Building a Buck Rake
Building a Buck Rake
Metal pieces spread out on shop floor.

Building a Buck Rake

by Lynn R. Miller of Singing Horse Ranch
photos by Paul Hunter & Lynn Miller

I agreed to build a buck rake at Russell’s Work Horse Workshop this fall. We had an original plan which evolved with opportunity and necessity.

I believe a person can build a buck rake from scratch, many old-timers had to, utilizing salvaged parts from other implements; for example, the caster wheels from the back of side delivery rakes. The implement as conceived by John Deere and its predecessors Dain and Emerson, is structured with two connected parts: the mainframe with lifting mechanism and caster wheels – then the front-axled two wheels which carry the hay tooth basket. (You can actually separate the buck rake at the axle and head board by removing 8 bolts – makes it easier to store.) The real complexity in this tool rests with the levered and bifurcated lifting mechanism. It features a lifting assist from the end of each evener, an over-the-hump locking action, and two tilting rods. So for Kenny’s workshop the original plan was to have a machine shop build the lifting mechanism and we would find and/or construct everything else. Two things happened to change that plan. First; the cost of having a machine shop build the lifting mechanism seemed quite high, $600+. Second; quite by accident I helped at an auction that had a complete pile of buck rake irons – wood all rotten. I purchased the pile for $250 because two other guys knew what it was and wanted it. (FYI – you can still find inexpensive buck rake irons throughout arid western states if you have the nose for it.)

Building a Buck Rake
Building a Buck Rake
Lynn and Matt setting up framework.

I built a crate and shipped the buck rake irons to Kenny (careful to leave lifting mechanism and one caster-wheel corner brace together as patterns – these can be a real chinese puzzle to reassemble without something to look at). By the way the shipping cost more than the entire buck rake! Then I sent a list to Kenny of the wood pieces we would need and an order for a 12 foot section of 2” schedule 40 pipe to serve as the front axle. (See list.) It took just under a hundred bolts and some miscellaneous iron parts – 1/2” all thread stock and 3/8” blank rod stock.

The tools we needed included: tape measures, framing square, electric drill and wood bits, wrenches, hammer, chisel, hacksaw, skill saw, chainsaw, 2 draw knives, sureform file, and drift punch.

Building a Buck Rake
Setting cast corner assemblies.

When I got to Kenny’s (three days before the workshop) I opened the crate and spread the iron parts on the shop floor. Then we took inventory of the wood parts. The rail stock available were oak and black gum saplings – green and heavy. I was unfamiliar with the wood, had I known what I know now I would have opted for different varieties or requested that the pieces be dry. As they were, once we barked and shaped them with draw-knives the surface was sticky causing a drag on the hay. Over time these teeth should dry out fine. The four by fours for the frame were pressure treated material – not requisite but certainly destined to last longer.


  • 3 @ 4” x 4” x 12 feet long
  • 1 @ 4” x 4” x 8 feet long
  • 2 @ 2” x 4” x 8 feet long
  • 2 @ 2” x 4” x 10 feet long
  • 1 @ 2” x 6” x 10 feet long (hardwood)
  • 2 @ 1” x 4” x 12 feet long
  • 13 pieces round ‘rail’ material 8 feet long with 3” butt (or big end)
  • a 12 foot section of steel pipe 2” schedule 40 pipe

The first construction process was to build the U-shaped frame of 4×4’s and to anchor those at the front to the sliding cast brackets positioned on the axle pipe. At the back, the frame pieces fit into a special cast iron corner bracket that doubled as support for the caster wheels. The dimensions of the frame are important as it needs, squared, to fit between the front wheel assemblies. Two diagonal braces made of 2” x 4”s need to fit the iron receiver at the back of the lifting mechanism and hold the frame square. Cross bracing needs to be aligned to correctly hold the front end of that lifting mechanism.

Building a Buck Rake
Jim Butcher testing lifting mechanism.

Two large evener trees are mounted on pins rising from the corner cast assemblies, rods go forward to the lifting mechanism. Single trees are fastened to the end of the eveners.

The 12 foot 4×4 was sawn to match the length of the axle pipe. Each was drilled with 9/16” holes on a set pattern (2.5” in from the ends and 11.5” on center – thirteen holes in all).

Building a Buck Rake
Jens cleans up a tooth.

The teeth were made 7’ 7” long with bottom beveled up and drawn to a point. On the Emerson No.1 (JD) model we were rebuilding, there were five headboard iron assemblies, two of which incorporated receipt of the lifting rods adjacent to the wheels. We drilled two teeth to the proper spacing (allowing that the back 4×4 was at least 1.5” away from wheel) and temporarily bolted them in place to hold the framework for the basket. Then we set to work putting in every tooth careful to be watching how the ends lined up (you want all the points in a straight line and laying on the floor level – none should be up.) Not worried about tightening bolts completely we then put on the two head boards in preparation to receive the lifting rods.

Careful to have the lifting mechanism ALL the way forward, measurements were taken (each side!) for the length of the two by four lifting rods. These bolted in place will allow that the lifting mechanism pull the head board back and tilt the teeth up. In this position the hay load is carried on the axle rather than the bottoms of the teeth

All of this in place, the alignment of the teeth is checked and adjusted then everything is tightened.

Building a Buck Rake
Left to right; Kenny, Lynn, Aiden, and Leon getting ready to hook team for first time to buck rake.

Once in the field:

The two candidate horses are led, each to a side of the buck rake, and tied loosely from halter to the lifting rod nearest them. Extenders are fastened to the breast straps (I use hame straps with rings.) Then a regular set of team lines is separated and flipped over so that the cross check goes to the outside of the horse and the mainline runs to the inside of that same horse. Each horse is driven singly with one line. Pull back to stop or back. The design of the buck rake means that if one horse is held back and the other allowed to walk forward the implement will turn in place.

Building a Buck Rake

The backing rod is fastened to the breast strap pole strap assembly and the trace chains are hooked in to the single trees.

Building a Buck Rake

If this is the first time for the horses, may I suggest you have two good horsemen one each to handle a second lead rope at the head of each horse UNTIL they learn to back the assembly, move forward quietly, and stay out of the mechanism. This usually takes but a few minutes. The extra help is necessary because most of this implements actions seem counter-intuitive to both horses and teamster. It is amazing how quickly a good team will get accustomed to this unusual tool.

Building a Buck Rake

Building a Buck Rake

Getting Comfortable on the Buck Rake

by Paul Hunter of Seattle, WA

When Lynn Miller said that the buck rake could get to be a treat for good horses, once they got used to it, I thought quietly that I’d have to see that for myself. I could agree that horses might enjoy the fact that they are moving a portable heap of fodder around, right under their noses. But there could be trouble ahead for even good horses hitched twelve feet apart, on either side of a vehicle nearly as wide as it is long, with swivel wheels in back that let it practically turn around in its own length. That maneuverability makes it seem to waddle its tail end like a duck, to wander mindlessly like a boat that’s lost its rudder, until the team and teamster get the hang of steering this contraption, shoving together and picking up piles of hay with it: moving great tasty heaps of hay around.

The first day’s training included having a good horseman on a short lead walking alongside each horse, while the teamster who worked them every day, Kenny Russell, sat in the seat between and behind them with reins in hand. They started by going forward a few steps, stopping, then backing a few steps. There was a moment of chaos when the left-hand horse first balked, stepped sideways over the buck rake, and had to be sorted out. And there were a few other sticky moments, as the horses began to anticipate the command to back up and dump the full buck rake. But a few hours of intermittent confusion and success in the field and their heads and ears were back up, alert and confident. And by the second day they actually seemed eager to be hitched up – to get twirling and swooping around on this weird new feed wagon.