Rotary Tiller Safety And Maintenance Good For Both Machine And Operator

Linda Benedict, Parish, Richard L.  |  10/4/2005 9:39:02 PM

News You Can Use For October 2005

A properly maintained rotary tiller will give the best performance and longevity, according to an engineer with the LSU AgCenter.

You also need to be aware of some of the dangers involved in using a tiller and take steps to protect yourself and others, says Dr. Dick Parish of the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station.

Parish says tiller engines must be maintained carefully.

"Because your tiller operates in dust and dirt, oil and filter changes are more critical than for lawn mowers and most other lawn and garden machines," he says. "At the very minimum, you should change the oil after 50 hours of use or at least once a year. If the oil looks dirty, change it oftener."

Parish also says to keep any grease fittings properly lubricated, and check the oil in the gear case or chain case and add as needed. The air cleaner will need to be cleaned or replaced frequently - perhaps as often as after one or two hours of use in dusty conditions. Occasionally, you will need to blow or brush the dust and dirt out of the cooling fins on the engine and flywheel.

"One of the most important things you can do for your tiller is to keep it clean," Parish says. "Wash the tiller, particularly the tines and housing, after each use – and be careful not to spray water on a hot engine."

For continued effectiveness, Parish suggests replacing the tines when they become worn down. You may occasionally need to adjust the control linkages following the instructions in the owner’s manual.

Tires also should be maintained at the recommended pressure.

Like many pieces of lawn and garden equipment, tillers are used seasonally and then stored for the winter.

Parish says it’s a good idea to change the oil prior to storage.

"You should either run the gasoline tank dry or fill it with fresh gas containing a stabilizer," he says. "Check the spark plug and regap or replace it if needed."

If the tiller is going to be stored for several months, Parish suggests squirting a teaspoonful or so of clean engine oil into the spark plug hole and then pulling the starter rope to rotate the crankshaft a time or two before replacing the spark plug.

"Be sure to use a torque wrench to tighten the spark plugs," Parish says. "Many small engines are made of aluminum and it is very easy to strip the threads when tightening the spark plug."

Other storage steps include cleaning or replacing the air filter, checking the oil in the gear case or chain case and filling or replacing it if it’s dirty. Be sure the tiller is clean before storage, and then store it out of the weather.

"Be sure it is not stored in direct sunlight, as the UV light will degrade the tires," Parish says.

Parish warns that tiller tines are aggressive when they’re turning.

"They can chew up a hand or foot just as easily as a patch of bermudagrass," he says. "Stay away from rotating tines. Keep bystanders, particularly children, away from tillers."

The engineer also says to watch out for roots, stumps, rocks, buried pipes or other obstructions that might cause the tiller to "grab" and jump. Even if it jumps away from you, it can cause a sprained back.

"A 200-pound tiller leaping forward can really jerk an operator," Parish says.

He also suggests avoiding areas where electric or gas lines might be buried.

Most tillers now have operator presence controls (OPCs) which consist of a lever or handle that must be held in place while operating or the engine will die (or the tines stop rotating).

"Don’t try to defeat the OPC on a tiller," Parish says. "It is there for your protection.

"Remember, your tiller works very hard under some very dirty conditions," Parish adds. You will need to be very conscientious about maintenance to overcome the effects of the tilling environment. Remember, too, that tillers are potentially dangerous and must be treated with respect.

For information on related engineering, gardening and agricultural topics, visit the LSU AgCenter Web site at


Contact: Dick Parish at (985) 543-4125 or
On the Internet: LSU AgCenter:

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