Rotary Tiller Safety and Maintenance

Richard L. Parish  |  12/3/2004 11:40:25 PM

To get the best performance and longevity from your tiller, you need to maintain it properly. You also need to be aware of some of the dangers involved in using a tiller and take steps to protect yourself and others.

Engine Maintenance
You will need to maintain the engine on your tiller 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. 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 more often. Keep any grease fittings properly lubricated. Check the oil in the gearcase or chaincase and add as needed.
Your air cleaner (Figures 1 and 2) will need to be cleaned or replaced often -- perhaps as often as after 1-2 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.

Tiller Maintenance
One of the most important things you can do for your tiller is to keep it clean. Wash the tiller, particularly the tines and housing, after each use (be careful not to spray water on a hot engine!). For continued effectiveness, you will need to replace the tines when they become worn down. You may occasionally need to adjust the control linkages. See your owner’s manual for instructions. Your tires should be maintained at the recommended pressure.

End-of-season Storage
Like many pieces of lawn and garden equipment, tillers are used seasonally and then stored for the winter. It is a good idea to change the oil before storing them. You should either run the gasoline tank dry or fill it with fresh gas containing a stabilizer. Check the spark plug and regap or replace if needed.
If you are storing the tiller for several months, it is a good idea to squirt a teaspoonful or so of clean engine oil into the spark plug hole and then pull 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. Many small engine heads are made of aluminum, and it is very easy to strip the threads when tightening the spark plug.

Clean or replace the air filter. Check the oil in the gearcase or chaincase and refill (or replace if dirty). Be sure the tiller is clean before storage, then store it out of the weather. Be sure it is not stored in direct sunlight, because the UV light will degrade the tires.

Tiller tines are aggressive! They can chew up a hand or foot just as easily as a patch of bermudagrass. Stay away from rotating tines! Keep bystanders, particularly children, away from tillers. Watch out for roots, stumps, rocks, buried pipes, etc. 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.
Avoid 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) (Figure 3). Don’t try to defeat the OPC on a tiller. It is there to protect you.

Remember, your tiller works hard under some dirty conditions. You will need to be conscientious about maintenance to overcome the effects of the tilling environment. Remember, too, that tillers are potentially dangerous. Treat them with respect.

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