A chisel plow is a farming tool used for deep tillage. It consists of multiple, sturdy shanks that can be fitted with different types of tillage tools such as narrow, double-ended shovels or chisel points.
These shovel-like tools are mounted on the long shanks that in turn are attached to a heavy frame. As the chisel plow is pulled through the soil, the shovels rip and stir the soil without inverting it.
Chisel plows are designed to loosen and aerate the soil while leaving most crop residue at the surface.
They disrupt hardpan and break up soil compaction to create a rough seedbed for the next planting.
However, they do not pulverize the soil as much as other tillage tools like disk harrows and moldboard plows do.
A Brief History of the Chisel Plow
The chisel plow was first developed in the 1930s as a way to deep till soil while leaving crop residue on the surface.
This was an improvement over moldboard plows that completely inverted and buried residue.
The chisel plow’s design allowed farmers to gain the benefits of deep soil disruption for planting while retaining surface crop residue.
Over the decades, many variations of the chisel plow have been introduced. Early versions had just a single shank, while modern chisel plows often have as many as 25 shanks.
Early chisel points were often spear-pointed, while newer ones are more parabolic or sweep-shaped.
Manufacturers have also created various configurations for shank spacing, frame size, and shovels.
Despite changes in design, the chisel plow is still valued for its ability to deeply till soil, alleviate compaction, and prepare a seedbed – all while minimizing surface residue burial.
How Does a Chisel Plow Work?
The chisel plow is designed to loosen and aerate soil down to depths of 8 to 12 inches or more. The long, heavy shanks on which the chisel points or shovels are mounted help generate downforce.
As the implement is pulled through the field, the chisel points dig and rip through the soil at an angle.
This action creates cracks and fissures in compacted layers without lifting and turning the soil. Soil and organic matter are mixed and moved aside but surface residue usually remains in place.
The chisel plow leaves a rough, uneven surface with large clumps of soil broken up. This rougher surface helps prevent erosion.
The level of soil loosening versus plant residue burial depends on several factors:
- Number and configuration of shanks/tools
- Weight of the implement
- Depth of operation
- Tractor speed
- Soil conditions (moisture content, texture, etc.)
Chisel Plow vs. Other Plow Types
The chisel plow differs from traditional moldboard plows in several key ways:
- Moldboard plows completely invert the top layer of soil and bury all surface residue. Chisel plows disrupt and mix soil but do not overturn it. (Related Article: Which is Better for Farming: Chisel Plow or Moldboard Plow)
- Moldboard plows create fine seedbeds. Chisel plows leave rougher, ridged seedbeds.
- Chisel plowing requires less power and energy than moldboard plowing.
- Moldboard plowing leaves no protective surface residue. Chisel plows leave 50% or more residue cover.
Chisel plows are also used for deeper primary tillage than field cultivators. (Related Article: Chisel Plow vs Cultivator: Understanding the Differences)
Cultivators normally till just the top few inches while chisel plows disrupt soil to 8 inches or deeper.
However, like a field cultivator, the chisel plow prepares the seedbed for planting.
The subsoiler is the only implement that rivals the chisel plow for deep tillage. But subsoilers have fewer shanks and cannot cover as much surface area.
[Related Post: 5 Types Of Plows For Farming]
Benefits of Using a Chisel Plow
There are many benefits that make chisel plows a useful and popular tillage tool:
- Deep tillage helps break up plow pans and alleviate soil compaction that restricts root growth.
- The rough, ridged seedbed left by chisel plows aids in water absorption and retention.
- Large amounts of crop residue are left on the soil surface to reduce erosion and moisture loss.
- Lower power requirements compared to other deep tillage tools.
- Leaves soils less pulverized and susceptible to erosion than excessive tillage.
- Fewer passes required compared to field cultivators.
- Can help incorporate fertilizers, manure, lime, and other amendments into soil.
Chisel plowing remains an effective primary tillage method, especially for farmers using conservation practices.
The chisel plow will likely continue being a foundational farm implement for deep tillage needs into the foreseeable future.