With only one tree stump to remove, it can be faster and way more affordable to do it by hand. You don’t need a stump grinder or a tractor to remove a tree stump.
Here are 12 ways for how to remove a tree stump by hand with tools you have around the house.
To remove a tree stump by hand, first, dig around the trunk to expose the major roots. Use a hand saw, reciprocation saw or chainsaw to sever the major roots from the stump. Pull the stump out with a tow strap and vehicle. For smaller stumps, you can use a digging bar to pry the stump out. A handyman jack works great as well. Fill the hole with dirt and dispose of the stump. Continue reading for 12 more ideas.
The Easiest Way To Remove A Tree Stump By Hand
Why do all the work to remove the tree stump down a couple feet? The only reason they used to do this in the past was so they could plow the field. I don’t think you’ll be doing any plowing soon.
If the tree stump is in a flower bed or garden you shouldn’t till or plow. The latest research shows its bad for your soil health. When tree removal specialist grinds out a stump they only grind the stump down a couple inches below the level of the soil.
So why should you exert all the effort of removing a tree stump down so far? You don’t need to.
All you really need is for the stump to be below the level of the soil. I just removed one of my tree stumps by hand and I was able to do it in about 20 minutes. Heres how I did it.
1. Remove dirt or grass around the stump.
My stump was in my lawn so I removed the sod around the tree stump in a 2-foot diameter circle. I only dug down maybe 3 to 4 inches.
2. Cut the stump.
Setting the sod to the side I used a cordless reciprocating saw and started cutting the stump at about 3 inches below the level of my grass.
You could also use a chainsaw or a hand saw. If you use a chainsaw you may want to dig a bigger deeper hole. Be careful not to get your chain into the dirt or hit rocks because it will dull your chain fast.
If you are using a reciprocating saw then it helps to have one of the longer blades made for cutting wood. I worked my way cutting around the whole stump.
I wasn’t able to get to the middle of the stump so I used a sledgehammer to finish the job. It was nice that I left the stump a little tall so I had more leverage to break it off.
3. Replace the dirt or grass.
Once it broke off and all I did was replace the sod back to and covered the stump with a little dirt and some sod I dug up in another part of my yard. You could get a scrap piece of sod from a sod farm or just throw a little seed down.
You could just leave it and let the grass do the job. It will eventually grow in and cover the stump.
That’s it. Pretty fast and easy. The stump is only a few inches below the soil but over time the fungi in the soil will decompose the rest of the stump and give all the nutrients to the grass.
4. Recycle the stump.
In fact, a cool technique I have used in my garden is called hugelkultur beds. Basically, you bury a bunch of wood and grow stuff on top of it. The buried wood acts as a sponge for water and feeds the roots of your plants all the food and water they need with little watering on your part.
The stump under your grass should do the same. So instead of hauling off tree stump just bury it and plant stuff on top.
The Old Fashioned Way
If the easy way sounds too easy for you and you really want to have a masculine project to take up a whole Saturday then here’s how to do it the old-fashioned way.
Use a shovel to dig around the stump to expose the major roots. Depending on your soil you may also need a pick or digging bar. Dig down and out as much as you need to get access to all the roots.
Start cutting the roots with a reciprocating saw or if you want to stick with the old-fashioned theme then use a hand saw or an ax. A chainsaw could work as well but be careful not to hit rocks.
There are probably going to be more roots under the roots you just cut so keep digging if you need to expose some more roots. Only cut the roots as much as you need to pry or pull the stump out.
You can use a digging bar or a long 2×4 as leverage to pull the stump out or just use a car or preferably a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
As a kid, I remember pulling out a bunch of huge bushes with our suburban. It worked great. Use a chain or tow strap and slowly drive forward. You can even pump the gas a bit to rock the stump out.
I have also seen people use a handyman or large car jack to lift the stump out. I’ll give more detail on that below.
Once your stump is out pat yourself on the back because you are one manly man. Replace all the dirt and add a bit more to level off your soil and you are done.
How To Rot A Stump
If you are not in a hurry to remove the stump you can rot the stump. There are a lot of ways to rot a stump. I have tried a few of them with lackluster results. But others sound more promising. Whatever method you choose it will take several months to at least a year to rot or decompose a stump.
Rotting A Stump Naturally
This is the best way I have seen to rot a stump. It is super easy. Just put a pile of compost over the stump. The fungi in the compost will begin to decompose the stump. It is still going to take a year or longer.
This is how Mother Earth does it so I’m sure it works. I have seen people put a black plastic bucket over the stump as well but I’m not sure this is necessary. Just keep it covered in compost and you may want to add some animal poop as time goes on.
Most of the other methods mentioned below for rotting a stump actually kills the fungi so they probably slow down the decomposition process.
Rotting a Stump With Epson Salt
I tried this on my Chinese Elm tree growing up in my fence hoping that it would kill and rot my stump at the same time. After watching several Youtube videos describing how to do it, I followed all the steps of drilling the holes filling them with Epsom salt and covering with a tarp.
I actually forgot about it until the next year and when I went back I saw a new branch sprouting up from under my tarp. With an ax, I tried and chip away the stump but it was still very hard. I’m not convinced that using salt or Epsom salt will rot a stump.
Thinking back most of the videos I watched never did a “here’s the stump a year later” video. It probably didn’t work for them. The one thing it did do is it did slow the growth of the tree dramatically.
So maybe if I just put a huge pile of salt it will kill and decompose it… Well, I’m not going to do that because I don’t want my grapevine to die.
Removing A Stump With Potassium Nitrate
Potassium Nitrate is really kind of like a salt. It is actually a preservative used in making jerky. Great we have all eaten stump remover! The common product names you can buy are Blondie Stump Out or Spectracide Stump Remover.
I bought some of both but after reading the instructions wasn’t convinced it would work. So I made some sugar rockets with my kids instead. The product says it accelerates decomposition. So instead of taking 10 years to rot your stump, it should only take 5…jk. Ok enough of my soapbox.
To rot a stump with potassium Nitrate drill holes around the stump and fill with Stump out or Stump Remover. Its funny I looked for a video on Youtube with someone actually doing this and there is none there. Probably because it doesn’t work.
Removing A Stump With Bleach
I haven’t tried this but I don’t think it will work either because fungi are what decomposes stumps and bleach will kill fungi.
I have seen people use bleach on stumps to make some cool bleached stump tables. It turns the wood a white color and that’s about it.
I wrote an article of all my research about killing a tree stump with bleach check it out.
Using Muriatic Acid To Dissolve A Tree Stump
Muriatic Acid is pretty toxic so I would avoid ever using it. Wikipedia said, “Both the mist and the solution have a corrosive effect on human tissue, with the potential to damage respiratory organs, eyes, skin, and intestines irreversibly.”
Yikes, stay away from this stuff even though it probably would dissolve your stump. Just make sure it doesn’t dissolve your lungs while you are at it. Im sure napalm would dissolve your stump too but that doesn’t mean you should use it.
High Nitrogen Fertilizer For Stump Removal
Pouring high nitrogen fertilizer on a stump is said to rot a stump faster. I read it can still take 3 to 5 years. I think it will actually slow down the decomposition process because nitrogen fertilizer kills fungi and fungi is what actually decomposes stumps.
Burning A Stump
Now, this is a good way to remove a stump by hand. However, your stump needs to be dry and if you are in the middle of the city you may not be able to have a large smoky fire in your yard. Just check with your local fire department. Here are some of the best ways to remove a stump with fire.
Using a 55-gallon metal drum is a great way to burn out a stump. Just cut the bottom out and place it over the stump. Then you can add charcoal or a bunch of wood and light it up. If your stump doesn’t completely burn out at least it will turn into charcoal.
Then you can easily chip it up down so you can cover it up with dirt. Make sure to leave all the charcoal from the stump there. Just crush it up into the ground. It is the best fertilizer you can ever have and your grass or plants will grow super well for the next thousand years. Just look up biochar if you don’t believe me.
This works great. Just use a chainsaw to cut a hashtag(#) pattern into the top of your stump. Then lite it on fire and if the wood is dry it will burn for the next several hours until it is gone. My friend told me about this when he asked to have just one log.
I asked why he just needed one log and he told me about how to make a Swedish candle. He was going ice fishing and said that’s what he does to keep warm. It burns for hours and you just let it burn on the ice next to you. That’s when I thought this would work great for removing a tree stump.
This is another really cool way to remove a tree stump by hand. Drill a hole down the center of the stump. Then drill holes that connect to that center hole at the bottom of the stump. Soak it in kerosene and let it burn.
I have seen youtube videos where this worked super well so I tried it myself. I’m not sure why but it didn’t work the same for me. It struggled to stay on fire. But I am definitely going to try this again. Besides we had a fun family hot dog roast.
You guessed it. Put a ring of rocks around your stump and every time you want to have s’mores go out and start a fire on top of your stump. Eventually, it will be burned to nothing but ash. Then you can cover it back up with dirt or just keep your fire pit there.
Now you know how to remove a stump by hand without the use of a grinder or a tractor. Good luck removing your tree stump.