Dirty Hand Tools 10” Mini Cultivator: Product Review
A powerful engine cuts deep but causes vibration.
Available on Amazon
Over the last few months, I’ve been fortunate enough to test three cultivators from different companies, including the Dirty Hand Tools Mini-Cultivator. If you’re curious about the difference between a tiller and a cultivator, here’s an easy way to think about it. A tiller is like a plow-horse, strong enough to roll through even the hardest earth. A cultivator is more like a pony, smaller and less powerful, and better suited for turning the soil in your garden, mixing in fertilizer, and weeding between planted rows.
As a cultivator, the Dirty Hand Tools Mini-Cultivator got the job done. The engine had more horse than pony, but not all parts showed that same strength.
|Engine:||43 cc, 2-cycle (single cylinder, air cooled)|
|Starting system:||Standard recoil pull-cord|
|Tines:||4-bladed, 4-tined, 9” forward-rotating and replaceable steel tines|
|Max tilling width:||10”|
|Max tilling depth:||5”|
|Warranty:||2-year/2-year limited warranty|
Packaging Looked LIKE IT GOT KICKED BY A MULE
The large cardboard box arrived in pristine condition, wearing quite a collection of stickers saying, “Fragile” and “Do Not Drop.” Once I opened up the outer box, I saw that the inner box looked like it had been kicked by a mule. Then I spotted the problem: no stickers.
I mention this because it’s all part of first impressions. But I was pleasantly surprised that the tool, while jostled, seemed no worse for the wear. Nothing seemed bent or broken.
ASSEMBLY SKILLS REQUIRED
Once I removed all of the parts from the box and laid them out across my entryway floor, I immediately wished I had taken a Shop class in high school. Fortunately, my father-in-law had been an automobile mechanic, and he was in town to help me.
You’re going to need a wrench (not included) to attach the wheels to the wheel assembly.
Next, slide the wheel assembly into the wheel connector slot, slip the cleavis pin through the wheel bar and connector slot, and then secure it with the cotter pin. The tooling around the holes was a tad off center, so I had to jiggle things a bit to get the cleavis pin in place.
At this point, I moved the unit outside so I wouldn’t scratch my wood floors. The unit comes with four 4-tined blades. I had no problem sliding the blades onto the blade axel (since they only fit one way) and attaching them with the included cotter pins. The pins were huge which I would find handy later. Next, I tightened the adjustable handlebars using the provided plastic knobs.
The manual wasn’t very clear about how to attach the throttle cable to the throttle handle. Through trial and error, I pulled the cable from the engine towards the throttle. Then I depressed the throttle (squeezing it) until I saw a hole that approximated the end of the cable. I stuck it inside, pulled it around the front ring of the throttle, and hand-tightened until it fit snugly.
2-Cycle Engine Requires 40:1 Gas To Oil Mix
The Dirty Hand Tools Mini-Cultivator’s power source is a 2-cycle engine. Unlike a 4-cycle engine that takes oil in the oil tank and gas in the gas tank, a 2-cycle engine means you must mix gas and oil together (40:1 gas to oil ratio) before adding it to the fuel tank.
Personally, I dislike pre-mixing gas and oil, because some 2-cycles take a 40:1 mix and others take a 50:1 mix. I have a shed full of pre-mixed gas cans, and it’s just a matter of time before I destroy an engine using the wrong mix. The oil is not included, so you’ll need to have some on hand.
Start Your Engine!
To start the unit, flip the unit to the ON position using the ON/OFF switch on the left handle. From where you’re standing behind the cultivator, the words on the switch appear upside-down. It’s a minor thing, but it’s hard to miss.
Move to the right side of the unit, and place your right foot on the right wheel. Slide the choke into the CLOSE position. Like the ON/OFF switch, the words CLOSE/OPEN appear upside down from where you are standing.
Pull the recoil-rope until the engine engages. Then immediately slide the choke to the OPEN position. Let it warm up for a minute before engaging the blades.
When it’s warmed up, it’s time to roll. Engage the blades by squeezing the throttle on the right handle.
PUTTING IT THROUGH THE PACES
Cultivators should easily turn soil, mix in fertilizer, and weed between rows.
Test #1: Turning soil
Dirty Hand Tools claims the cultivator blades reach 240RPMs. I have no reason to doubt it. The four, 4-tined blades churned the soil without hesitation, burying small weeds in the process.
The first thing I noticed was the power. At full throttle, I had to hold onto the cultivator like a rodeo rider on a bronco. It wanted to go!
The second thing I noticed was that the unit vibrated quite a bit. The price of power, I suppose.
Test #2: Mixing in compost
I added to my beds peat, mushroom compost, cow manure, and sand. In no time, the cultivator blended those materials into a single color, leaving the bed weed-free and airy.
I mentioned the vibration. Blending in the compost, I noticed that it was those vibrations that made it challenging to regulate how much I engaged the throttle. The continued bouncing made me hold on to the handle (and throttle) tightly, making the cultivator rev with enough power to bury my shoes in compost and fling material outside the garden bed. With less vibration or a variable speed throttle, I would have been able to be more deliberate about how much power I gave the unit.
Test #3 Bed weeding and “Off-road” weeding
A couple of the beds I cultivated hadn’t been weeded for a few years. These beds were full of volunteer Eastern Red Buds, tall weeds, and other undesirables growing in them. The strong engine never hesitated as it tore into the dirt, saplings, and weeds. The handles were high enough and spaced far enough apart that I could engage the throttle while slowly pulling the unit towards me. This added even more bite to the cut of the tines.
Problems With Vibration
Over time, the continued vibration loosened the knobs on the handles, and I had to tighten them several times over the course of an hour.
On three occasions, the plastic and rubber sparkplug connector popped off the sparkplug, stopping the unit instantly.
Using pliers, I pinched the rubber portion of the plug connector hard enough to crimp the internal metal ring that makes contact with the sparkplug. This tightened the connection between the ring and plug, and the connector stayed secure for the rest of the test.
That’s when I noticed that the unit wasn’t resting straight on its wheels, so I examined the wheel bar and the wheel connector.
During use, vibrations stretched the metal around the connector to the point where the unit no longer sat upright.
Due to the increasing gap between the connector and the wheel bar, the unit leaned forward and lower to the ground, making pulling/pushing the unit across the ground very challenging. I tried closing the gap on the connector slot with pliers. That didn’t help. Next, I removed the blades and used an Allen wrench to tighten the bolts around the connector. They were already tight. Nothing had come loose; the metal had just stretched.
How important is this connector bar? Very. The photos above show the bar in the transportation position. This is the direction you want the wheels in when you’re rolling it from one place to another. By turning that bar upside down, you get the wheels out of the way and use the stake end to control how deep the tines dig. That stretched metal slot means you cannot effectively roll the unit on the wheels or set the depth you wish to dig.
On a positive note, this problem gave me an opportunity to call Dirty Hand Tools customer service. More on that story in the WARRANTY section.
For the remainder of the test, I either carried the unit by its rounded front or tilted it backwards far enough that the wheels (and not the tines) touched the ground first.
I tried the unit on a patch of invasive, tall grass that sprung through the mulch I spread in the spring. I wondered how the cultivator would do in this environment.
The powerful engine and blades attacked the tall, tough grass with ease. But such success comes with a price: the blades bogged down and eventually stopped as the grass ensnared the tines.
Easy to Remove Blades
Remember when I mentioned that the HUGE cotter pins used to attach the blades on the outside of the axel would come in handy? Within a few minutes, I pulled out the pins, slid off the blades, removed the grass, and then replaced the blades. Kudos on this smart design which allowed me to clean out the tines and get back to work quickly.
WARRANTY & Customer Service
Dirty Hand Tools comes with 2-year warranty on workmanship and the engine.
After the problem I had with the bent connector slot, I contacted Dirty Hand Tools customer service for two reasons. One, I wanted to know if others reported this problem. The answer was NO. Two, I wanted to know if the part came under their warranty. YES was the answer. I got the replacement part in a few days. I like fast, friendly, human customer service representatives, and, as a bonus, they work right here in the USA.
Even were the replacement parts not covered (or replaceable), the fix is simple and inexpensive. The slot can be welded back to its original position, or a hole can be drilled through the end of the slot and a nut/bolt inserted and tightened until the metal returns to its pre-stretched position. Of course, not everyone has a welder or can drill through metal…
The Dirty Hand Tools 10” Mini-Cultivator has a lot going for it:
- A powerful (43cc, 2-cycle) engine that can tear through soil, fertilizer and weeds with ease;
- External cotter pins attaching the blades to the axle make cleaning out debris a snap;
- The ability to replace the blades should you need to;
- Adjustable handlebar height; and
- Easy to start, stop, and operate.
However, the cultivator also has a few problems you should know about:
- Assembly requires tools, patience, and some skills, and
- The powerful engine generates excessive vibration that in my test—
- Compromised maneuverability and control;
- Loosened knobs, throttle and ON/OFF switch screws;
- Popped off the sparkplug connector several times; and
- Bent the wheel connector to the point of rendering the wheels and till depth bar useless (although it was covered under warranty and the company quickly sent a replacement part).
Where To Buy
Now over to you – Do you have a favorite cultivator? Let us know in the comments below!
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