Garden tillers have either electric or gas engines. If you are looking for a gas-powered tiller, be aware that while some do include the horsepower, many brands are choosing to just highlight the engine size. Engines are measured in cubic centimeters, or “cc.” For a tiller, an engine that is 40cc’s and above is very powerful. You should note that gas-powered engines are typically more powerful than electric ones, especially for very compact soil or a lawn that has never been broken. The downsides of gas-powered engines is that they are significantly louder and emit fumes. The technology on electric engines has not quite caught up to gas engines yet, though there are some brands that make very impressive electric tillers. They are quieter, 100%-emission free, and require little to no maintenance. For electric engines, anywhere between 8-12 amps is ideal for very compact soil or clearing away lots of weeds.
In addition to amps or engine size, garden tillers are measured by the amount of torque they have. Torque is the measurement of necessary force to twist an object, which with garden tillers, are the blades. When you’re looking at a tiller, the torque rating appears as pound/feet. For compact ground, you want a lot of torque, and you should expect to pay a bit more for the power. A lot of torque forces the blades and tines to cut through weeds, roots, rocks, and any other difficult materials that might be lurking beneath your garden. Without enough torque, the tiller won’t be able to dig very deeply. A really powerful tiller will have a torque rating of 90+ lb/ft.
Tillers break through the ground using blades equipped with tines, which are like the tines on a fork. Garden tillers are also known as forward-rotating tillers to distinguish them from rear-tine tillers. Forward-rotating tillers are the standard tiller type, and just means that the tines move with the wheels. Different standard tillers have different numbers of tines and blades, i.e. two blades with four-tines apiece. Tines can be angled or even customizable, so you can arrange the tines in whatever direction you would like. The speed of a tiller’s tines also determines how effective the tiller is. Speed is measured in RPMs (revolutions per minute), and is often adjustable so you can have the tines move very quickly or slower depending on the kind of soil you’re dealing with. In terms of material, tines should be very durable and made from metal like hardened steel or serpentine, which is a mineral rock.
Good tiller depth and width
Garden tillers typically have an adjustable depth and width. Depth from 5-7 inches is considered pretty shallow, so if you are working with ground that has never been broken, you want to choose a tiller that can go deeper, like 8-10 inches. This also allows you more versatility about what you plant, because many flowers/vegetables require certain depths in order to thrive. A long width on a tiller means you do not have to make as many passes in your garden and you can get your work done quickly. 6-10 inches is common for smaller tillers, while larger ones can have widths up to 16 inches. This kind of tiller is ideal for a medium-large garden.
Depending on their size and the size of the garden they’re designed for, garden tillers can be heavy. In recent years, very lightweight tillers have become more popular, in order to make them more accessible. A lightweight tiller will be about 20-25 pounds, while heavier ones can be 30 pounds or more. The benefit of a heavier tiller is that it will probably provide more torque for really rough ground, while lighter ones are better-suited to less challenging gardening that do not require much depth. As a general rule, the larger the engine is on a tiller, the more that tiller will weigh. It makes sense that a tiller with a powerful engine will be heavier, and this actually helps keep the tiller stabilized and digging to its maximum depth.
The wheels of a garden tiller are very important, since they need to support the tiller as it runs through the soil. As with most gardening equipment, the bigger the wheels, the better. These wheels need to be able to safely handle uneven terrain and obstacles like roots and rocks. This is especially true with front-tine tillers, as they are known for being a bit more dangerous than rear-tine tillers because of where the engine and tines are located. For wheel size, 6-inches is common for most smaller, residential garden tillers. Some wheels are also adjustable, so you can find the perfect position and be as comfortable as possible using the tiller. Rear wheels are convenient as well, since you can tilt the tiller up and roll it away when you are done with your chores.
Maneuvering an electric tiller is often a lot trickier than a gas-powered one. This is because of the cord. Electric tillers need to be connected to a power source, so you have to deal with long extension cords while you till. This limits how far you can work from your power source. You also have to be careful about not tripping over the cord, or running over it. With gas-powered tillers, you have a lot more flexibility and a wider gardening radius. Other features designed to make garden tillers more maneuverable include lift handles and adjustable handle height. You can lift the tiller and carry it around, and position the handles to suit your specific height.