There are many advantages to using electric tools on a home garden or farm—but not many available electric tools to match. Here’s a project showing how to convert your own gasoline-powered tools to run on clean, quiet electric power.
Electric tools don’t need tune-ups, they need less lubrication, and they take less time to start, run, and put away for the season. And pollutants? Most small gasoline engines have little or no emissions controls, and contribute a large amount of pollutants to the surroundings—including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and harmful particulates which can end up in the soil—and our lungs.
The noise coming from an electric motor is insignificant compared to a gasoline motor with a typical muffler. At maximum power, a 1 hp AC motor is whisper-quiet at about 40 to 50 decibels. A 5 hp four-stroke gasoline engine with a stock muffler is about 80 decibels—loud enough to require ear protection, wake the neighbors, and scare off all the birds and wildlife. In a suburban environment, this becomes very important, especially if you’re the type of gardener who likes to start working early on a weekend morning, rather than having another cup of coffee while you wait for the neighbors to wake up.
As we saw in the “Electric Gardener” (HP148), there is a growing selection of heavy-duty electric farm and garden products on the market—but in many cases they’re expensive and hard to find. There are, however, many used, nonfunctioning, or broken tools on the secondhand market, some with engines that are ready to be replaced.
This project swaps out a small gasoline engine with a 120 VAC power-tool motor to make a corded AC tiller for use close to the house or barn. Look for a donor tiller that is robust and capable. We’ll be using the converted tiller to open up new garden patches, turn the compost pile, and for occasional cultivating throughout the season.
Searching through online classified sources can yield a selection of out-of-commission tillers. Because they are typically used fairly heavily—but briefly—once or twice a year, then put away with relatively little “mothballing,” they often fall prey to maintenance-related failures. If they’re showing some age, it often seems easier to give them away or sell them rather than repairing them. You can find out-of-service tillers for $100 or less.
We were able to find a true classic: a 1960s vintage MacKissic Suburban Merry Tiller in running condition. Because this little tiller is almost legendary, we thought it was worth the premium $100 price tag. Plus, we’ll be able to sell the working Briggs & Stratton 5 hp motor for a good price (if I can keep my teenager from putting it on a go-kart).
There’s a throttle control on the handle, along with a spring-loaded clutch lever that operates a tensioning pulley to engage the belt drive. Converting the tiller to run on electricity is a matter of unbolting the gasoline engine, removing the throttle cable, and mounting the electric motor in place with an appropriate safety switch.