Choose the Right Tiller for Your Compact Tractor

 One of my favorite attachments for Johnny, our subcompact tractor is our rear roto-tiller. When I first got it, I didn’t expect to use it much. I viewed it as a ‘uni-tasker’, only useful for tilling gardens. This view has proven to be short-sighted. As you’ve likely seen in our videos, we use the tiller for MANY different jobs. It almost always comes through for us.

If you are considering a tractor mounted tiller you may be seeing many different models, wondering which size, style, or brand is the right tiller for you. Hopefully we can help explain and answer some of those questions for you in this article.

You’ll Love Whatever Tiller You Choose

I’ve been reading online tractor forums and talking with tractor owners for several years now. As of yet, I have not heard a single person say that they don’t like their tiller. Not even one! Given this anecdotal information, you might be wasting your time reading this article. Just go get any tiller you see. I am almost certain that you will be happy with it. I’ll refer to this as “Tiller Rule #1”.

Having said that, you wouldn’t have started reading this article if you were an impulse buyer. So, let’s dig into some of the decisions you’ll have to make, and some of the features you might want to consider.

Tiller Width

Optimally, you will choose a tiller which is just a bit wider than the max width of your tractor. This allows you to till out your tire tracks with each pass.

Some older tractors, (think of tractors like the ford 8N, etc) were built very wide, yet they didn’t have much horsepower. For those tractors, you can purchase an ‘offset’ tiller which will allow you to fully cover one of the two tire tracks. The other tire track will not be covered at all. This allows you to till without leaving tire tracks, but only in one direction.

Many of our viewers own subcompact tractors, so let’s consider these specifically. Most of these new sub-compact tractors are very similar in size and horsepower. Just under 25 hp, and just under 4′ in width. For these tractors, Kubota BX, Deere 1-series, Massey GC17xx, etc, get a 4 ft tiller. This will be the perfect width. It will handle the toughest tilling conditions, allow you to get through small gates (54″ or so), and fully cover the tire tracks.

Some folks run 54″ or even 60″ tillers. For example, one of our most loyal subscribers (Levi/mi2tn) has a 60″ tiller for his 1026R. You can get away with a 60″ tiller in an existing garden. However, for sod, or harder or muddy soils, I find the 48″ to sometimes be more than Johnny (our 1025R) wants.

If you have a Deere 2-Series, Kubota B series, use a similar rule, get a tiller just wider than your tractor. Of course, if you have one of the 25hp larger frame tractors (3025E, L2501, etc), you may not have sufficient horsepower to handle a ‘full-tractor-width’ tiller. Again, choose an offset 4 ft. model in this case.

Drive Mechanism

 While all rear tillers are driven by the tractor’s PTO, the power is transferred to the main tiller axle shaft in two different approaches. You will not be able to tell which type of drive is used by looking at the tiller, as this drive is fully encased and enclosed to keep the oil in and dirt out. You will be able to see the enclosure on one end of the tiller.

Chain Drive

One of the drive choices inside the enclosure is a roller chain with sprockets on each shaft. This is the simpler and presumably least expensive of the two options. In theory, the chain drive will be slightly less reliable than the gear drive. However, I’ve never heard of anyone having an issue with their chain drive, and the LandPride rep I spoke with at the Louisville National Farm Machinery show pointed out that if such damage DOES occur, this drive chain is a standard #80 chain, so the mechanism would be straightforward to repair.

Gear Drive

The other drive choice consists of a series of gears which transfer the power from the upper shaft to the tiller axle shaft. While this option seems like it would be more reliable, manufacturers of chain drive tillers are quick to claim that the gear drive version pulls much harder, losing power as it transfers through the gears.

I’m not sure which mechanism I prefer. On the surface, the gear drive would seem more durable, but the simplicity of the chain drive has its advantages too.

Weight

This is one statistic that you should be sure to check. You WILL notice the difference between a heavier tiller and a lighter tiller.

For hard soil, the tiller must have sufficient weight to keep it from bouncing. I would recommend buying the heaviest tiller you can find in almost every instance. The only exceptions would be if the tiller is heavier than the tractor’s 3 point hitch can lift. The LandPride rep says the tiller will only bounce if the tines are worn out. While I’m sure this is largely true, I think it would be hard to prevent a bounce in Patrick’s newly delivered and packed clay. The only thing that MIGHT prevent this would be a reverse-rotation tiller discussed below.

Rotation Direction

Most tillers rotate in the same direction as the tires turn. The top of the tines go forward. However, some tillers have ‘reverse rotation’. Reverse Rotation forces the tiller to dig-in deeper by pulling backwards against the natural direction of travel. Another advantage is that reverse rotating tines do not push the tractor forward. Occasionally, forward rotating tillers can cause the tractor to lunge forward.

My experience with a reverse rotation tiller is limited to the walk-behind variety, as neighbor Bob had one. In perfect conditions, like my garden, the reverse rotation leaves a wonderful seedbed. However, when operating in sod, it would push a large pile of sod up in front of the tiller while operating.

Other viewers have stated that reverse rotating tillers can tend to throw rocks forward (and maybe upward toward the operator). Throwing rocks forward is frustrating because that just keeps them in the path of the tiller so that they will be encountered again.

Overall, I would choose the forward rotating tiller again if I were to buy another one. However, I would not fault others for choosing the reverse rotation, as they certainly have their advantages.

Rotation Speed

This spec may be hard to find on some tillers. The King Kutter brand shows this spec for each model. Surprisingly, there is sometimes a fairly big difference. For example, the King Kutter TG series spins at 210 RPM, while the TG-XB series spins at 250 RPM. All else being equal, I would prefer the faster spinning tiller.

Number of Tines Per Flange


Some tillers have 4 tines per flange, and others have 6 tines per flange. The 6 tine version will have at least a couple of advantages over the 4 tine version. First, it will be heavier. Second, each rotation of the tiller shaft will perform 50% more cutting action.
I would recommend the 6-tine version.

Slip Clutch vs. Shear Bolt

Any PTO powered equipment needs to have some sort of protection in case the implement gets stuck and cannot rotate. Without such protection, something has to give. With a small tractor like mine, often the engine will stall/die. With a larger tractor, something will break. Shaft, gearbox, chain, etc.

Most equipment uses either a shear-bolt or a slip-clutch to provide this protection. A shear-bolt is a bolt holding the PTO shaft to the gearbox shaft. The bolt is sized appropriately so that it will break (shear) before any damage occurs to the equipment. To return to work, one must replace the broken bolt with a new one of the same hardness to continue providing the same level of protection.

A slip-clutch is a set of plates with abrasive material between them. A series of bolts clamp these plates together. Adjusting these bolts allows the plates to ‘slip’ when too strong of a force is applied to the PTO shaft.

Now for a special TTWT thought which likely almost every reader will disagree with. If you are using a 25hp (or smaller) tractor, this protection is not really necessary in my opinion. If our ‘irresistable force’ (tiller tines) encounters and ‘immovable object’ (root or rock stuck between tines and frame), the most likely result is an engine stall from a full-throttle (at least PTO speed) RPM. While this is obviously not optimal for the tractor, it will not tear up the tractor. In my opinion, there is no way a 25 hp tractor can tear up a 40hp (or higher) rated gearbox.   This opinion ONLY applies to these

Ok, with that unpopular opinion stated, I would prefer the slip-clutch approach over the shear-bolt approach. The slip-clutch allows the operator to adjust it as necessary. With a shear-bolt approach, if you encounter a higher stress situation where you shear multiple bolts in normal operation like I did when using the post hole digger, you have only two options. Lots of bolts, or step up to the next hardness of bolt which likely defeats the effectiveness of the shear-bolt protection.

Hitch Compatibility / Flexibility

One very nice enhancement to the 3 Point Hitch system is the “Quick Hitch”. Refer to Quick Hitch Options for more information about quick hitches.

When buying a tiller, I would recommend that you select one which is (or can easily be made to be) quick hitch compatible. The King Kutter XB Tiller which I have is not quick-hitch compatible, but It was not difficult to modify it. Please check out my video on this conversion for more details.

Some tillers have a more advanced feature relating to the hitch. They allow the hitch to be moved to the left or right for an adjustable ‘offset’ feature. For some users this might be a valuable feature.

Brand

There are three major brands that I know of (and maybe a few smaller brands, I’m not sure) which are made in the USA. Land Pride, King Kutter, and Tartar both make excellent tillers.

I believe Tartar makes most of the “County Line” brand tillers sold by Tractor Supply, but I am not sure about this.

Again, let’s talk specifically about the sub-compact tractor scenario. For the King Kutter brand, the King Kutter II models are offset when in the 4′ width.
The offset may make it show just a bit of tire track on one side of the 47″ wide tractor. So, I don’t think it is the best choice for a sub-compact tractor.

The King Kutter XB (like mine) is not quick hitch compatible, and is not quite as heavy as the King Kutter II, but it spins faster, and it is centered.

Take a close look at the Tartar (or County Line) 4 ft tiller. This is a great tiller for the money. Some Tartar models can be converted between forward and reverse tine rotation. This is not a trivial process, but it might be nice to have the option available.

On the topic of reverse rotation, Land Pride appears to be the leader in this approach.

This is an interesting market where the US built product is lowest price and (in my opinion) the highest quality available.

Several viewers end up buying their tiller with their tractor “so they can get it financed together”. Before you make that choice, please review the list of differentiators above. Then, ask yourself if it is worth 50% to 100% more to get the financing.

Summary

There are lots of choices in the tiller world. Hopefully this article has helped to identify some of the differences between different models. If you are still struggling to determine which tiller is right for you, just remember “Tiller Rule #1”. EVERYONE seems to be thrilled with their tiller. No matter WHAT brand.

Just get one…and start enjoying it!

15 Comments

  1. Andrew Brenneman

    Tim, while this does cover LOTS of info. I believe you left out some things. You didn’t touch on reverse direction and it’s pros & cons. A reverse direction tiller digs deeper and can hinder the tractor it’s attached to. But leave a beautiful bed to plant in with minimal passes. BUT, reverse direction tillers should NOT be used in rocky areas. I till too many gardens that have rocks, lots of rocks and I WILL NOT HAVE A REVERSE DIRECTION TILLER. I have a WOODS TC74 which is 6’2″ cutting width and is offsetable if needed. It is quick hitch capable and is chain driven and a forward direction tiller. Meaning that the tiller will “jump” when it encounters hard surfaces. I will NOT have a tiller that doesn’t have a slip clutch. But make sure you can get parts. Do your research on which brands are available in your area. Brands like Woods & LandPride are a bit higher end in price. King Kutter is more mid range. Behlen Country & Befco are lower on the price range but I’m not sure about parts availability. Look online on EverythingAttatchments.com for choices on implements for sub-compact & compact tractors.

    • Ugh. Forgot that…and missed it in the video coming out later today as well! Frustrating. Oh well.
      I will add it to the web post here, but I don’t have time to update the video before posting.

  2. Andrew Brenneman

    Tim, no worries.

  3. Pingback: Choosing the 'Best' Tiller for your Compact Tractor

  4. Hi Tim,

    While you’re talking about the rotation, it might be handy to mention that Tarter makes tillers that you can set to go either in forward or reverse rotation. I haven’t looked at this in a while, but if I remember correctly, it’s not just a “flip of a lever” and does take a few minutes to do. But, that gives you the best of both worlds.

    As always, nice write-up and advice.

    -Mark.

  5. All King Kutter Fillers are made in Gallipolis Ohio. Tarter and Kodiak Look like the KK brand but are made in China .

  6. Good info Tim. I was considering a Frontier RT1149 but it seems light at 323 pounds. The KK-TG-48-XB seems to be about 425 to 525 pounds depending on who’s website I look at. How about tine shape; L or C?

  7. I used to be a mechanic for tractors big and small. Diesel and gas, though I prefer diesel. I’ve seen lots of things happen to all sizes of machines and I try to pass on my knowledge to others. I just like seeing people happy. If I can help, i do.

  8. Tammy Kraapenshitz

    Thanks friends! Just got a BX2670 and am wondering if I get the county line tiller from TSC, will I have to cut down the pto shaft?

  9. Andrew Brenneman

    Not likely, but it is a possibility with implementsome bought at farm stores. If at all possible, take your machine to the store and try it on. OR watch the EVERYTHINGATTACHMENTS.COM video on YouTube on measuring your PTO shaft and take that measurement with you to the store and measure the tiller while there. That should get you the answer you are looking for.

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