Tuesday, November 28, 2023
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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.


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.


There are three major brands that I know of (and several smaller/lesser known brands) which are made in the USA. Land Pride, King Kutter, and Tartar both make reasonable quality tillers.

I believe Tartar makes most of the “County Line” brand tillers sold by Tractor Supply, but this can change (and has changed) over the years.

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 look at Tractor Basics for a cost effective yet high quality American made tiller. They have two models in their lineup. An entry level 4 tine per flange chain drive model which comes only in a 4′ width, and a full featured 6 tine per flange, gear drive model which comes in 4′ and 5′ widths. Of course, I’m a bit of a tiller snob, as you’ve noticed already, so I prefer the full featured model, but either way, you will find this tiller cost effective, and tough enough for anything you can throw at it. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the TTWT discount! Apply code TTWT at checkout for a nice 10% discount!

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

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. In general, we don’t recommend this approach.


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!

Tim Marks
Tim Marks
Compact Tractor Lover. Rural Lifestyle Enthusiast. Tractor Time with Tim on YouTube. Married to Christy for over 31 years. We love showing tractors, attachments, maintenance, storage ideas, and our daily activities around our 10 acre property. We also do some contract tractor work, and significant amount of charity projects.


  1. 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.

      • I have a walk behind and it is a husqvarna tiller Counter-rotating tines just wondering if any tractor tillers have one?

        • From the reading I have done the counter-rotating is the same thing as reverse rotation. That is the tines turn counter direction to the drive wheels, a.k.a. turning in reverse. Some tillers are also dual-rotation, meaning they can be changed from forward (same direction as drive wheels) to reverse rotation. Less aggressive than tillers you can also find power-rakes, which typically are reverse rotation to give a very smooth even surface well suited to planting lawn grass. You may also want to consider four or six tines per rotation. Six should till 50% faster, but I think my four tine is a little more tolerant of my rock pit due to more space between the tines.

  2. 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.


  3. 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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. Woods also makes great tillers. Both a forward rotation (RT48.30) and reverse rotation (RTR 48.30) models. Made in Northwest Illinois.

  8. […] up from time to time. Several options, lots of variables. Tim Marks has a very nice write up here Choose the Right Tiller for Your Compact Tractor – Tractor Time with Tim You'll be happy with whatever you […]

  9. Hi Tim,
    You are correct. I am one of the ones that is going to have a differing opinion on the slip clutch issue. The slip clutch is there for three reasons. (In my opinion.) To protect the implement, to protect the driveline (tractor/PTO) and to soften the engagement of the implement. Keep up the great work and content and Congratulations on the new property. Can’t wait to see all the transformations. How about an interior home tour once you get settled?


  10. no one touched on tractor speed. you need a tractor that has very slow gears for hard first time ground. my last tractor was way to fast in 1st gear.

    • Never even thought about it Cory. With a hydrostatic transmission, I guess it just came naturally. But you are right, a slow gear is important.
      This is one of the biggest disadvantages of the old classic tractors.

  11. Along the same lines as Tammy’s question. I’m looking at the KK XB, did you have the modify the drive shaft length when you used it prior to getting the quick hitch? I have JD 1025r. Moreover after modification for the quick hitch was there any drive shaft modification necessary.

    • Good questions, Ted.
      I bought it used. The shaft had already been cut very short, so I had to get a new shaft.
      Yes, I had to cut the new shaft. At first I didn’t have a quick hitch. So I cut the shaft as long as I thought would work…really longer than it should have been. Then, when I got the quick hitch, it was/is perfect.
      I have a video on how to cut a pro shaft. It isn’t difficult.

    • Good question, Ted.
      Yes, I needed to cut the shaft to work without the quick hitch. I cut it as long as possible in hopes that it would still work with quick hitch. It does work with the quick hitch or without…which is good.
      I had to buy a new shaft when I bought this tiller used because the original shaft had been cut VERY short. I hope this helps.

      • Thanks, I realize the KK2 is offset to “cover your tracks” but it seems when I watch your videos the tracks are covered by the Xb. I would like something gear driven, imatch comptible and not offset, which seems is few and far between. Although xb was looked easily motifiable I’m not sure about the lift arm pins being so long. Have you had any issues. When I measure it seems they would need to be at least 6” long.

        • Yes, I have broken a lift pin.
          Have you looked at the ‘County Line’ from Tractoe Supply? It is not offset…yet meets all of those requirements

          • Ended up with the Tarter/country line from Tractor Supply. See rule #1! I’m new to tilling, at what rpm should the tiller be running when it engages the ground? Full or less and then increase it as you move forward? Thanks again for the great site.

  12. i just bought a Country Way (looks like a KK) at Rural King. I think it may be an import but I don’t know. I have used it a little and so for so good. It’s plenty heavy and seems to operate smoothly. I would have loved to have bought a King Kutter branded product but Rural King had this one at $500 less.

  13. What would cause my tiller to dig a hole when I lift the tiller at the end of the row. Watching the tiller as I lift the tiller it does not hesitate before the 3pt lifts it up. Problem just started and no problems with it the last 3 years.

  14. First, is your tiller a foward or reverse direction?

    Second, check the flow valve for the 3 point is fully open (usually just between seat & floorboard).

    Third, are you gradually lifting the tiller near the end of your rows? If not, going from one end to the other (start to stop) the tiller will leave a “trench” from the tiles regardless of rotation of tines. More prominent on forward direction tillers.

    Junior, hope these possibilities help.

  15. I am in Maine and looking for a tiller for my 1025R. Local JD dealer carries Woods RT48.30.30. Well built, heavy (500+ lbs.), 3” offset is the only flaw. How much of a pain is this?

    • I don’t want an offset tiller. I need to be able to till both ways without leaving tire tracks.
      There are cost effective quality 4’ tillers readily available which are not offset. Why compromise?

  16. Hi Tim, we have watched several videos and read many articles of yours. I guess we are a little confused. We bought the county line 4 ft tiller from tractor supply for on our kubota bx2380 tractor. We are getting the quick attach system today to make this work for the tractor and tiller, but without it, there isnt enough to cut off the PTO shaft to make it the length we need it, which is 20 inches. There would be nothing left of the PTO shaft. Is this something that folks run into often? Like I said, we are getting the quick attach system today which will give us more length and should work just fine, but it was just puzzling how much would need cut off. Any advice?

    • I tried to demonstrate how to measure for cutting the PTO shaft in this episode:
      It is difficult to measure exactly, so I understand what you are saying.

      Now, if you are buying the quick hitch, don’t make any cuts until you get it installed, because you will want the shaft LONGER with the quick hitch than without it.

      Cutting the PTO shaft is not difficult, as I illustrate in the above episode. However, you just want to avoid cutting it TOO short.
      Does that help?

  17. Any comments on Frontier tillers? Looking at a slightly used 5′ with asking price of $1,200. Do not have the model yet.

  18. I have a 60 inch Country Way tiller from Rural King that I purchased this spring. It is the first 3 pt. Tiller I have owned. After extensive research, I settled on this tiller as it had virtually identical features and weight of other brands which cost more. I have used it extensively on 3 gardens and over 2 acres of food plots. It has performed very well attached to my 1979 model International 284 (24 pto HP) tractor.

    I definitely agree with Rule #1!

    • These seem to be identical to the King Kutter branded tillers. I’m not aware of any differences, except for price. Not exactly sure how RK wrangled a better price for these than the King Kutter branded ones.

  19. So Tsc has two Countryline 4’ tillers. One is hear drive & one is a “subcompact” version with chain drive. Does anyone have experience with either on a 1025R? Of course, tsc doesn’t stock the subcompact model…

    • Hope this isn’t way too late for you. As a new tractor owner I got mislead into that “special” sub-compact model last year. The one that is recommended as the one you “have” to have to fit a sub-compact tractor. The one with Cat 0 spacing that sub-compacts “require”. Except that Cat 0 is lawn tractors, not sub-compacts like the 1025R which is a Cat 1 Limited (limited lift height but newer models might not have that). Unfortunately it was mostly assembled before I figured out it was no way going on my iMatch. Easy but aggravating enough solution, pull the iMatch off and the lift arms swing in just fine to pick up the Cat 0 spacing. Later I found that TSC sells extended length Cat 1 pins and bolting those into the tiller let the iMatch pick it up. So far I have not broken and extend pin but I think Tim mentioned that he has broken one.
      So other than wishing I had bought the 5 foot version of the regular Cat 1 tiller for the same price how does this tiller work? Tim’s tiller Rule #1 applies fully. At 510 pounds this thing digs just fine even in my rock-like clay. I nearly hit some things while looking back fascinated at how well the four blades chop through that clay I couldn’t break with a shovel and turn it into soft dirt (at least until it rains and packs into near rock again). Just use low range and go very slow then the hard dirt magically fluffs up. You can adjust the skids for depth but be careful not to drag the chain case.
      There is a bonus to a 510 lb tiller, hanging out back it is a great ballast for rooting about with the loader. But it hangs low so you may want to use the dual adjustable lift links Tim shows in another video. I’m installing that trick today so I can keep Johnny’s tail from dragging in trash and over bumps and ruts.

      • Hal, I have a video showing how to make the King Kutter XB “Quick Hitch compatible”. It isn’t too difficult. Mainly just longer lift pins.

        • THANKS Tim! I found that video, almost exactly what I did with the Tarter RTSC-4 from TSC. 510 pounds is about 42 suitcase weights, so if anyone is working with their finance committee that “safety” item is nearly half the cost of a tiller so that makes your tiller “upgrade from weights” sound a lot less expensive.
          Love all the videos, wife loves them too as we both grew up near a lot of farms and our new house is surrounded by cow country, have been working our way through all the videos and learning massively.

  20. Yes I have shoes adjusted to be their deepest setting. The soil is hard, no rain in a couple of weeks.

    The times don’t appear to extend but 1 1/2-2” below the level of the shoes.

  21. Going back to rotation direction: I’ve had both types, and although the reverse rotation has a few undesirable quirks, I much prefer it over the forward rotation. The biggest reason is one that someone commented on, throwing rocks forward At first, in a newer garden area, this can be a pain; the biggest reason being that the larger ones can get jammed between tines and tiller housing, which necessitates stopping to pry the rock out. After a while, though, those rocks get cleared from the garden and no longer present trouble. The smaller ones that get thrown forward get “herded” to the end of the row, and are eventually cleared from the garden. Forward rotation simply kicks them out of the way temporarily, but next time you till you have to deal with them again.

    I have been using my garden area (95 x 85 feet) for over 25 years now, and I rarely find a rock as big as a baseball any more, unless I do an occasional subsoil plow to relieve compaction (maybe every 5-6 years)

  22. I started with tillers back in 1980 with a Howard 48″ wide Rotovator. Still have it today. Tines are about shot. It’s a chain drive. 6 times per flange. Doesn’t see much use out side of the garden anymore. Back in the day we had pick your own strawberries. It saw a lot more use then.

  23. Tim
    I have a 2038 large frame 38 HP JD – Looking to purchase the King Kutter Tiller 60 inch but I am not sure about tine rotation. My soil does not have many rocks within 8 inches of top so think about “reverse” but do not want to spend this much money and regret the purchase – your thought?

    • Tarter/County Line has a tiller which can be reversed…forward or backward rotation.
      It is not a trivial task, but it is possible, and would allow you to change your mind.

  24. Hey Tim-
    After much research I’ve narrowed my tiller purchase down to two models and trying to determine which one would work best on my 2019 JD 1025R. They are both King Kutter 48″ models: The TG-48-XB… Limited Cat 1… @ a quoted ship weight of 425 lbs and a working depth of 5″ … and the ‘Professional’ TG-G-48… Cat 1… @ 580 lbs … listed working depth of 8″ … and with a 7″ offset. (It’s rated for 20-35 hp tractors. I’m guessing that’s hp at the PTO?) Both models are the same price, here locally. Thanks in part to your many videos, I know the XB will work. My question is: will the heavier, beefier, deeper tilling G model work even better, for the same $, or would it be a bit much for my 1025R? Would appreciate any input.

    • I would not recommend an offset tiller.
      You might consider the county line from Tractor supply. It is full cat 1, and centered behind the tractor.

  25. Tim, I have really enjoyed and appreciate all the videos you have done. I have a 1025R without a FEL. It wasn’t something that I needed. I have settled on either a RT1149 or a 4’ TS CountyLine. My biggest question is if I go with the County Line tiller, would I need to add weights to the front of the tractor? I know that it has been stated that the heavier the tiller the better it is for untilled ground. I know that “Johnny” will lift it but at what point would I need to add front ballast to keep my front tires on the ground.

    Thank you for your time!

  26. I have a 1950 ford 8N. I have been reading that tillers for that tractor is not recommended. Tillers do not work well due to the tractor being too fast. Should I just stick with the plow and disc process? If I disced and then roto tilled, would that make a difference?

  27. Tim we have a local implement manufacturer in Tennessee call Ironcraft, and they make a good tiller per the specifications. For my sub compact I’m looking at the UL48 model.

  28. wow. Lots of great information here. I bought a John Deere 2110 with a JD 450 tiller. Surprisingly, the skids have worn out and more surprisingly John Deere has discontinued manufacturing the skid plates. Any idea what I could replace them with or am I faced with hanging up this attachment and shopping for a new one. also, is it typical for skid plates to wear out? Thanks for any response.

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