How to Clear Tree Stumps

About: The official instructable for Popular Mechanics magazine, reporting on the DIY world since 1902.

When you hire a tree service or landscaping company to cut down trees on your property, the contract price seldom includes removing the stumps. That unenviable task is typically left to the homeowner. But have you ever tried to dig out a tree stump? I have, once. Worked at it for an entire day using an ax, shovel, hoe, pick and chain saw. Ended up with a hole about the size of a Buick, and still couldn’t get the stump out.

I’ve since discovered that there are only two viable options for quickly removing tree stumps: Pay a landscaper to do it or rent a stump grinder and do it yourself. Landscapers charge according to the size of the stump. Expect to pay between $90 and $150 to have a 24-in.-dia. stump removed. You can rent a gas-powered stump grinder for about $100 to $190 per day, depending on the size of the machine. Therefore, if you only have to remove a stump or two, you’d be better off hiring a pro.

However, if you have more than two stumps or plan to share the rental expense with a neighbor, renting is definitely the more economical way to go. Make certain the rental dealer explains the controls and shows you how to safely operate the machine. Never use a stump grinder without wearing eye and hearing protection. Note that you’ll need a vehicle with a trailer hitch to tow the machine, which weighs about 1000 pounds. If that’s not possible, most rental dealers will deliver it to your home for an additional fee. To remove the 30-in.-dia. red maple stump shown here, we used a Vermeer Model SC252 stump grinder, the same size machine found at most rental dealers. It has a powerful 25-hp engine and 16-in.-dia. cutting wheel that’s studded with 16 forged-steel teeth. This is a loud, powerful machine with a sophisticated hydraulic system, but it’s surprisingly simple to operate.

This project was originally published in the June 2002 issue of Popular Mechanics. You can find more great projects at Popular Mechanics DIY Central.

Step 1: Clearing the Stumps

Start by using a shovel or garden mattock to remove any rocks from around the base of the stump
(Photo 1). This is important because rocks can dull or damage the teeth on the cutting wheel. Next, use a chain saw to carefully trim the stump close to the ground (Photo 2). You could skip this and start right in with the grinder, but this extra step speeds up the job.

Use the hydraulic lever to raise the grinder wheel a few inches above the stump. Drive the machine forward to position the wheel directly over the stump’s front edge. Start the wheel spinning and slowly lower it about 3 in. into the stump. Use the hydraulic lever to slowly swing the wheel from side to side to clear out the wood. After you’ve dug down at least 4 in., raise the wheel, advance the machine a few inches, and repeat the process. While operating the machine, always stand at the control panel (Photo 3), which is located near the rear of the machine and well away from the cutting wheel.

Little by little, continue to grind your way through to the other side of the stump. Stop and check to make sure that the freshly dug hole is at least 4 in. below the ground. Rake up all the wood chips and fill the crater with screened topsoil (Photo 4). Tamp down and lightly rake the soil. Spread out an even layer of grass seed (Photo 5), and then rake the seeds into the soil. Water the area and cover the seeds with a thic



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    3 Discussions


    4 years ago

    The other day I realized that my tree's have grown. The branches have been growing out of control from the tree. I have been looking into finding a trimming company to come into my home. I really want my tree's to be pruned and I am able to see out of my backyard again.

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    4 years ago

    The long winded plea for trunk stump removal was mine. The uploaded photos came across the intertubes as sideways... So here are the reissued photos turned 270 degrees so they appear correctly. I'm not sure how it works -- again, 1000 apologies & thank yous to PM for letting me leach off of your page w/my problem -- but I assume my user info will be present to use in response with possible solutions... Thank you


    4 years ago

    That's a great job. I have a similarly daunting task ahead of me. Please excuse my plea for help on your Comment platform, but perhaps you'll have the answer... Any ideas on how to remove, grind, destroy or otherwise get rid of a huge -- probably 3-4' diameter at slimmest part & up to 8-12' diameter where the stump roots are exposed -- rotted out tree that fell in my backyard? It can't be burned where it is because of it's very close proximity to my shitastic garage and the neighbor's craptastic outbuildings so that most obvious answer is not an option. I paid an ex-com & his bumbling band of bozos (long story...& no, I'm not a con, myself) to chainsaw the bulk of the tree into "moveable" sections. Apparently, we have different concepts of "moveable..." So, now the 60' or so of tree makes up an extremely large pile that my wife and I refer to as our "wildlife preserve," because it serves as an urban habitat for several species of local critter, all pretty much harmless. However, I'd like to get a dog again and this massive trunk-stump that remains on it's side is in the way of putting up a fence. Building the fence around the pile is an option -- one where we lose 1250 sqft (guestimate) of our backyard to tree -- but I'd rather see if any of the uber industrious folks on/in the instructables community has some DIY way of removing at least the trunk-stump. So, in the nature of this particular instructable, but without the intention of bogarting the awesomeness of its accomplishments, I sincerely & respectfully ask this amazing community for help! Thank you! PS I'm no longer able to do major lifting or physically demanding work due to poor muscular-skeletal health (& it pisses me off everyday!). A solution of wits, brain strength, levers & pulleys and such is probably going to be necessary. Also access to the area is limited to about the width of a car or almost 6' or so. Heavy self-mobile machinery is probably out of the question. Thanks!