturers usually use the cheapest wood available. These cheap woods are soft woods such as pine, making them more prone to snapping or cracking, especially when working with heavy materials. An advantage of wooden handles is that they are kind to your hands and less likely to cause blisters.  

Metal handles are rugged and last longer than wooden or plastic handles. They cope well with heavy materials and do not break easily. The disadvantage of metal handles is that they are likely to rust if left outside or not properly cleaned after use. Metal handles cause nasty blisters on your hands if you use them for extended periods. You can put grip pads on the handles that are made of softer materials such as plastic or rubber to reduce friction on your skin. These would need to be movable as some gardeners are taller than others and may hold the rake handle at different places. 

Steel handles are almost unbreakable, do not rust, and can be used with heavy materials without bending. They have excellent longevity and will seldom if ever, need to be replaced. They can also cause blisters as they are not gentle on the skin, and they are expensive to buy. Steel handles significantly increase the weight of the rake.

Fiberglass handles are not as commonly found on rakes. They tend only to be found at specialist garden shops. They are easy on the skin and lightweight, so good for gardeners with limited strength. Fiberglass handles are durable and do not break easily. As fiberglass handles age, the fiberglass may break down, resulting in fiberglass splinters which are extremely painful and difficult to remove if they get into your skin. 

Different Kinds Of Rakes.

There are a lot of different kinds of rakes with specific purposes in some cases. If you are a very casual or infrequent gardener, you will probably only have one type of rake – unless you have a compulsive rake shopping problem! Serious and frequent gardeners will invest in various rakes suited to the task to be completed. 

Hand Rakes

Hand rakes have short handles and are used for precise work where the gardener is closer to the surface. They may have a fan shape or be straight, similar to a bow rake, and made of various materials. The handle is usually covered with a soft padded grip. They are helpful when planting seeds to rake the soil over the seeds. 

Leaf Rakes

Leaf rakes are sometimes called lawn rakes, but this can be confusing as lawn rakes are also needed to fulfill other purposes than raking leaves off the lawn. Leaf rakes can be lightweight and made of plastic as leaves are light and unlikely to bend the rake tines or handles. The only exception is when leaves are wet, which can increase their weight quite considerably. As you may imagine, Leaf rakes are used most during fall and early winter when trees lose their leaves. 

Leaf Scoop Rakes

A leaf scoop rake is a specialized rake that allows you to rake the leaves as you would with a standard leaf rake. This rake is adapted with hinged jaws that will enable you to pick up the leaves from the leaf pile to put them into the wheelbarrow. Leaf scoop rakes are found in specialized garden shops.  

Lawn Rakes

Lawn rakes need to serve multiple functions. They can be used to remove leaves off the lawn. They can also be used to remove other objects such as dog feces, mushrooms that grow on the lawn, and loose surface grass. They are usually fan-shaped, and the tines are made of metal.   The tines are flexible and do not snag on uneven lawn surfaces. The springy teeth give rise to the name: ‘spring tine rakes,’ which refers to the tines’ action of springing back after raking a heavy load. 

Thatching Rakes.

Thatching rakes are known by several different names. They are sometimes called scarifying rakes or dethatching rakes. The thatch referred to in relation to these rakes is the grass cuttings which matt into the lawn causing lawn thatch. This rake has sharp tines, made of metal or steel. There are usually tines on both sides of the rake head. The tines on one side are generally thinner than on the other. The sharp tines dig into the lawn’s matt and pull the loose grass out, leaving the healthy grass behind. The benefit of removing the lawn thatch is that it eliminates the possibility of fungi growing in the lawn, aerates the grass, and prevents insects from hiding under the thatch and damaging the lawn. Thatching rakes should have durable handles as it is heavy work. 

Landscape Rakes

A landscape rake is generally used chiefly by landscaping companies or a gardener who is establishing a garden. It is a very wide bow rake with a flat head made of robust and durable material – usually steel. It is used to move large amounts of soil to level a surface. Landscape rakes are also called tractor landscape rakes. The broad head allows you to work over a larger area and makes it easier to obtain a flat level surface.  

Stone Rakes

Stone rakes are heavy-duty rakes with a wide head with thick, strong tines made from metal or steel. The rake is a bow rake with a sturdy metal or steel handle. It is also called a tarmac or asphalt rake or a gravel rake. They are used to rake or spread heavy materials such as stones or mulch on hard surfaces. They are sometimes used in the construction of tarmac roads. 

Shrub Rakes

A shrub rake is similar to a leaf rake but has a much narrower head with a fan shape to the tines. The tines are shorter than on a regular leaf rake. The aim behind the thin head and short tines is to allow you to get this rake into smaller spaces such as under shrubs or between rocks. They can be made from plastic or metal. 

Roof Rakes

Roof rakes do not have tines but rather a solid plastic scraper. The scraper is usually used to rake snow off the roof to prevent the roof from collapsing under the weight of the snow. They can serve a secondary purpose and be used to remove leaves from the roof during the fall. They are made of plastic to be light enough to use with your arms in a raised position without tiring you. The plastic is also vital in limiting injuries if the rake falls out of your hands. 

Lake Rakes

These are specialized rakes that the average gardener will never need unless there is a lake or pond in the garden. They are also called pond rakes or aquatic weed rakes. They have a broad head that may be attached to some floatation device. The handle is long to allow the gardener to stand on the pond’s edge and use the rake on the surface. They are designed to catch pond weeds and algae that grow on the water. They can be used on the surface or to pull up the roots and stems of water plants. Some lake rakes have short handles and rope attachments. This arrangement allows the rake to be pulled behind a boat if you are using it on a lake. 

Hay Rakes

Hay rakes are used on farms. They tend to be made of steel or metal as they need to be durable for years of use on the farm. They have long tines that are placed quite close together on either a wooden or metalhead. The hay rake is used to collect hay cut in the fields that must be collected to be baled or made into a haystack for storage. Hay rakes are less commonly used now as mechanization has taken over haymaking. In modern times, tractors with large hay rakes collect the hay in rows prior to using the baling machine attached to the tractor. You may still see these hay rakes in use in third-world countries or communities that do not use mechanization, such as the Amish communities. 

Fire Rakes

Fire rakes are also usually found on farms. They are made from the toughest durable steel and have a padded, non-flammable handle grip. The grip is essential to prevent burns to the hands as the metal heats up. The tines are wide triangle-shaped, and made from metal. They are used to push or pull soil onto flames or embers to help put out the fire. They may also be used to pull burning embers out so that they can be extinguished. Firefighters use these rakes, but farmers in areas where bush fires are common may also keep them ready with their fire-fighting equipment. 

Picking Rakes

These rakes, found on fruit farms, often have a telescoping pole or handle to allow the fruit-picker to reach up high into the tree. There are two metal tines that are placed on either side of the fruit to loosen the stalk and dislodge the fruit from the tree. They are helpful for anyone growing fruit trees as well as on commercial farms. Some picking rakes have a small basket attached to the rake that allows the fruit to fall into the basket instead of falling to the ground and bruising. 

Berry Rakes

Berry rakes do not have a pole handle. They look like a scoop with tines on one end. The berry rake is brushed through the berry plant or bush, pulling off the berries that then fall into the scoop. Berry rakes are often made from plastic as it is less likely to damage the delicate berries.

Concrete Rakes    

Concrete rakes have a flat side to the head, and there may be a textured side on the opposite side of the head. There are no tines, and the head is sometimes made of rubber, although it can also be made of metal. The concrete rake is used to smooth out wet concrete during construction. The textured side may be used if the concrete surface needs to be roughened. Gardeners tend to indulge in small building projects in the garden, and this would be the perfect rake to add to your building tools. 

Ash Rakes 

Ash rakes are made of metal and have a solid scraper head with no tines. They are used to scrape charcoal and ash out of barbecues, fire pits, and wood stoves. Ash rakes come in a range of sizes, with smaller ones for wood stoves and large ones for fire pits. 

Poop-scooping Rakes.

Poop-scooping rakes are rakes most gardeners probably wish they didn’t have to use. As the very descriptive name suggests, they are designed to pick up dog or cat feces. There are several different designs for these rakes. Some have a hinged bucket with tines on the edge of the bucket. The hinge is operated by a lever at the handle, which is attached to a spring to open and close the bucket. Others are simpler and consist of a bow rake with a handle a meter or less in length. This rake comes with a scoop attached to a similar length handle. The rake is used to scrape the feces into the scoop for later disposal.


There are differences between plastic and metal rakes. They vary in cost and function. Plastic rakes have their uses but are generally much less durable than metal rakes. Fortunately, as plastic rakes are cheap, you could buy a more expensive metal rake and get a plastic one for working amongst delicate plants. It would be best if you chose what function you want the rake to perform and how often you are prepared to replace it. Plastic rakes will not work for some functions, such as use in a fire or working with heavy material. If you are an devoted gardener, you may wish to buy several different rakes for various applications in your garden. It is probably better to invest in metal or steel rakes where possible. These are likely to last longer and can be used with heavy materials. If you only want to enjoy being outside in the fall and rake the leaves together from a few trees, then a plastic rake will suffice. 

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