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Different Ways to Remove a Stump

... Stumps are eyesores and they can also be hazardous for machinery, livestock, or people.

Removing stumps is an age-old chore that has been tackled in various low-tech ways. Before settling on a method, we recommend evaluating the size of the problem you face. After all, if you only have a few stumps, you should at least consider doing it the way your ancestors did. So, let’s start by reviewing the old ways.

Old-Fashioned, Human-Powered Stump Removal

Excavating: No matter what method of stump removal you use, they will all involve at least some digging. Depending on how far you want to take the digging, you will need some of the following tools: a mattock or a pickaxe, an axe, a pointed shovel, a small handsaw, and a pair of gloves. You can completely remove a stump with these tools (though it will require a LOT of hard work) or you can just prepare for one of the other methods. At a minimum, you need to expose everything you want to remove.

... Manual stump removal (or preparation for another method) requires an assortment of digging and cutting tools.

Burning: Always check with local authorities for burning restrictions which may be permanent or temporary.

This may be the oldest method of stump removal. Start by checking local ordinances or this method may end with a visit from your fire department. If you pass that test, understand that you will not get an effective burn simply by tossing a match. Recommended steps:

  1. Excavate around the stump
  2. Drill wide holes (as wide as possible) into the stump to promote airflow (the more, the better)
  3. Soak with kerosene
  4. Surround the stump with a layer of kindling and firewood
  5. Burn and monitor; depending on stump size, this could take a full day, two days, or even more

Burning will leave a scorched clearing behind so it may not be appropriate for a very visible spot (like a front yard). Or, you may need a recovery period before reseeding.

... Expect burning to take a minimum of one full day.

Chemicals: You need plenty of time for this method. Drill wide holes as deep into the stump as you can (the more the better), then fill the holes with a high-nitrogen fertilizer and water. Thoroughly soak the area around the stump, cover with a tarp and wait. Check every week or two and keep the area as wet as possible. This method is basically accelerated rotting. At some point, the stump will become punky enough that you can pull out those digging tools and break it apart with relative ease. But the whole process could easily take a year...or even more. Like we said, you need plenty of time.

Using Tractors or Trucks

Tractors: Depending on what types of attachments you have, a tractor can be used for stumps removal. (While there are actual stump grinding attachments available, they may be impractical cost-wise if you’re not in the stump removal business.) A backhoe is great for the digging portion and you may be able to tear away sections of softer stumps with the teeth of a loader bucket or a ripping tooth. With its weight and excellent traction, a tractor may be able to pull a stump out once it has been excavated enough that you can get a chain securely around it.

... A ripper tooth on a backhoe can tear away softer stumps effectively.

Using a Truck: Let’s just say up front that the brute-force-by-pickup-truck approach is ill-advised. We mention it because some enthusiastic truck owners can’t seem to resist trying and it often doesn’t work out well for the truck. That said, if you’re pulling an older stump and/or you carefully prepare for this method (see Excavating above), it can save some time at the end of the job, if only to drag a stump away from the site.

Using a Stump Grinder

Preparation: As with any method of stump removal, you need to prepare for stump grinding by excavating around the stump. Sometimes this will expose hidden work—like a root system that you couldn’t see before digging. You should also take the opportunity to remove any rocks or other hard objects that could dull a grinder’s cutting teeth.

TIP: Stump grinding creates a lot of sawdust and woodchips. As that debris collects on and around the stump, it can become difficult to see what you’re doing. Keeping a battery-powered leaf blower handy allows you to clean up on the fly. It takes just 30 seconds or so to blow the area clean so you won’t even need to shut the engine down on the grinder.

... A battery-powered leaf blower is ideal for clearing away sawdust as you work.

Whether you use a machine-mounted grinder (tractor, skid steer, etc.) or a free-standing one, the job consists of moving the cutting head back and forth across the stump’s surface. On mounted grinders the action is usually hydraulically powered, whereas a free-standing stump grinder’s action is powered by the operator.

DR Stump Grinders are compact, free-standing machines that are easy to use. All models have a lockable disc brake on the left wheel and, with the wheel locked, it is easy for the operator to pivot the cutting head back and forth across the stump’s surface, using the locked wheel as a pivot point. This action will steadily shave away the stump, roughly one inch per pass (though that will vary with the stump).

... DR Stump Grinders take away about an inch with every sweep of the cutting head.

How Long Will It Take?

No matter what method of stump removal you employ, it is difficult to know ahead of time how long it will take. There are just too many variables, including:

  1. The DIAMETER of the stump.
  2. The DEPTH of the stump. You can minimize this by cutting it as close to the ground as possible, but once you excavate around it, you may discover more width (or roots spidering outward below the surface).
  3. How DEEP you want to grind is another factor. If you want to put in a garden, you will need to grind 6 inches or more below ground level.
  4. The HARDNESS of the stump. If you’ve split wood with an axe or maul, you know there are logs that pop open nicely with an easy swing, but there also stubborn ones that can take five-ten (or even more) swings. The same is true of stumps. If you have multiple stumps of the same type, doing one should give you a pretty good idea of how fast things will proceed.
  5. Finally, the AGE of the stump can be a key factor. Freshly cut stumps that still have plenty of moisture will take longer than those that are dried out or partially rotted.

As you can see, there are plenty of stump removal techniques to choose from. The more stumps you have to remove, the more likely you are to gravitate to a stump grinder. But, of course, the choice is yours!

Last updated: 7/7/2022


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