important checks before using a tiller

Important Checks Before Starting A Garden Tiller/Rotavator: Be safe, not sorry

Hello everyone, today I’m going to talk about important checks before starting a garden tiller/rotavator. Buying a garden tiller/rotavator is an exciting purchase, especially after you have realized the effort which goes into preparing your soil for planting. Preparing soil manually with a spade or fork is a very labor-intensive task.

Before you unpack or start using your new tiller you should do a quick run-through of an important checklist to protect yourself, others nearby, and your machine. Operating a tiller can be dangerous so it is worth carrying out these checks before work.

Tiller components

All powered tillers are comprised of 2 essential components:

  1. A power source – this will be the engine/motor.
  2. A blade system to cut and mix the soil.

Let’s look at the variables within each section.

The tillers power source – what to check

Tillers are usually powered by 3 different power sources. I will list each one and advise what the checks should be before starting.

An internal combustion engine/motor. This is most likely to be a petrol/gas engine on the majority of tillers although it may be a diesel engine on larger tillers.

Engine checks:

  • Is the correct fuel in the fuel tank and is it filled at least half full? Does the fuel tank lid screw on securely, Are all fuel lines intact and in good condition?
  • Have you checked the engine oil level – is the oil in the engine sump at least registering minimum on the dipstick – if not fill to the correct level with the recommended oil type found in the operator’s manual – if you have no manual check on Google. Check oil sump drain bung is tight.
  • Is the engine air filter fitted and is it clean?
  • Is the exhaust fixed firmly in place, if it has a guard is it fitted?
  • Are all the cables and wires connected to the engine, such as the throttle cable and engine stop switch in good condition, does the choke operate on and off?
  • Is the spark plug tight and is the spark plug lead/cap in good condition?
  • Are engine guards fixed securely?
Check the tillers spark plug and lead/cap are secure
Check the spark plug and lead/cap are secure

2. An electric motor powered by a power cord/lead.

Tillers powered by an electric motor require fewer checks than engine-driven tillers- although they are just as important.

  • Is the power cord in good condition? – check there is no cuts/ damage to the outer cover of the electric lead – electricity can kill.
  • Is the power switch on the handle working and in good condition?
  • Is the plug into the wall socket in good condition? Replace if broken or badly damaged.
  • Is the plug fitted with an appropriately sized fuse for the tiller? This should only be an issue if the tiller was bought secondhand – it is unlikely the manufacturer will have fitted an incorrectly sized fuse. This fuse is your safety device if anything happens to the cord or the tiller- an oversized fuse will not blow as easily which puts your safety in danger.
  • Check if your home power supply which provides power to the socket has an appropriately sized working circuit breaker.
  • Electric motor-driven tillers usually have the motor fitted behind a protective housing – does this housing look intact or damaged? Damaged motor housings could signify damage to the electric motor.
  • Upon starting does the tiller run smoothly and smoke-free – If smoke ever comes from the motor- this means it is badly damaged and should not be used again until a professional garden equipment repair specialist has checked it.

3. An electric motor-powered tiller, powered by a cordless battery.

More and more small tillers or cultivators are being made cordless, which makes them really convenient and maneuverable to use. The same checks apply as the electric corded tiller except instead of the power cord/ lead – you should check the battery.

  • Is the battery in good condition or is it damaged? Replace badly damaged batteries.
  • Is the battery fully charged and ready for work?
  • Is the battery housing intact?
  • If you have a second battery, it is a good idea to have it charged or charging for when the first battery loses charge.

The tillers blades types – what to check

There are usually two types of blades fitted to tillers – I will list them below and the type of checks which are needed.

  1. Individual blades usually have 2 bolts on one end which fixes them onto the tillers rotor driveshaft.
  2. A star-shaped wheel is a one-piece disc with many individual little blades formed from one piece of steel.

Individual bolt-on blades – what to check

Tillers come in 3 sizes: cultivators -the smallest, front/mid-tine tillers – medium-sized and rear-tine tillers– the largest.

Tiller individual blades are fitted in a spiral formation
Tiller individual blades are fitted in a spiral formation

Front and mid-tine tillers along with rear-tine tillers use individual bolt-on blades. These are the checks you should make before tilling with this blade type:

  1. Are the blades fitted in the correct direction – there is a sequence in which to fit the blades so that each blade is hitting the soil at the correct interval. This formation is like a spiral. It is important that the blades are in the right order otherwise the tiller will not be smooth in operation.
  2. Are all the bolts holding the blades to the drive shaft tight? – tighten them if they are loose
  3. Replace missing bolts with similar-sized bolts and nuts.
  4. Are the tiller blades bent or broken? Try to straighten bent blades and replace broken blades.
  5. Most tillers have left and right blade sections which slide over the main driveshaft of the tiller. These sections are held in place with locating pins with a spring fastener. Are the pins in place? Are the spring fasteners working or missing? If these pins fall out, the blade assembly with come off the tiller shaft.
  6. Is there a guard fitted around the tiller blades – is it fastened securely?
  7. Is the tiller drive casing damaged, broken, or leaking oil/grease- if so, get it repaired before using.

One-piece star-shaped tiller blades – what to check

These types of blades are fitted to the smallest type of tillers, more commonly referred to as cultivators. These star-shaped blades are made of light steel and are not made to be subjected to extreme forces or work.

  1. Are the star wheel blades fitted in the correct direction and in the proper layout? – just like the larger tillers with individual blades these smaller cultivator wheels have a specific layout to make operation smooth and efficient.
  2. Each individual star wheel is usually held in place on the drive shaft with a locating pin like an R clip. Is the pin/ R clip fitted and have you checked that it cannot come loose during operation?
  3. Are any of the star wheel blades bent or broken? these should be replaced as soon as possible to ensure the efficiency of the cultivator.
  4. Does the cultivator have a blade guard and is it securely fastened?

Other important areas to check on all tillers

  1. Check the tillers handle is adjusted to the operator’s requirements and is firmly tightened in place.
  2. The wheels or the tiller should be in good condition and securely fastened to its shaft (driven or non-driven)
  3. If your tiller has an implement or a chisel fitted to the rear, make sure it is set to the correct depth and is securely fastened.
  4. Some tillers have clutch levers and cables fitted – check all are working smoothly before operation.
  5. If your tiller has forward/ reverse gears – check they are working and don’t stick them in gear.
  6. If your tiller has a pull cord – check the pull cord is not frayed and that the mechanism turns freely.


Tillers are one of the most essential tools for people who work with soil and plants. They are made up of a lot of moving parts that turn at high speeds. This can produce a lot of vibration that can cause things to rattle undone or wear. If you own a tiller it will be safer to operate and will work more efficiently if you perform these checks I listed above on a regular basis. I hope you found this helpful – Thank you – Richard.

If you found this helpful take a look at my related article: What protective clothing /PPE to wear when using a garden tiller.