Methods & Tools To Remove Tree Stumps

Removing tree stumps can be a difficult task, but having the right tools and machines can help you get the job done.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson

Imagine you’re trying to clear a field for one of your farming projects. You’ve cut down trees and hauled away the debris (no small task), and you’ve removed some of the biggest rocks. All that’s left is to remove the tree stumps … which, to be honest, is probably twice as hard as the previous steps combined.

Let’s put it simply—removing tree stumps can be a monumental task, even if you have good equipment. There’s a reason why trees, some of them 100 feet tall or more, can survive for hundreds of years while being buffeted by the wind and weighed down with rain and snow and ice. Their root systems are massive and woven so thoroughly into the ground that removing any stump, even a small one, can be massively difficult.

Because I don’t recommend that anyone blast stumps out of the ground with dynamite like in The Fields of Home by Ralph Moody (one of my favorite books), let’s focus on a few other tools that hobby farmers can use to remove tree stumps from the ground instead.

Tractor Or Backhoe

With the right attachments, a strong tractor can do a lot of the work of removing stumps. A backhoe attachment can be useful for digging stumps out of the ground, while other techniques include simply pulling the stump out of the ground with a chain attached to the drawbar. (You might need to cut some of the main roots first.)

Of course, you should use caution with any effort to forcibly remove a stump, as it’s quite possible that a well-rooted, large stump will prove more than a match for the strength of your tractor.

Stump Grinder

A stump grinder, as the name implies, is a machine used to grind away stumps and reduce them to chips and dust. These machines come in a wide variety of sizes and designs, with some being not much bigger than a hand-pushed mower and others being massive units capable of tackling huge stumps and penetrating deep into the ground. Stump grinders exist as tractor attachments as well, saving you from having to maintain a separate machine.

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Whether you need a stump grinder will depend on the size and number of stumps you intend to remove. There are also safety concerns, because stump grinders are powerful and throw out plenty of wood chips while they work. For large projects, you might be better off bringing in a professional to help.


If you want to dig out a stump the old-fashioned way, a mattock is the tool for you. A mattock is a hand tool similar to a pickaxe, with a head that generally includes either two cutting blades or one cutting blade and a pick. The tool is designed for digging and cutting through roots, which you’ll need to do in order to remove any stump from the ground.

You might not want to use a mattock for removing a giant stump from something like a maple tree (that’s a lot of tough roots to cut through by hand), but for smaller stumps, it can be very useful and simple.

Of course, there are many other techniques for removing stumps, some of them employing chemicals and others involving patience (a thoroughly rotted stump is no problem at all to remove). But these methods and tools should help you get started in your quest to remove tree stumps from your property.

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