Mantis Tillers are great little workhorses for the yard and garden
I’ve had a 2-stroke Mantis tiller since 2005, and I want to share my experience with Mantis tillers with you here. If it wasn’t for my Mantis, I wouldn’t have anywhere near the number of garden beds I now do. I use it mostly for eating through the rough grass and hard sandy crust that serves for the top layer of my yard to make new beds, and combining rough organic matter into the new beds. Occasionally I will use it on an existing bed where the tree roots from my next door neighbor have sneaked up into the rich soil of the growing bed: it chews up the roots and makes for a deep, loose soil again – for a while!
It’s a cute little thing. When my now-husband first visited, and I showed off the Mantis, he looked down his nose at it thinking it was just a toy. But once I showed him it working – my goodness, I could hardly get a turn! He wants to do all the tilling!
In this post I’ll show you the different models of Mantis tillers (there are now four different choices), talk about how to use your tiller, especially for breaking ground (I don’t agree with how Mantis tells you to do it!), and take a run through the various attachments and Mantis tiller parts available.
Mantis Tillers: Models Available
There are now four models of Mantis tillers:
- The original with a 2-stroke (2-cycle) engine which runs on gasoline with added oil (more about that later)
- a 4-stroke (4-cycle) model which runs on plain gasoline
- an electric model
- a double-wide “Mantis XP” model which has a larger 4-cycle Honda gasoline engine.
In the next few sections we’ll take a detailed look at each of the models.
Mantis 2-Cycle Gas Tiller
This is the model of tiller that I own, although it has been improved since I bought mine in 2005 and now is quieter and makes fewer emissions. Still the same little workhorse, though. The sales blurbs from the manufacturer tell you all about how powerful it is, and about the “patented serpentine tines”, and how light it is and how easy to move around. All of that is true: it weighs about 20 lb and can be lifted with one hand easily (though it’s more stable with another hand!). If all you are doing is weeding in cultivated ground it’s very easy to control, too.
However, it does have its little quirks. If it hits a rock it will do one of 2 things: if the rock is under about 2″ across, the tiller will kick it out backwards, towards your legs and feet. This is a very good reason for wearing sturdy pants and solid boots. Smaller rocks and stones sometimes get kicked upwards and although I have never had one hit me in the head, I always wear eye protection just in case. If the rock is large, the Mantis will jump – if you’re tilling fast and deep and it hits a really big, solid rock it can jump a foot in the air, and usually wants to go sideways as well. You have to keep a firm grip on both handles, and a solid stance on your feet all the time to keep it under control.
I have used mine a lot to break ground and make new beds in our sandy, rocky, rough-grass “lawn” area and it does a great job but is fairly slow. You really have to take your time to get the soil properly broken up. Others have reported that it it doesn’t work well for breaking ground in heavy clay soil.
Long grass, stringy weeds, twine etc will wrap themselves round the axles between the tines and the tiller and eventually bring the whole shebang to a halt. Mantis sells a “tine detangler” – basically a strong piece of bent wire – for some inflated price, but in my experience the best way to untangle is to pop out the axle pin, pull the tines off, and pull off the weed ball in a lump. Easy to do, just pay attention to where you put the pin and don’t lose it! (The “handy item kit” comes with spare pins). Rocks of exactly the right size will also jam between the tines, and they can get quite tightly stuck, needing a bit of leverage to get them out.
My biggest beef with the company propaganda is that they say to till backwards. Since the tiller throws the dirt backwards, this has never worked for me – I ended up trying to haul the tiller up a hill of its own spat-out dirt all the time. I suppose it might work OK if you are just weeding the top few inches of the soil, but if you are going deep, forwards is better.
Do remember to empty out the fuel and service the little beast properly before you put it away for the off season. I killed a carburetor by not doing so. I also had to replace the gearbox after 5 years, which was expensive, but we have given the machine very hard use.
Mantis 4-cycle gas tiller
The older style of 2-cycle engine tiller is a little noisy, and it puts out more emissions than a 4-cycle engine would, and you have to mix the gas and oil, which some folks don’t want to do. So Mantis responded to their customers’ requests and introduced a 4-cycle (4-stroke) – engine tiller. The engine on this tiller is a good quality Honda and as a 4-stroke it is normally easier to start than a 2-stroke. However, the tiller as a whole is about 4lb heavier, at 24 lb. This is still easy to move around and work with.
Apart from the different engine this is basically the same tiller: same sharp “serpentine” shaped tines which slice through anything short of rocks, same 10″ tilling depth (when you start comparing tillers you’ll realize that this is DEEP – and they are not hyping the machine, it really does go that deep if you stop in one place and let it dig) and same narrow width that allows you to get in between rows and into tight corners. It also takes all the same useful attachments as the 2-cycle tiller, except for the single- and double-edged trimmer bars.
This is the Mantis tiller model for you if you prefer not to be messing around mixing oil into gas (and then wondering what to do with the half-can you didn’t use at the end of the season) and want an easier-to-start engine.
Safety Gear to use when Tilling with your Mantis
Tillers are noisy, they have sharp fast-moving blades, and they throw stuff about. You absolutely should invest in good safety gear at the same time you buy your tiller if you don’t already have suitable equipment. Ear protection, eye protection, good boots, and gloves which will absorb vibration are all on the list.
Mantis 3-speed Electric Tiller/Cultivator
So even a 4-stroke engine isn’t easy or clean enough for you, eh? I sympathize: if this electric version of the Mantis had been available when I bought mine I think I would have tried it out first. Starts at the flick of a switch, no messy fuel or oil, no fumes or pollution, less noise.
The big downside is that you’re dragging a power cord after you, which may be a limitation for some – if your garden is more than 100′ or so from a power socket you are going to be out of luck. And if you are the kind of person who mows over the cord with an electric lawnmower, or gets the cord all tangled on an electric weed whacker, then maybe this is not such a good idea!
(Update: Mantis now makes a CORDLESS electric tiller, which of course completely does away with the cord problem. The downside is that the tiller is heavier because of the battery).
The 540W motor is equivalent to 3/4 hp, so on paper it’s a little less powerful than the 21cc (0.9 hp) 2-stroke engine. However, the company claims that it will still till through sod and make new beds, just like its gas-powered brothers. Amazon reviews are mixed on the subject. Some warn that you should only use the tiller for short periods, not continuously, and allow it to cool off between uses.
Mantis XP-16 tiller
The Mantis company took their 4-cycle tiller, upped the engine size, added two extra sets of times to it, and created the Mantis XP 16″ model – which tills 16″ wide instead of only 9″. With this model you lose the very light weight (it weighs 34lb instead of 20) and the narrow width for getting in tight spaces, but you gain speed and convenience when tilling larger areas. This is great if you need to till a whole existing garden area which already has reasonably good soil: you’ll be finished in half the time as the tiller is almost twice as wide. You can also remove the outer tine sets to till a narrow width, but of course the top cover will still be wide.
Given my experience with the gearbox wearing out on our narrow Mantis, I would be worried about the amount of side-force exerted on the gearbox in this model with the longer axles. The XP is only available directly from Mantis