The best electric tiller
Electric tillers are an invaluable garden tool, saving you hours of hard work, sweat, and backache. Unlike gas-powered rivals, they're easy to start, very manageable, and most are a lot more affordable. The following concise review has all the information you need to choose the best model for your yard. Our top pick, the Mantis, is something of a powerhouse, and despite its low weight and ease of use, it's a serious alternative to gas machinery.
Considerations when choosing electric tillers
Manufacturer descriptions for electric tillers can be confusing, so let's start by looking at how we would clarify these machines:
A cultivator is a light-duty tool for turning over and weeding earth that has previously been dug, but needs annual (or more frequent) maintenance. It will not break new ground.
A tiller/cultivator is a mid-range tool. It should handle both maintenance tasks and more serious digging. It may handle hard-packed soil, but breaking new ground will be a challenge.
A tiller should do it all, from turning sod into a workable plot to weeding between vegetable rows.
Corded or cordless?
As cordless tools become more powerful, corded models have less of an advantage. Corded drills, for example, have all but disappeared. However, in heavy-duty situations, like tilling, corded models are still on top. Their only real drawback is that maximum extension cable length is 100 feet -- and daisy-chaining them either leads to dangerous overheating, or the power drops so much due to electrical resistance that the machine doesn't work properly. Definitely not recommended.
40-volt and 60-volt cultivators and cultivator/tillers offer an effective light-duty alternative. At the time of writing, 80-volt models are starting to appear. While they might have the power to rival corded versions, even the best have run times that are only in the 30-minute range -- something many will find frustrating. An extra battery would resolve the problem, but they can be as much as $200. For most, that's not a practical solution.
While we love the idea of a big, powerful cordless tiller, unless you absolutely have to have one, at the moment corded versions offer better performance for less.
Width: A large tilling width means less trips up and down the garden, so you get the job done quicker. The maximum we've seen is 16". That's fine with empty beds, but around flower borders and in between rows of vegetables, you want a narrower tool -- so variable width can be a big bonus.
Depth: Digging depth should be variable and easily adjusted. Maximum depth gives a good indication of the power of the machine. If it's 5" or so, it's likely to be best suited to garden maintenance. If it's 10" it will chop through just about anything (though it might take a couple of goes at it).
Safety: Some electric tillers have a lock-on button, so you don't have to keep the trigger pressed. Others have a "dead man's handle" -- a safety lever that immediately kills the motor if you let go for any reason.
Mobility: Wheels are great for mobility on hard surfaces -- you should never "walk" a tiller on its tines, as you're likely to damage them. If it doesn't have wheels, look for a flip-down stand.
Weight: This isn't much of an issue if your electric tiller has wheels -- unless you often lift it in and out of a vehicle. Most are under 30 pounds, but you may want to check.
Cord clamp: It can be frustrating if you keep pulling out the extension cord while you're working. A cord clamp will prevent this from happening.
Electric tiller prices
Corded cultivators are the cheapest, with light-duty models available from around $90. Prices rise more or less in line with capacity and power. A mid-range corded tiller/cultivator that will do a good job in many urban gardens will cost around $150 to $180. Cordless cultivators in this class start to appear at around $250. The best high-powered corded tillers can be as much as $350.
Q. Do electric tillers need much maintenance?
A. Unlike a gas model, there's no need for filter and oil changes. Mostly it's just a question of a quick check to make sure everything's done up properly, and that there's no damage to electrical cables or fittings. After use, give it a good clean with warm soapy water and a stiff nylon brush.
Q. Do I need any safety gear?
A. You should wear sturdy footwear so you don't slip, gloves to protect your hands, and a lightweight face shield or safety glasses. Although guards prevent most things being thrown up at you, there's always a chance a stone will get through.
Electric tillers we recommend
Best of the best: Mantis 7250-00-03 Electric Tiller
Our take: Light but immensely powerful. A true rival for gas tillers, even in new ground.
What we like: Three-speed motor gives excellent flexibility. Tills 9" wide and a massive 10" deep. Reversible tines for shallow cultivating. Five-year warranty.
What we dislike: Expensive (though not compared to gas machines). No wheels.
Best bang for your buck: Earthwise TC70001 11-Inch Corded Electric Tiller/Cultivator
Our take: Very popular budget-priced tool for the small and medium-sized garden.
What we like: Good capacities: adjustable from 7" to 11" width and up to 8" depth. Easy to maneuver. Great value and highly rated by owners.
What we dislike: A few users reported motor failures. Not for breaking new ground.
Our take: If you want cordless, this is a flexible cultivator from a top brand.
What we like: Adjustable width from 8¼" to 10". Adjustable depth down to 5". Rapid action from substantial 8" tines. Decent sustained power from the 4Ah battery.
What we dislike: Claimed 40-minute runtime is optimistic. Expensive for a cultivator.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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