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What is a Rototiller?

By Dale Marshall
Updated May 16, 2024
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A rototiller is a motorized soil cultivator generally designed to be operated by a single person. The name was first used in Europe to describe the small garden-oriented motorized tillers, and in 1932 an independent American company was started with the name, which manufactured Rototillers until going out of business in 1961. The term is one of many, such as rotavator, rotary hoe, mantis tiller, power tiller, rotary tiller and rotary plow, used to describe any of a number of single-operator tillers and cultivators manufactured by companies worldwide. Generally gasoline- or diesel-powered, the cultivation process is accomplished by a number of blades or tines which rotate around the axle and drive into the earth to a depth of up to 12 inches (30 cm).

Although some rototillers have wheels for transport and leveling, most rely on the rotation of the tines themselves for forward propulsion during the tilling operation, with the forward speed controlled by the operator and from the resistance of the ground being cultivated. There is no option for reversing the tines because of the potential for the appliance to back into the operator, resulting in injury.

A rototiller's primary use in the United States and Europe is cultivating flower and vegetable gardens. An experienced operator using a typical household rototiller can expect to cultivate no more than 2.5 acres (one hectare) in an eight- to 10-hour period. While much faster and more efficient than using a shovel and other hand tools to till soil, operating a rototiller can be difficult and physically demanding. In addition, if the tines strike an underground object, such as a heavy root or boulder, the rototiller can react unpredictably and violently. However, for tilling established gardens whose soil has been turned in past years, rototillers are preferable to hand tools for speed and convenience.

Rototillers are available in larger sizes than are normally seen for household use, and are often used by small farmers worldwide for subsistence-level farming. Different brands of rototiller have special attachments for various specialized purposes, so that a rototiller can be used for agricultural jobs as diverse as cultivating rice paddies, threshing, and dispersing insecticide. Greater power capabilities are available in these rototillers, including self-propulsion and riding applications, making the work easier and faster. The cost of these farming application rototillers, however, can be as high as 10 times the cost of those built for household use.

An interesting alternative use for rototillers was developed in the late 1970s or early 1980s. The heavy metal tines were replaced with wire brushes, and the customized rototiller was used to clean the exterior of pipes used in oil exploration and recovery.

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Discussion Comments

By Berndt — On Dec 15, 2011

Wow this is a very interesting article. I never knew so much about the rototiller.

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