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4 Ways to Remove a Tree Stump (Without a Grinder)

4 Ways to Remove a Tree Stump (Without a Grinder)

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Removing tree stumps can be done in several ways that do not require the use of a stump grinder. The tree stump grinder method is time-consuming, noisy, and fraught with risks of injury.

The best methods for removing medium and large tree stumps are by employing one of the following methods or a combination of these methods:

  • Pulling the stump over and out by mechanical force
  • Burning the stump and major roots
  • Biological breakdown of the stump and roots
  • Digging out by hand

These methods all vary in duration and effort. If you have the luxury of time, you should cut down the tree and leave the stump to dry out well before burning it. If you are impatient to get the green tree stump removed, you will have to consider digging or pulling the stump out of the soil.

Let’s look at each method in detail and select the method for your situation.

1 – Using Mechanical Principles to Remove Tree Stumps

The easiest method to remove green or dry stumps from the soil is using the Spare Wheel Method.

This method requires using the spare wheel on your truck, the front tow eye on the truck, and a ratchet strap. Tie the loose end of the ratchet strap around the base of the tree stump.

Wrap the strap around the base of the trunk several times so that the broad surface of the strap will have a large contact surface to the trunk.

Once secured to the trunk, pass the strap over the top of the spare wheel of your truck. Place the wheel to align with the tie strap and act as a fulcrum.

Tie the other end of the tie strap securely to the front tow eye on your truck and back the truck up so that the strap is pulled tight. Gently reverse the truck so that the tie strap pulling up and over the fulcrum of the spare wheel will apply a vertical force to the trunk and pull it out of the soil.

This method can be employed for small to medium-sized tree stumps. A long chain can be used for larger trees instead of a tie strap.

Wrap the chain around the stump several times to give the chain more surface to grip onto the stump. It is best to use the front tow eye on your truck so that you can see the progress of pulling out the stump.

A taller wheel works best as it gives you the most vertical upwards force. The angle of the tie strap or the log chain should be down towards the tow eye on the truck.

It also helps to soak the area around the tree trunk the night before and allow the soil around the tree to be soft and yielding.

This method will provide you with a fast and effective method for easy removing green or dry stumps. You do not require any power tools or fire risk to get rid of the stump.

Care should be taken in selecting a log chain that will be strong enough to do the job and not snap due to the tension.

2 – How to Remove a Stump By Burning It

If you have the time to allow the tree stumps to dry out, this method is very easy but requires constant supervision to prevent the risk of the fire from spreading and causing unintended damage. Cut the tree stump leaving at least two to three feet of the stump sticking out.

To facilitate the drying process, drill a large diameter hole down the center of the tree stump as deep as your drill allows. Ideally, you would want to drill down two and a half feet down the center of the stump. This is easiest when the stump is still green.

Now drill holes from the tree stump side as close to the bottom of the stump it meets up with the hole down the center.

Pour a stump killer herbicide like Triclophyr into the holes that you have drilled into the stump. To further facilitate the drying out and decomposition of the stump, you can cut a chessboard grid pattern into the top of the stump. Leave the stump to dry out and partially decompose along the channels drilled into the stump.

Once the stump has dried out and the holes drilled into it have partially decomposed to enlarge them, pour some kerosene into the center hole and place kindling on top of the stump.

Ensure that the holes drilled from the sides of the stump are open to the center hole. Light the kerosene and ensure that you have sufficient sand or other means available to tamp down any grass or scrubs nearby catching fire.

Air will be sucked in from the holes on the side of the trunk and feed the fire burning in the central hole and on top of the tree stump. Keep the side holes open to feed the fire with air and add dry wood on top of the stump to draw the fire upwards. You can gently blow air into the side holes with a battery-powered leaf blower or shop vac.

The drier the stump is before setting it alight, the quicker this method will burn up the stump and some of the major roots. If the stump is cut too short, the draft up the central “chimney” hole will be weak. Leave the stump at least three feet tall to generate a good draft up the “chimney” hole of the stump.

Do not leave the burning stump unattended overnight. If you have to smother the fire overnight, do so using slightly damp sand or soil that will not blow off during the night. You can also place a 44-gallon drum open on both ends over the stump and place a heavy lid on top of the drum.

Once most of the stump and roots have been burned to ash, allow the area to cool down before removing any side roots that may remain in the soil. Water the area where the stump was removed well and prepare the soil to regenerate.

3 – How to Remove a Stump By Decomposition

Biological decomposition is a natural process in which the plant matter is broken down and fed back into the soil as nutrients for other plant life. It can take several years to completely decompose a large tree stump, but it is the most natural and least risky process.

Once the tree has been felled and removed from the garden and only the tree stump is left behind, we can start an accelerated process to decompose the remaining stump and root system. Ask the arborist that cut down the tree for you to cut the stump as low to the ground as possible and to cut a grid pattern into the surface of the stump.

Add Stump-Out Granules that contain sodium meta-bisulfite or similar decomposition chemicals such as potassium nitrate to the visible surface of the stump. These chemicals will accelerate the natural decomposition process of the tree and a not harmful to surrounding vegetation.

This method of stump removal requires more time, but it is the method that presents the lowest risk of fire or injury. As a local arborist, to advise you what the best chemical decomposition accelerant would be for the specific type of tree you are trying to remove.

4 – Digging Out the Stump and Roots By Hand

Removing stumps by manually digging around the roots and loosening the soil around the root system has been the most widely used method for centuries. Even when using the fire method or accelerated decomposition method, you may still have to employ some manual labor to remove an extensive root system.

If we try to mimic nature to help us fall trees and remove the entire root system, we have to look at the conditions that prevail when trees are blown over in severe wind storms. The three contributing factors are highly saturated soil, compromised root system, and the lever force of the wind on the tree.

To manually remove a tree stump from the soil, we must create all these conditions to get the job done as fast as possible. Trees have shallow root systems that spread out close to the soil’s surface to take up moisture and nutrients. Using a pick-ax and shovel, dig down around the tree’s base to expose the roots.

Dig the roots clear of the soil in to allow you to cut them with a bow saw or chainsaw. Expose as many of the major roots near the soil’s surface as possible and cut them off with a saw. Drive some steel fence posts into the soil and connect them to a Come-along ratchet strap.

Tie the end of the ratchet strap around the top of the tree stump and pull the stump to lean over towards the planted fence posts. Use an ax or bow saw to cut any roots that can still be seen holding the stump anchored to the soil. Keep digging around the stump’s base as it is pulled over to expose any other roots still anchoring it to the soil.

It is good to dampen the soil around the tree stump for some days before the stump removal to soften the soil and make it easier to dig up. Don’t create a muddy pit around the tree stump. This will only make the task more difficult as the underfoot conditions will be slippery.

Dampen the soil enough to soften it but not create a mud hole. You can also employ other mechanical methods to help pull the last of the stubborn roots loose from the soil and drag the stump out. The Spare Wheel Method works well if used in conjunction with some digging and cutting of large roots.

Using Tree Grinders to Remove Tree Stumps

Tree grinders can be rented from tool rental companies to grind down the stumps and remaining roots, but these powerful tools are not intended for use by novices. Stump grinders are very dangerous to use. They are similar to chain saws and contribute to serious injuries even in the hands of experienced operators.

If you have a tree that needs to be removed, there are many factors to consider to avoid injury and damage to property. It is well worth the money to use a professional for taking care of trees and removing the stumps. They will choose a removal strategy that will most safely and conveniently eliminate the tree and the stump.

An experienced arborist will mitigate the risk of damage to your house or other structures. You can also discuss your preferred method of stump removal with the arborist and choose one that you are comfortable with. Avoiding the noise of a stump grinder running for six hours will be well worth it.

Find a method that you feel most comfortable with and that will get the job done within a timeframe that is acceptable to you. If you are in a hurry to get the job done make use of a professional contractor.

Final Thoughts

Trees can pose a danger to property and people when they have become too big and when seasonal storms threaten to blow them over. The safe and efficient removal of old trees must form part of your long-term planning for your garden or farm. Cutting down the trees is the easiest part.

Removing the stumps requires a long time to decompose or requires some mechanical methods of removal naturally. If the storms can blow them over, then we must pull them over and out of the soil.

Methods such as stump burning or mechanical removal require some expertise, and add the risk of fire and injury. The Spare Wheel Method is relatively easy and safe to use on small and medium-size tree stumps. Still, the accelerated decomposition method will work best for larger trees with more extensive root systems.


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