Stump Removal Tips & Techniques

stump removal chemical
stump removal pretoria

stump removal pretoria

Although cutting down a tree may seem like a major project, it’s actually straightforward when compared with removing a stump. Stump removal is a lot more involved, which is why it’s not usually included in the cost of tree removal. It’s also why many people have old stumps in their yards. Stump removal isn’t easy, but it is doable. You’ll get the job done more quickly and easily when you use the right techniques and methods, and there are a handful of viable options available.

Reasons to Remove a Stump

After going through the trouble to have a tree removed, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to leave the stump sitting there. A few of the top reasons to remove stumps from your yard include:

  • They are Eyesores – No one likes gazing out into the yard and seeing old stumps dotting the landscape. They look even worse when weeds and other plants start growing on them, which inevitably happens over time.
  • They Take Up Valuable Space – Most people want the widest, clearest yards possible, and stumps really get in the way.
  • They are Hazardous – Some stumps are obvious, but others get camouflaged by grass, weeds and other plants and become tripping hazards. Nothing is worse than stubbing your toe on an old tree stump.

Assessing a Tree Stump

assessing a tree stumpSome stumps are easier to remove than others and therefore different techniques can be applied. Being prepared ahead of time and knowing which techniques and methods to use for which type of job will make things much easier for you in the long run. For example, pine tree stumps tend to be easier to remove than stumps from deciduous trees. The roots of pine trees tend to be wide, flat and relatively shallow while deciduous tree stumps’ roots tend to be long and deep.

What makes a stump easier to remove? Generally, the age and size of the tree are the best indicators of stump removal difficulty. Simply put, the older a stump is, the easier it is to remove. Likewise, small stumps are also easier to remove than large ones. Another good thing to keep in mind before choosing a stump removal method is to consider the total number of stumps that need to be removed. Do you really want to remove 100 stumps by hand? Or even 3? This guide will help you decide which stump removal techniques and methods are appropriate for you.

Removing a Stump by Grinding it Away Yourself

Stump GrindingIf removing a stump manually won’t work and you’d like to get rid of your stump (or stumps) quickly, you can always rent a grinder and grind the stump away yourself. These heavy-duty machines weigh around 200kg, and you can expect to pay between R1 500 and R3 500 to rent one for a single day (see our guide to Stump Grinding Prices & Costs) . Therefore, it only makes financial sense to do the job yourself when there are several stumps to remove.

In addition to the grinder, you will need a shovel, a mattock, a chainsaw and a rake.

  1. Use a shovel or mattock to clear rocks away from around the stump.
  2. Cut away as much of the stump as possible with a chainsaw. Try to get it as level to the ground as possible.
  3. Using the hydraulic lever, raise the grinder wheel a couple of inches above the stump. After turning it on, lower it about 3 inches into the stump. Move it side to side with the lever.
  4. After grinding down to about 4 inches with the grinder wheel, move it forward. Repeat the process until the entire stump is at least 4 inches below ground.

Keep in mind that a stump grinder is a dangerous piece of equipment and that you should always wear protective gear. Be especially diligent about wearing protective goggles or glasses because wood chips and other debris will fly everywhere. If you’ve never used a stump grinder before, it’s also a good idea to have someone at the rental place teach you how to use the machine before bringing it home or having it delivered.

If you only have one or two stumps, a professional company will probably only charge around R1 500 and R3 500, so that might be the way to go under those circumstances. As an added bonus, many companies will haul away the stump too.

DIY Method #1: How to Remove a Stump by Hand

People who set out to remove stumps by hand often go about it the wrong way. To do this successfully, it helps to be dealing with a relatively small tree stump. If it’s from an older or diseased tree, that helps a lot too.

To remove a stump yourself, it’s essential to have the right tools. You’ll need a chainsaw or limbing saw, a pick mattock, a shovel, a digging bar, an ax, a four-wheel-drive truck and some chain.

Follow these steps to remove a stump manually:


  1. Use a chainsaw or limbing saw to remove any lower branches from the trunk.
  2. Remove the top portion of the trunk, but leave enough to use as leverage.
  3. Use a shovel, pick mattock and digging bar as needed to reveal the roots around the stump.
  4. Use a hose or power washer to rinse dirt away to reveal more roots.
  5. Cut the major roots with an ax.
  6. Try pushing the trunk. If more roots are exposed, cut them with the ax. Continue pushing and pulling the trunk until the tree trunk is entirely uprooted.
  7. If the trunk won’t budge, wrap chain around it and connect it to a four-wheel-drive pickup truck.
  8. Alternate between slowly pulling forward and reversing to wiggle the trunk until it is uprooted.

DIY Method #2: Tree Stump Killer and Chemical Stump Removal

stump removal chemical

stump removal chemical

If manual labor isn’t for you, you could always try the chemical route. To remove a stump chemically, you’ll need a drill, a chainsaw, potassium nitrate, an ax and fuel oil or kerosene.

Here’s a summary on how to remove a stump with chemicals:

  1. Cut off as much of the stump as possible with a chainsaw.
  2. Drill 1-inch holes around the perimeter of the stump. Move inward by about 3 or 4 inches and drill some more holes. Ideally, these holes should be between 8-12 inches deep depending on the size of the stump.
  3. Drill additional holes around the sides so they meet with the other holes to create 45-degree angles.
  4. Pour liberal amounts of potassium nitrate into the holes.
  5. Fill the holes with water.
  6. Wait four to six weeks or until the stump becomes very spongy.
  7. Use an ax to break up the spongy stump.
  8. Optional: Saturate the stump with fuel oil or kerosene and allow it to sit for another week or so.
  9. Optional: Ignite the stump and let it burn and smolder until it is completely gone.