BTR Fabrications’ New Tool | The ‘Tough Rake’.

BTR Fabrications are renowned for their downhill hardtails, all lovingly handcrafted in deepest South West England.

They recently turned to trail tools though, and their new Tough Rake, follows on from their first effort, the Trail Tool. Pete had a gas with Burf and Tam about the new tools and what we can expect from them next.

Who makes up BTR Fabrications and what do they do?

BTR is Paul ‘Burf’ Burford and Tam Hamilton. Burf takes care of welding, Tam takes care of design. And somehow we both manage to handle emails, tax returns, social media, our website, logistics, and all that fun stuff that comes with running your own business.

People probably know you better for your bikes, when did tools come into the fray and why?

Around the beginning of 2013 a customer was looking for a McLeod rake, but could only find decent ones in the states. He suggested that we make them, so we came up with the Trail Tool. It’s a departure from our frame building, but we could see that we could build some great products – tools to properly satisfy the needs of trail builders, both amateur and professional.

You started with a McLeod, a famous fire-fighting tool, how long did it take from the idea to having them in hand?

It must have taken a couple of months for the Trail Tool to come together in the end. We based it on a fire-fighting McLeod, but it was designed from the start as a trail building tool. Naturally that involved a bit of head-scratching, but the first few prototype tools are still in use today, as far as I know.

How did welding up tools differ to welding up bikes, if at all?

We MIG weld the tools – it’s a much faster process than TIG welding, but with the tools being at least 2mm thick (in the collar; the heads are 4mm thick) it’s also a much more suitable process. For comparison, the tubing we use in our frames is seldom over 1mm thick.

Other than that, it’s repetition; our frames are built to order, so that generally means one at a time, the Trail Tool and Tough Rake get built in batches. It’s funny seeing the strain that batch work puts on things, particularly when welding; earth cables melting, gas regulators freezing…even our trusty welder needed a desk fan to keep the temperatures down.

What was missing from existing rakes on the market for you to feel the need to make your own?

For the Tough Rake, we really just wanted a rake that could withstand the sort of use that trail building dishes out. Regular garden rakes are grand for smoothing out gravel on your garden path, or collecting grass cuttings, but trail building tools need to hack and bash a whole lot more – garden rakes don’t like that very much! If there’s one specific feature that the Tough Rake brings, it’s the ability to tamp down soil, because the end face of the rake has a decent sized flat area.

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Did your experience with the McLeod make it easier to get the rake idea started?

It sure did! The Tough Rake uses the same wooden handle and collar as the Trail Tool, as well as the steel plate the head is made from and the zinc plated finish – we knew these were up to the job. So we just needed to settle on a design for the head.

How many prototypes did you have before getting to the production rake?

Just one. It’s basically the same, but the reinforcement along the back of the head was formed by bending the back of the head, whereas for the production ones it’s an extra piece which is welded on. Fabricating the reinforcement this way allows us to waste less material, because the bending operation required an extra piece, which needed to be trimmed off afterwards.

Beyond the development of prototype rake, what form did your testing take?

Smashing stuff up! Any sort of simulation (physical or software-based) would be a bit of a stab in the dark, what with no clear load scenario to start from. So we handed a prototype rake to the guys from Spooks Trails and told them not to hold back. That was well over a year ago now, and the rake is still going strong! Apparently they have regular ‘debates’ on who gets to use the rake when they have dig days… BikePark Wales’ trail crew have been using a pre-production version for a few months now too.

Is everything made in-house?

As is the case with all BTR products, if we can do it better ourselves, that’s what we’ll do. The steel plate for the head is laser cut by a friend’s company, from steel which they stock specifically for us.

The collar tube is formed into a taper by another company – that’s a damn cool process. We used to form the collars ourselves, by hand, from laser cut sheet, but the tapered tubes are way neater and probably stronger.

The zinc plating is also outsourced – nowadays we use probably the best company in the UK for this, and the quality shows. The wooden handles are bought in too…we don’t really do wood – never found the right filler rod to weld it up! It’s the best material for a tool handle though.

Burf does all the welding on them, and we do all the chamfering, drilling, deburring and quality checking, and the final assembly.

Where next for BTR and tools? Is there anything like a digging hoe, or similar, on the cards?

I’ve heard of digging hoes before…watch this space! We regularly discuss tools with the guys from BikePark Wales – their full time trail crew put a lifetime of miles on tools every year, so it’s a brilliant testing ground. They’ve highlighted a few tools which could be improved upon, so we’ve got plenty in the pipeline!

The Tough Rake is available now, priced at £80, with heads coming in at £75 direct from the guys at BTR. Go get yourself a trail building heirloom!