Sun Joe Lithium-Ion 40-volt 12-inch Cordless Tiller + Cultivator: Product Review
If you have a small garden, this aggressive, easy-to-use cultivator might be what you’re looking for.
Available on Amazon
If you’re of my generation (which is old enough to have needed just one, thin dime to use something called a payphone), you might remember when battery-operated toys and tools took hours to charge and what seemed like moments to drain. But lithium-ion battery power and battery life have come a long way (for complete details, see our detailed FAQs on Lithium Ion batteries). Still, when I first opened the box holding the cordless Sun Joe Tiller + Cultivator, I smirked a bit.
Earlier in the year, I tested a variety of cultivators powered by powerful gas motors. I even tested a propane cultivator. What these machines lacked in size, they made up for in power. But how would this small, light-weight, cordless cultivator perform?
- Weight: 25 lbs.
- Starting system: Push button start
- Motor: 800-watt brushless
- Power source: 40-volt lithium ion battery (battery and battery charger included)
- Tine speed: 300 RPMs
- Max tilling width: 12” inch
- Max tilling depth: Adjustable up to 8”
- Transport: Rear wheels
- Warranty: 2-year limited warranty
When the compact (19” X 17.5” X 13.5”) cardboard box showed up at my front door, it’s size made me think it was the kitty litter box I have shipped to my home.
The unit arrived in good shape. I unpacked everything and laid it out on my driveway. The number of papers in the box had me concerned that I would be reading for a few days before using the unit. Flipping through them, though, I found that they were Operator’s Manuals in three different languages. I chose to read the one in English because it’s the only language I understand.
EASY TO SET UP
The battery, charger, and charging instructions were all intuitive. The charger plugs into a standard wall outlet. The battery then slides on the rails of the charger until it clicks.
When both the RED and GREEN light remain on, the battery is fully charged. My battery came with some charge, so topping it off to a full charge took only 30 minutes. Later when I used the unit until the battery drained, it took just under 2½ hours to fully charge.
NO TOOLS REQUIRED FOR ASSEMBLY
While the battery charged, I skimmed the Owner’s Manual and then jumped into putting the pieces together. Assembly intimidates me. I constantly fear that my Man Card is in jeopardy each time I have to tighten a bolt. Fortunately, Sun Joe made this an easy job, even for me. No tools were required, and everything I needed (bolts, knobs, washers, and cable clips) came in a little bag. I had the unit assembled in 12 minutes, so I flipped through the Operator’s Manual while waiting for the battery to finish charging.
When using any tool of this sort, avoid wearing loose clothing or anything that can become snagged by moving parts. Also, wear close-toed shoes and safety glasses.
SOOOOOO EASY TO USE
With gasoline-powered cultivators, you’ll have to add gasoline and oil—or a mixture of the two—before thinking about starting the unit. And starting them can require a small project plan of several sub-steps that include adjusting throttles, learning where to plant your feet when operating the pull start, avoiding flooding the motor, etc.
Not with the Sun Joe tiller/cultivator. To get started, open the battery compartment that sits on top of the unit.
Next, slide the battery in until it clicks.
Then press and hold the safety lock while pulling the trigger toward you. That’s it.
Oh, and as an added bonus, it’s very quiet. It purrs instead of roars, so there’s no need to wear earplugs when operating it. The fan in my last desktop computer made more noise when running.
HOW DID THE SUNJOE PERFORM?
To put the Sun Joe Tiller + Cultivator through its paces, I used it in two applications. First, I turned the soil in a couple of empty, post-harvest garden beds so I could plant some bulbs for next year. Second, I took the unit “off road” to till a patch of long, invasive weeds that I had killed off with weed killer weeks before.
TEST #1 – TURNING SOIL
Given the light weight of the Sun Joe Tiller, I expected the unit to bounce off the ground without really biting through the soil. Boy was I wrong! Even with the lightweight and tines churning at a relatively slow 300 RPMs, the Sun Joe Tiller made quick work of turning the soil completely. The tines are sharp. When I held the unit in one spot for a moment too long, it started to dig a trench. The unit maneuvered turns and corners with ease.
Unstable on Uneven Ground
Rolling across the ground, though, the Sun Joe proved less sure-footed. The wheels aren’t far enough apart to allow the unit to roll smoothly. Pulling the unit backward from place to place caused it to tip and roll over regularly. To be fair, my yard isn’t exactly a putting green, and most of the small cultivators I’ve tested had the same problem. As with other small cultivators I’ve tested, the Sun Joe tiller rolls best on the pavement.
About 60 Minutes of Battery Run Time
I continued using the cultivator in other beds until the tines began to slow and the whine of the motor grew faint. The battery held its charge for about 60 minutes of intermittent use.
With gas-powered units, I keep the engine running until my task is done because I’d rather put up with the fumes and noise than going through the effort to restart the engine. With the cordless Sun Joe Tiller, the unit stops when you release the trigger. Restarting it takes one second, simply pushing in the safety lock while depressing the trigger again.
TEST #2 – “OFF ROAD” WEEDING
Off-roading the cultivator in deep weeds is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. It’s just the wrong tool for the job, and I know that. Digging through weeds and red-clay like we have here in North Carolina is something best left to a much bigger tiller or small explosive devices. So I didn’t expect this test to last long. But I think it’s important to use a tool not only for its intended purpose but also to take it up a notch knowing that most consumers will do the same thing.
As I pushed the unit into the tall, dead weeds, I again saw evidence of the sharp tines. They left a clean path behind it where it chewed up the weeds. After about 10 feet, though, I saw that the tines were accumulating all of the debris instead of spitting it out. The tines began to slow, and I let go of the throttle to prevent stressing the motor.
Some other units I’ve tested have cotter pins securing the tines/blades to the axle. When the cotter pin holds the tines outside of the axle, cleaning out the unit is just a matter of popping out the pins, removing the tines, and clearing the jam.
Unfortunately, Sun Joe tiller uses bolts and nuts, and they are placed in the middle of the tines near the axle. What that means is that you have no easy way to clean out the debris except by hand. The 5 seconds of “off road” weed tilling took 15 minutes to clear.
SO IS THE Sun Joe Tiller + Cultivator RIGHT FOR YOU?
Here’s what I liked about it:
- It’s very light, maneuverable, and compact, making it ideal for anyone with a smaller garden or limited storage space (the fold-down handles are a plus!)
- It’s the quietest cordless tool I’ve seen…or, rather, heard, making it great for those living with neighbors nearby or with strict noise pollution standards
- It’s got sharp blades and enough ummph to turn hard soil into something your plants would be proud to grow in
- It’s easy to use. I mean EASY.
- It runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery (no fumes, no gas/oil spills, no remembering if it’s a 2-cycle engine requiring a pre-mix, no draining oil/gas at the end of each season, no gummed up motor come Spring…you get the idea)
- It’s “green”, meaning I can take care of my garden AND reduce my carbon footprint at the same time
- It’s damn cute. At first, I thought it looked more like a toy more than a serious tool, and pushing it around made me feel I had entered the Gulliver’s Travels of the garden kingdom. But I love the paradox … Even though it’s small in stature, it’s big on performance and fit well in my hands and in my garden.
Here’s what I didn’t care for:
- Not having removable, external cotter pins securing the tines/blades to the axle made clearing out debris a hassle; and
- Close-set wheels made the unit unstable and tippy when transporting.
Sun Joe offers a limited 2-year warranty covering defects and workmanship. If the product stops working, they will send you replacement parts free of charge, or replace the unit with the same or a comparable product, also at no charge.
About the Company
The Snow Joe company started in 2004 aiming to fill the much-needed void in the “green” (i.e., gasoline-free) outdoor tool niche. They launched with just one product, the electric snow shovel named, you guessed it, the Snow Joe which sold for less than $100. Since that time, Snow Joe has expanded their offerings to include multi-season electric garden tools under the moniker of Sun Joe, adding innovative items such as chainsaws, pressure washers, leaf blowers, weed whackers, and other tools to their product line.
Initially, I thought of the Sun Joe Cordless Tiller + Cultivator as a novelty item with the limited broad appeal. However, after testing it for a couple of weeks, I’m a huge fan…for all of the reasons I listed above. This will become my “go to” cultivator for my raised garden beds because it’s light and so easy to use. It makes me feel great that I can get my garden in shape without using gasoline or be polluting the environment.
Last update on 2019-01-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
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