Rotary Tiller Roundup

Turning the soil has never been so satisfying or easy.
Todd Kaho
March/April 2008
Add to My MSN

Rear-tine tillers such as this Husqvarna 700 DRT make perfect soil-turning tools for avid gardeners.
courtesy Husqvarna

Content Tools

Rotary Tiller Roundup
Turning the soil has never been so satisfying or easy.
By Todd Kaho

Discovering a mechanical advantage has always been the rural landowner’s ally, and when it comes to stirring up the soil to prepare a seed bed or to kill a few weeds, we have it made with the rotary tiller. This tool, which comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, is perfect for small-scale soil work, where land plows, harrows and disc-cultivators simply won’t fit.

A rotary tiller is a motorized or Power Take Off (PTO) driven cultivator that utilizes spinning tines (specially designed blades) to dig down in the earth, lift the soil and turn it over. The tines are generally mounted on a horizontal shaft that’s powered through a transmission of some sort to provide the torque required to stir the toughest topsoil. Tiller tine design varies greatly from one machine to the next. Some are better suited for fine work in smaller beds, while others are engineered to pulverize the earth in 6-foot-wide swaths.

Great labor-saving device though it is, the rotary tiller offers the added benefit of soil aeration, and its churning blades work well to combine additional organic matter like compost or manure into the soil. It can also be used to mix several different soil amendments before application to the garden. Some folks also use tillers to make their own potting mixtures.

From the smallest compact tillers ideal for working around plant rows and in tight spaces to true commercial-grade PTO-driven heavyweights that attach to a three-point hitch of a tractor, an available model suits any application. You can even purchase a small tiller head that attaches to the quick-connect fitting on popular brands of string trimmers.

Rotary tillers come in a broad range of configurations so you should consider your needs and terrain before shopping. Larger, more elaborate rear-tine rotary tillers, like the Troy-Bilt lineup, are generally self-propelled and offer a reverse gear to allow maneuvering in tight spaces. Simpler front- and mid-tine models are often pulled along by the turning blades themselves. Some models employ an adjustable drag stake or secondary tine that digs into the ground behind the rotating blades to help hold the unit back. Very lightweight units, like the highly regarded Mantis Tiller, are easy to control with an ergonomic handlebar design.

If you own a compact or mid-size tractor, consider a three-point-hitch mounted rotary tiller. With PTO power and the hydraulically adjusted three-point hitch, precise control of a tractor-mounted tiller is a snap. Indeed, its only disadvantage is that you need a fairly open area in which to operate. These large tractor-mounted tillers are efficient, but if your tractor doesn’t have a power take off, check out the models with an onboard engine for power. Most of these can also be converted for towing or mounting behind an ATV or UTV.

Like all tools, buying a quality tiller that costs more upfront can be a wiser venture than shopping strictly by price. Partnering with a friend or neighbor on a premium brand can work well, but it’s a good idea to have a buy-out agreement if one of the parties decides they no longer need the tiller or logistics don’t work out.

If you are serious about your crops or garden, a tiller of some type borders on essential. If you do your homework and size it right, the rotary tiller can be a wise investment that will pay for itself and last a lifetime.

Todd Kaho is a freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience as an automotive journalist. He lives with his family on a rural acreage in the Hocking Hills region of southeastern Ohio.

Agri-Fab Tow-Behind Tiller
Designed with its own power source, the tiller from Agri-Fab ( ; 217-728-8388) is perfect for pulling with your 12-horsepower or greater lawn tractor, garden tractor, UTV or ATV. The machine has a conveniently adjustable pin-type hitch that quickly and easily adjusts to virtually any tow vehicle without needing any additional equipment. Its dependable Briggs and Stratton power plant makes it
completely independent of any vehicle’s PTO.
MSRP $1,099
Engine 5 HP Briggs & Stratton
Transmission Single speed belt drive
Displacement 206cc
Tilling Width 36 in
Tine Diameter 11 in
Tilling Depth 5.5 in
courtesy Agri-Fab

The Bolens 250H ( , 800-800-7310) is an affordable mid-tine tiller ideal for landscaping and smaller beds. The forward rotating tines can be configured for 13-, 22- and 24-inch widths. Powered by a 158cc Briggs & Stratton four-stroke engine, it has a single-speed cast-aluminum gear-drive transmission for easy operation and wide control handles for easy operation.
MSRP $299
Engine Briggs & Stratton
Transmission Single speed gear drive
Displacement 158cc
Tilling Width 13, 22, 24 in
Tine Diameter 12 in
Tilling Depth 6 in
courtesy Bolens

Three-point-hitch rotary tillers are available from Bühler/Farm King ( , 888-524-1004) to fit tractors ranging in power from 12 to 65 horsepower. They feature a PTO-driven heavy-duty oil bath transmission designed to operate at 540 rpm. The units offer a side-shift feature to get close to fence rows or cover tire tracks while maintaining an inline PTO shaft orientation to minimize universal joint stress.
Engine PTO drive
PTO Speed 540 rpm
Tilling Depth 3-point adjustable
Transmission HD oil bath
Tilling Width 36 to 54 in
Tine Size ¼ x 2¼ in
courtesy Bühler/FarmKing

Clean electric power makes this Craftsman ( , or local Sears outlet) environmentally friendly, though you will need a long extension cord or portable generator. The 32-pound Craftsman Electric Mini-Tiller is great for smaller beds and till weeding around plant rows. The forward rotating tines are easily controlled with a depth stake that adjusts for a maximum depth of 5 inches.
MSRP $250
Engine MTD SW
Displacement N/A, electric
Transmission Single speed forward
Tilling Width 6 to 10 in
Tine Diameter 8¼ in
Tilling Depth 5 in
courtesy Craftsman

The RT 65 rear-tine tiller from Cub Cadet ( , 800-800-7310) is engineered to handle harder soil conditions. It is powered by a reliable 190cc OHV Honda four-stroke engine, and it is self-propelled with 16-inch, pneumatic, big-lug, ag-tread tires for extra traction. Forward and reverse gears make maneuvering the RT 65 in tight spaces easier, and the adjustable depth bar gives added control for more precise cultivation.
MSRP $679
Engine Honda OHV
Displacement 190cc
Transmission Forward/reverse
Tilling Width 18 in
Tine Diameter 12 in dual directional
Tilling Depth Adjustable depth bar
courtesy Cub Cadet

Tilling a width of up to 3 feet with a single pass, the 875 series model is designed mainly for larger cultivating jobs. Featuring 24 tempered steel Bolo tines, an extra heavy duty steel frame, and power actuator to adjust tilling depth with the touch of a button, this model ( , 800-687-6575) is tough yet user-friendly. Because it is towed easily behind an ATV, riding mower or tractor, 100 percent of the engine’s power is delivered straight to the tines, which spin at more than 230 rpm.
MSRP $2,199 (manual start)
$2,399 (electric start)
Engine Briggs & Stratton OHV
Displacement 206cc
Transmission Chain drive
Tilling Width 36 in
Tine Diameter 12 in
Tilling Depth Adjustable to 7.5 in
courtesy DR Power

The F220 mid-tine tiller from Honda ( , 770-497-6400) offers a dry weight just under 50 pounds and a three-position adjustable handle for easy handling. Dependable power comes from a 57cc, 2.4 horsepower Honda four-stroke OHV GXV57 engine that drives 11-inch tines through a single forward speed gear drive transmission. Side disks are optional for added tillage control.
MSRP $799
Engine Honda OHV
Displacement 57cc
Transmission Single speed forward
Tilling Width 21 in
Tine Diameter 11 in
Tilling Depth Adjustable depth bar
courtesy Honda

The biggest, most powerful tiller in Honda’s line, the commercial grade FRC800 ( , 770-497-6400) is built for more demanding jobs and the rigors of rental use. This rear-tine model is powered by Honda’s 8-horsepower GX240 OHV four-stroke engine turning heavy-duty 20-inch-wide tines. The rugged transmission features three forward speeds and reverse, and large diameter 14-inch ag-lug tires deliver smooth operation and excellent traction.
MSRP $2,179
Engine Honda OHV
Displacement 242cc
Transmission 3-speed forward w/reverse
Tilling Width 20 in
Tine Diameter 12 in
Tilling Depth Adjustable depth bar
courtesy Honda

The 700 DRT ( , 704-597-5000) is a solid walk-behind tiller that introduces an innovative new feature, allowing the operator to use it with a single hand, left or right – a great way to get in between tight garden rows without actually having to walk directly behind it. With a 7.0 HP Briggs & Stratton engine and a counter-rotating tine system, this model is a reliable and quality addition to any gardener’s arsenal.
MSRP $700
Engine Briggs & Stratton OHV
Displacement 206cc
Transmission Single speed w/ reverse
Tilling Width 17 in
Tine Diameter N/A
Tilling Depth 7 in
courtesy Husqvarna

With a tilling width of 73 inches, the John Deere 673 tiller can cover a lot of ground in a hurry. With a heavy-duty tubular tine shaft and large replaceable tines, the 673 ( , 800-537-8233) is engineered for a long service life. Adjustable skid shoes and a hydraulically controlled three-point-hitch allow precise control of cultivation depth.
MSRP $3,000
Engine PTO drive
PTO Speed 540 rpm
Transmission Commercial duty
Tilling Width 73 in
Tine Diameter N/A
Tilling Depth 3-point adjustable
courtesy John Deere

Kansas-based Land Pride ( ) offers a wide range of three-point-mount PTO-driven tillers to suit any application. The RTA20 Series is offered in 64- and 72-inch tilling widths and side shift up to 18-inch inches. The RTA20 is a versatile PTO tiller that can handle just about any soil condition with ease. With reverse-tilling action, the Land Pride RTR20 Series won’t walk up on hard ground, and the unit comes with an integrated, adjustable parking stand.
Engine PTO
PTO Speed 540 rpm
Transmission 1.92:1 ratio, cast iron housing
Tilling Width 64 in
Tine Diameter 17 in
Tilling Depth 3-point adjustable
courtesy Land Pride

At just 20 pounds, the light-weight Mantis ( , 800-366-6268) compact tiller-cultivator can go places big tillers can’t. It features a commercial grade two-cycle engine for easy starts and a throttle-activated centrifugal clutch that starts the tines spinning only when throttle is applied. The patented reversible “Serpentine” tines carry a lifetime guarantee and can dig down to a maximum depth of 10 inches.
MSRP $349
Engine Two cycle
Displacement 21.2cc
Transmission Centrifugal clutch
Tilling Width 9 in
Tine Diameter N/A
Tilling Depth 10 in
courtesy Mantis

The MacKissic Merry Tiller Suburban Series ( , 800-348-1117) is offered with a choice of Briggs & Stratton, Intek, Robin or Honda engines. Designed to handle just about any soil condition the serious gardener might encounter, the Merry Tiller Suburban features all welded slasher tines and a standard 26-inch tilling width. Wide handles and an adjustable drag bar make the Merry Tiller easy to control.
MSRP $799
Engine Four stroke OHV
Displacement 206cc
Transmission High-torque, commercial grade
Tilling Width 26 in
Tine Diameter N/A
Tilling Depth Adjustable drag bar
courtesy MacKissic

Merry Tiller’s Rear Tine model ( , 800-348-1117) places your choice of Briggs & Stratton, Robin or Honda engines forward of the drive wheels to counterbalance the weight of the tines for excellent control. Separate transmissions for the drive wheels and tines allow precise control of the tilling speed. Heavy-duty forward-rotating Bolo tines cut a 21-inch swath through the toughest soil conditions.
MSRP $1,149
Engine Four-stroke OHV
Displacement 305cc
Transmission 3-speed forward w/reverse
Tilling Width 21 in
Tine Diameter N/A
Tilling Depth Adjustable
courtesy MacKissic

The compact Ryobi Cultivator ( , 800-525-2579) is available with either a 2-cycle gas engine or 12-amp electric motor. The innovative design features a “JustAddSand™” weight system that can place an additional 13 pounds of weight directly over the tines. The ergonomically designed handlebar folds for easy storage. With a dry weight of just 25 pounds (32 pounds electric), and integrated transport wheels, the Ryobi Cultivator is easy for any gardener to handle.
MSRP about $230
Engine 2 cycle gas / electric
Displacement 25.4cc / 12 amps
Transmission Single speed
Tilling Width 10 in / 73/4 in
Tine Diameter 8 in
Tilling Depth 73/4 in / 8 in
courtesy Ryobi

Powered by a 6½ horsepower OHV Tecumseh engine, the rear-tine Troy-Bilt Pony ( ) is an ideal all-around tiller for most applications. The forward rotating 12-inch Bolo tines deliver ready-to-plant, well-aerated, finely milled soil. Optional attachments include a hiller/furrower for easy raised beds and a row marker for optimum spacing. The Pony’s single-speed bronze-gear-drive cast-iron transmission features power reverse for simple operation and maneuverability.
MSRP $1,000
Engine Tecumseh OHV
Displacement 195cc
Transmission Single speed w/reverse
Tilling Width 16 in
Tine Diameter 12 in
Tilling Depth 8 in
courtesy Troy-Bilt

CRT stands for Counter Rotating Tines, and the Pro-Line CRT ( ) is Troy-Bilt’s most powerful counter-rotating garden tiller. The design quickly breaks up hard soil while providing greater control. With a 16-inch tilling width, the Pro-Line CRT is small enough to fit between garden rows and stable enough for one-hand operation. Powered by a 5-horsepower Honda four-stroke engine, the Pro-Line CRT is engineered for a lifetime of dependable service.
MSRP $799
Engine Honda GC
Displacement 160cc
Transmission Single speed w/reverse
Tilling Width 16 in
Tine Diameter 10 in
Tilling Depth 6 in
courtesy Troy-Bilt

With adjustable tilling widths of 13, 22 and 24 inches, the White Outdoor RB 550 can easily handle gardens up to 1,500 square feet. It features a chain-drive transmission with power reverse for better maneuverability in tight spots. Wide handle bars and an adjustable depth bar are designed for operator comfort and control. The RB 550 ( , 800-800-7310) works soil with 12-inch diameter steel tines covered by a 24-inch-wide tine shield.
MSRP $449
Engine OHV four-stroke
Displacement 195cc
Transmission Chain drive w/reverse
Tilling Width 13, 22 and 24 in
Tine Diameter 12 in
Tilling Depth Adjustable
courtesy White

Previous | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Next

Post a comment below.


Pay Now & Save 50% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Live The Good Life with Grit!

For more than 125 years, Grit has helped its readers live more prosperously and happily while emphasizing the importance of community and a rural lifestyle tradition. In each bimonthly issue, Grit includes helpful articles, humorous and inspiring articles, captivating photos, gardening and cooking advice, do-it-yourself projects and the practical reader advice you would expect to find in America’s premier rural lifestyle magazine.

Get your guide to living outside the city limits delivered straight to your mailbox. Subscribe to Grit today!  Simply fill in your information below to receive 1 year (6 issues) of Grit for only $19.95!


At Grit, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to Grit through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of Grit for only $14.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of Grit for just $19.95!