Eugene is an avid gardener and has been passionate about growing things for over 40 years.
How Do I Take Up a Tree Stump?
It's pretty simple to dig up a stump, with just a little patience and perseverance! I've removed stumps of trees up to 9 inches diameter by hand. It's hard work, but bit by bit with some digging, cutting and levering, you'll loosen a stump's grip on the ground and get it out. This is a tiny stump I'm removing, but the same techniques can be used for larger stumps.
What Tools are Required?
You don't need all these tools, but a spade is pretty much essential to get at roots and then some one or a variety of tools for cutting them.
- Petrol hedge trimmer or hand shears for cutting adjacent bushes and ground cover from around base of tree
- Loppers for cutting thick branches
- Spade for digging soil from around the roots and cutting small roots
- Pick-axe optionally for breaking up hard, stony soil around roots, cutting roots and levering the stump up
- Axe for cutting roots
- Bow saw optionally for cutting roots
- Steel bar or scaffolding pole for levering
You can use either the axe, bow saw, spade or pick axe for cutting roots, whichever you find most convenient. I normally have them all to hand as I work.
What Are the Steps to Removing a Tree Stump?
- Clear the area of any adjacent bushes, briers etc so you've got room to work and manoeuvre the tree stump and trunk
- Remove top growth, but leave sufficient trunk at about shoulder height to act as leverage
- Using a spade, slice off the sod and any ivy or other ground cover
- Dig right around the trunk to expose the roots. If ground is hard and caked or stony, a pick-axe is useful for breaking it up
- Once you find a root, try to remove soil from below it. This will make it easier to use a bow saw for cutting
- Cut the root with a bow saw or alternatively an axe
- Look for the next root and cut
- At this stage, the root may have lost some grip. Rock it, using the leverage of the trunk to identify where it is held
- Continue to expose roots and cut them, rocking the trunk after each root is cut. This can snap roots on smaller stumps
Safety Precautions When Removing a Stump
- Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when operating hedge trimmers. Ear muffs, gloves and protective glasses. Safety footwear protects toes and soles of your feet from injury
- When using an axe, swing it downwards or perpendicular to your body so that if it misses or glances off wood, it won't strike you in the leg or ankles
- Safety glasses will protect your eyes from soil, stones or wood fragments thrown up into your face as you chop or lever and snap roots
1. Remove Surrounding Vegetation
You can use a petrol hedge trimmer, loppers or manual hedge shears to remove unwanted, surrounding vegetation. This gives you space to work in comfort while removing the stump. Cut any top growth of the tree but leave a section at about head height to act as leverage when rocking and twisting in an attempt to snap roots and pull up the stump.
2. Cut Away Ground Cover
Again, you can use a petrol hedge trimmers, shears or string trimmer (strimmer) to cut away ivy, grass or other ground cover.
3. Clear Roots of Ground Cover
Using a spade at an acute angle, slice off remaining top growth of ground cover such as ivy or grass. This makes it easier to dig away soil from the roots of the stump. A spade should always be razor sharp as it makes digging much easier. Checkout my guide to sharpening a spade with an angle grinder here:
Sharpening a Spade With an Angle Grinder
4. Start to Dig Soil From Around the Roots
Use the spade or a pick-axe if the ground is stony or caked hard. Leave the soil to one side in a pile. If you come across any stones or rocks, keep them because they're useful for drainage if you ever need to make a soak pit. Larger stones can be used in flower beds/rockeries or for making concrete.
5. Clear Soil From Under the First Root
Try to clear soil from around and under the roots as it makes it easier to cut all the way through with a saw.
6. Cut the First Root
Once you clear soil from around the first root, you can cut it with a bow saw. Alternatively use an axe. Wear safety glasses or close your eyes as you strike the root because soil or stones can fly upwards. Swing the axe downwards or at such an angle that it can't hit you in the ankles if you miss roots near the surface. A pick axe or mattock can also be used to cut/lever under roots to lessen their grip on the ground.
7. Uncover and Cut Another Root
Work your way around the stump uncovering roots. Try to cut one more.
8. Rock the Trunk
In the case of a small tree, once you cut two roots, it'll have lost some grip on the ground. Use the leverage of the trunk to rock it backwards and forwards. This may help to snap smaller roots.
9. Uncover, Cut and Lever
Continue to uncover, cut, rock and lever the stump. The idea is to reduce grip on the ground so that it can eventually be prised out. A spade can be used for gently prying, but the handle is easily broken. A pick-axe or mattock can also be used to cut side roots or lever under them so that they lose their grip on the ground. If a stump is large, there may be inaccessible roots heading steeply down into the ground. This is where a pick-axe/mattock is advantageous to cut roots and dig down under the stump and pry it upwards. A long steel bar e.g. scaffolding bar can also be used for levering the stump upwards. Use bricks or thick boards under the bar as a fulcrum or pivot point. Keep them as close to the stump as possible to maximise the lifting force.
Choosing a Bow Saw
A bow saw is ideal for cutting medium sized trunks (up to 6") and exposed underground roots. You can also use it for cutting logs for your open fire or stove. I recommend this Swedish brand Bahco saw with a comfortable plastic hand grip so your hand doesn't slip or tire when using the saw for extended periods.There are other models available also for cutting thicker logs.
How to Remove Large Tree Stumps
Don't attempt to cut flush to the ground with a chainsaw as you'll easily blunt or destroy the chain when it hits off stones and grit in the soil.
Method 1 - Burn it Out
- Drill about a dozen, 3/4" (20mm) holes in the stump using a flat wood bit and power drill. Make them as deep as possible
- Fill the holes with cooking oil
- Place lumps of barbecue charcoal on top of the holes or alternatively stuff rags into them and wait for a few minutes until they soak up oil
- Take precautions to ensure that a fire can't spread to nearby vegetation or other flammable material
- Light the charcoal and allow the fire to burn until all the oil has been used up
- Leave the stump overnight and repeat the process until the stump burns away
Method 2 - Use a stump grinder
Stump grinders are like large angle grinders on wheels and can be used to grind stumps to just below ground level. In general, the procedure is to cut the stump using a chainsaw to within about 4" (100mm) of the ground surface. The grinder is then positioned over the stump, powered up and the grinding blade is swung backwards and forwards over the stump so that it grinds away the top, slowly reducing it in size.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Eugene Brennan
Richard from Texas on April 02, 2020:
Very interesting. I have had some experience with taking out tree stumps and my biggest take-a-way from the experiences is.....a backache. Thanks for posting this
Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on September 09, 2018:
That's certainly another good option, although if there's lots of them, there'd be enough stools for a crowd :)
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on September 08, 2018:
Removing a stump always such a struggle.
Some times I'm content to just have a stool there:-)
Eugene Brennan (author) from Ireland on September 02, 2018:
Thanks Peggy! I really need to find some bigger trees to show the growth behavior of roots in the ground. Some damson trees in the garden might be good candidates.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 02, 2018:
You gave good directions regarding the removal of tree stumps that are not yet too large. We have rocked many shrubs and trees out of the ground in the same manner over the years.