Which is better – a front or rear tine tiller?
Both types of tiller have their strong and weak points and the tasks you need to accomplish will dictate which type of tiller to use.
Rear tine tillers are considered stronger, can turn the soil deeper, are better suited for creating new beds thoroughly, can chomp through tougher and rocky ground and work on larger areas faster due to being wider. Although being more expensive rear tine tillers are favoured by professional gardeners, landscapers, small farms and community gardens who need a reliable heavy-duty workhorse.
Front tine tillers are more compact, require less storage, are easier to transport, much lighter and tend to be cheaper than rear tine tillers. The increased manoeuvrability makes them more suited to smaller gardens, getting into tight corners and weeding between rows of plants in established beds.
- 1 Which is better – a front or rear tine tiller?
What is the difference between a front and rear tine tiller?
- 2.1 Position of tines
- 2.2 Engine
- 2.3 Width and length
- 2.4 Propulsion
- 2.5 Manoeuvrability
- 2.6 Depth
- 2.7 Coverage
- 2.8 Rocky ground
- 2.9 Tough ground
- 2.10 Creating new beds
- 2.11 Maintaining established beds
- 2.12 Preparing soil
- 2.13 Removing weeds
- 2.14 Laying lawn
- 2.15 Maintenance
- 2.16 Typical users
- 2.17 Cost
- 3 Rear tine vs front tine tiller comparison
- 4 Sources
What is the difference between a front and rear tine tiller?
Position of tines
The obvious difference between a front tine and rear tine tiller is the position of the tines. The tines on a front tine tiller sit exposed at the front with the wheels at the rear, whereas the tines on a rear tine tiller are found at the rear of the machine and covered to protect the users feet – resembling an old gas powered lawn mower.
The engine on a rear tine tiller is typically larger because it is designed for more heavy-duty work. The engine on a similar priced front tine tiller is less powerful and lighter, however because the engine is mounted directly above the tines it can use the weight of the tiller to push the tines directly into the soil.
Width and length
The small upright size of a front tine tiller makes it easier to store and transport compared to a larger heavier cumbersome rear tine tiller. The width of a front tine tiller is typically narrower, although this can be useful when tilling between rows of plants it will take longer to till large areas of soil compared to a rear tine tiller.
The forward rotating tines on a front tine tiller propel the entire unit forwards only using small solid wheels to stabilise the unit, whereas the direction of the tines on a rear tine tiller can move both forward and backwards. Some more expensive models have dual rotating tines and counter rotating tines which rotate in opposite directions for easier and faster soil churning along with gears for changing speeds and torque. On tillers with powered wheels where tines rotate in different directions the powered chunky inflatable tyres on the tiller will turn independently, rather than having the tines dragging the tiller in a forward direction.
Rear tine tillers are mainly suited for large areas of open garden but cannot reach into tight corners, they can struggle around obstacles without considerable exertion to leverage them in the right direction. The lighter weight of front tine tillers along with the location of the tines make them more capable in confined spaces, can easily be pushed into tight corners and guided around plants. Front tine electric tillers use lightweight electric motors making them lighter and more manoeuvrable, whilst front tine battery powered tillers are both light and avoid using power cables which can be prone to tangling around obstacles in the garden.
Good garden tillers should have adjustable depth tines allowing you can choose a shallow or deep depth to till, with tines on a rear tine tiller being capable of reaching a greater depth. The longer tines used on rear tine tiller coupled with a stronger, heavier engine mean they can dig deeper into the ground, this makes them better at the task of creating a fresh garden bed from scratch. The shorter tines used with front tine tiller will dig will turn shallower soil, meaning they are more suited for established beds where surface weeds need to be removed leaving the deeper roots untouched.
The manoeuvrability, power and width of a rear tine tiller makes it the best option for larger gardens with long stretches of soil in comparison to front tine tillers which are more suited to tilling small to medium sized gardens up to around 5000 square feet. Front tine tillers are capable of tilling larger gardens, but will take much longer, require more effort and potentially multiple passes. A rear tine tiller on small patches of garden and maintenance is overkill and might not actually be capable of fitting between rows of plants unless it has variable width tines.
No matter how powerful the tiller is it will be unable to break through lumps of rock, concrete or cement, therefore you should always remove any large rocks and other obstacles prior to use to prevent them turning into flying debris or stalling the engine. Rear tine tillers make light work of rockier soil however expect kickback from a front tine tiller when a blade encounters rocks hidden under the surface.
The more powerful engine on a rear tine tiller is perfect at breaking up tough ground thoroughly and quickly, however with enough preparation, time, effort and passes a front tine tiller is capable of breaking up packed and tough ground.
Creating new beds
Rear tine tillers are best suited for the creation of new beds due to the increased depth and power, front tine tillers can also create new beds however they will take longer and might not be capable of reaching the same depth.
Maintaining established beds
Turning soil, removing weeds, and mixing compost in between rows of plants is a job best suited for front tine tillers due to a narrower width, shorter tines and easier manoeuvrability unless you use a rear tine tiller with a variable ploughing width.
When used with a shallow setting both front and rear tine tillers are suitable to distribute compost, lime, fertilisers, and manure into the soil before planting to create a highly nutritious aerated bed.
Bunches of tall thick weeds could get caught in the tines of a tiller or inadvertently dispersing their seeds back into the soil. Therefore, a strimmer or lawn mower should be used to cull weeds back to the base before disposing of them. A rear tine tiller will make light work of clearing a large area with deep thick though weeds, however removing fresh weeds in established beds between rows of plants is more suited to a manoeuvrable thinner front tine tiller.
Both front and rear tine tillers can prepare an area ready for a lawn as long as they can dig up to 6 inches deep whilst mixing a recommended 2 inches of compost, fertiliser or mulch. Rear tine tillers will offer the advantage of being able to till larger areas faster due to their wider size, but for smaller lawns with awkward spaces a front tine tiller will be more suitable.
All tillers should be cleaned and inspected after every use, however the additional features and complexity of rear tine tillers mean they will typically require more care and attention to keep them maintained than front tine tillers.
Homeowners and gardeners getting started are more suited to front tine tillers where there only the occasional tasks to do, whereas landscapers, professional gardeners, farmers and community gardens are more likely to see benefit and value from a more powerful and faster rear tine tiller. Gardeners with mobility problems or lack of strength might struggle to wrestle with a rear tine tiller, but will find it easier to maneuverer a lightweight front tine tiller.
Typically, the cost of a front tine tiller is cheaper than a rear tine tiller with comparable power. The type of engine will also affect the price of a tiller, with a more powerful gas powered tiller being reflected with a higher price tag.
Rear tine vs front tine tiller comparison
|Front tine tiller||Rear tine tiller|
|Tine position||Tines exposed at front of tiller||Tines covered at rear of machine|
|Engine size||Small to medium engine||Large engine|
|Overall size||Smaller upright||Larger and longer|
|Typical width||Narrower, slower for large areas||Wider, faster for larger areas|
|Storage||Smaller storage requirements||Large, requires lots of space|
|Weight||Typically lightweight||Heavy workhorse|
|Direction of tines||Forward rotating tines||Forward rotating tines, dual rotating tines and counter rotating tines|
|Wheels||Small solid tyres||Powered large chunky inflatable tyres|
|Creating new beds||Slower, requiring multiple passes||Easy and deeper|
|Tough ground||Hard, requiring multiple passes||Easy and deeper|
|Handles in rocky soil||Unsuitable, jerks and bounces in gravel sized rocks||Yes, except large obstacles|
|Garden size||Suited to small and medium size||Any|
|Manoeuvrability||Ideal around obstacles and plant, in small spacers and tight corners||Long runs requiring strength and leverage to guide around obstacles, rear tines can’t reach into corners|
|Users||Home gardeners, homeowners and those getting started with establishing a garden||Gardeners, landscape gardeners, serious gardeners, farmers|
|Removing weeds||Small to medium sized weeds, suited for weeding in between established rows of plants||Lack of manoeuvrability makes it unsuitable around plants, strong engine and long tines suitable for tall thick patches of weeds and grasses|
|Engine maintenance||Easier, engines are typically less complex||More maintenance due to complexity|
- veggieharvest.com – Tilling can be Effectively used on Herb and Vegetable Gardens with Tremendous Success. Covers how to get started, and Main Types of Tillers. 19th July 2020.