I wanted to write up what I know about the tiller….

Page Contents: 1-Levers/Knobs; 2-Getting it Started; 3-Tips and Cautions

1.  Levers/Knobs
There are a lot of levers and knobs on the machine and it might be confusing for someone who hasnt used it before. …but it’s not bad, really. And some of the levers dont even work, so we can ignore them 🙂

Main levers:

  • tiller engage/direction
  • wheel speed
  • tines engage
  • throttle
  • choke
  • digging depth
  • starter pull handle

Here’s the front of the tiller where you can see

  • the throttle mounted on the right handle at the top
  • the silver colored safety (engine kill) grips, one on each handle.  [Note: these are not working; their original purpose was to automatically turn the engine off if you let go of the handles]P1030133_s2
  • The engage lever, which is the largest (appearing slightly to the left in this photo)
  • The wheel speed lever
  • The Depth lever at the center bottom

Engage/Direction Lever

P1030151_sIn this close-up of the Engage lever, you can see that “down” sets the tiller to move forward (and dig), “up”–>reverse (and dig), and “center” is disengage (or neutral, no movement, no digging).  You can change this lever while the engine is running, but in order to get the machine started, it needs to be in neutral.

This lever engages both the digging tines and the front wheels.  Separately, you can engage or disengage the digging tines with the Tine Engage lever (see below), and you can engage or disengage the wheels with the Wheel Speed lever (which can move put in ‘free wheel’ mode to disengage–see below).  Those two levers are often left in place, whereas this lever (the Engage lever pictured above) is the main one that you will be shifting as you till.

Side-note: we were having trouble with this lever [the Engage Lever] just falling into forward…it didnt seem to want to stay in Neutral on its own.  So David O. got to tinkering and came up with this handy spring (pictured below) to hold it.  It even has adjustment holes:
P1030136_s P1030135_sOf course, this spring can for the most part just be ignored.

Engage Tines Lever tiller_lever2

This lever can be used to dis-engage the tines, so that the engine still drives the wheels (assuming the Wheel Speed Lever is engaged!), but not the tines. Most of the time, this is just left engaged, and the tines are stopped by using the main Engage Direction lever, which stops/starts both the tines and the wheels.


Wheel Speed Lever

P1030152_sI think this is pretty self-explanatory.  For the most part, I leave this in Slow.  The only time I tend to change it is when I’m all done tilling and I want to push the tiller back to the shed, at which time I put it in “Free Wheel” (or Neutral).  This disconnects the front tires from the engine and you can just push it along with the engine off.  Fast seems just too fast to get much good tilling done.

Digging Depth

P1030149_sIn this picture, I am pointing to a notch in the digging depth lever.  Use the lever to engage one of these notches and that sets the depth the diggers try to dig.  And below, you see the tines from the side, then below that, the bar which this depth lever is moving:

P1030134_sP1030150_s2The angled piece I labeled ‘digging depth bar’ is connected to the Depth Lever on top.  It sort of rests on the soil and its height helps determine how deep the tines will go.  So if this is making sense, you can see that pushing the lever down (which, from the top, means the using the notch closest to the lever knob) keeps the tines up out of the soil for a shallower dig.  Allowing the lever to come up (meaning there will be lots of notches between the lever knob and the engaged notch) lets the tines dig in deeper.

Or more simply, the lower the knob (no notches showing), the more shallow the till; the higher the knob (several notches showing), the deeper.

Throttle, Choke and Start Pull Handle

These guys are very much like a regular lawn mower engine.  We saw the throttle on the right handle (see picture up a ways in this post).  The Start Pull Handle and the Choke are in the picture below, taken from the front of the tiller:P1030131_sMy finger is on the choke (apparently there was a knob on there at one point, but now it’s just a metal lever).  Up sets the choke; down (position in the picture, though I am pointing up) turns the choke off.

Other Levers/Knobs

Basically, we dont need to worry about them!, or they dont work:
P1030132_sIn this picture you can see the key in the ignition…it is set to run and I just dont touch it.  There is also a lever on the side here which I believe can be used to adjust the angle of the handles.  I have never used this myself.
2. Getting It Started

Startup checklist:

  • Check Gasoline and gas cap
  • Check the oil
  • Engage lever to Neutral
  • Choke
  • Throttle
  • Pull!

Gasoline and Gas Cap

Gasoline: we’ve been using airplane fuel.  This is because it apparently doesnt draw moisture into itself.  Regular car gasoline slowly absorbs moisture which makes these small engines harder to start, especially if they’ve been sitting around a while.  By using the air fuel, we dont seem to have that problem.

Gas Cap:  this is a replacement cap which David O. doctored a little.  The problem with it is that it does not allow air into the gas chamber.P1030130_sThis lack of air passageway slowly makes for a vacuum in the chamber as you till along, and pretty soon the gasoline doesnt seem to want to flow through the carburator and the engine stalls.  Or you may find the engine just doesnt want to start.

Our trick: loosen the gas cap a bit so that air can get in….but not so loose that you slosh gasoline out onto the engine as you move about.

Check the Oil
There is a standard dipstick on the top of the engine. The oil used is standard 30 weight motor oil.

Engage/Direction Lever

Set this to Neutral…


Treat this pretty much like you would a lawn mower: if the engine is cold, engage the choke.  Seconds after you hear the engine kick in, you can probably back the choke all the way off.  Basically the choke is used for cold starts, otherwise it can be left off.


To start the engine, push the throttle all the way forward (its high setting).  I tend to just run the tiller with the throttle all the way forward.  But if the soil you are working seems to be easy to till (rare!), explore backing the throttle down and see what happens.  In my experience, high works best.

To shut the engine off, pull the throttle back (its low or off setting).

Pull the start cord 

Just like a mower.

3. Some Cautions and Tips

First the cautions…mostly common sense.

The tiller can sometimes grab onto tough soil or a stone or large root, then suddenly lurch forward.  I wish I had a video of a time when Erik (or was it David?) was explaining this and then promptly let it get away from him, and it lurched towards the fence!  Keep a good grip.

The tiller, though it has a pretty good back plate, can occasionally kick up a rock if you lift up on the handles.  This can happen as you are turning it around.  Just keep aware.

David is always emphasizing to use heavy caution as you turn the tiller…dont let your feet get anywhere near the tines!  They are crazy strong and could easily hurt you.


Pre-moistening the earth.  Last fall as we broke into raw untilled earth, we took time to water the soil ahead of time.  This helped tremendously with softening it, so that the tiller could do its job without jolting the driver cross country.  But there is a potential problem with tilling wet soil (as any Oregonian can tell you): if your soil is clay-ish, you end up creating clay “rocks”.  Our soil has a fair shake of clay and we were concerned about this.  So we gave it a good 3 days to dry before we tilled.

Moistening to prevent dust.  Today I tilled in some long unwatered areas and kicked up a tremendous amount of dust.  Jim came along and sprayed the soil in front of me with the hose.  This did a great job preventing the dust (and the loss of our topsoil).  The watering was just for perhaps 15 seconds, not too heavy (to avoid the clay clodding issue).


Let’s ask David O!

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