How to Remove a Tree Stump with a Grinder

Updated: Mar. 20, 2019

Learn how to remove a tree stump yourself using a grinder.


Q: I have three oak stumps in my yard, the largest of which is 20 in. across. I noticed my rental store has a portable stump grinder. Is it worth renting it to remove my stumps? — S. Underberg, Raleigh, NC

Removing Stumps

A: Yes, but it requires a strong back. The minimum half-day charge for a basic rental grinder is about $50. In contrast, for your three stumps, a pro might charge $110, at a rate of $2 per inch of stump width. All this means you’ll save 60 bucks, get some exercise, and have fun using a cool tool.

Even so, a pro might be a better option for those who have more than five or six good-sized stumps to remove. That’s because the pros use hydraulic equipment that grinds large stumps much faster than a rental grinder can. So it might cost less to hire the pro than to rent the grinder. To get an estimate, call a professional listed in the Yellow Pages under “Tree Service.” You can often save up to 50 percent of a professional’s fee by cleaning up the chips yourself.

Project step-by-step (4)

Step 1


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Round up your hearing and eye protection; you’ll need it when you run the grinder. Wear heavy-duty work clothes, like a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, pants and work boots.

Dig a furrow around the stump. This furrow not only provides a place to collect the chips, it makes it possible to remove troublesome rocks. Running the grinder head into a rock can ruin the teeth, costing you about $15 per tooth to replace.

Plus: Learn how to cut down a tree yourself safely. 

Step 2

How Deep to Grind

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Before starting, call your gas and electric company to have them locate underground lines. The stump you’re removing might have grown on top of them. If you plan to build on or pave the spot, remove the stump to a depth equal to its diameter. That way it won’t have much wood mass left in the ground to rot and settle. Otherwise, grind the stump to a depth of 6 to 10 in. below grade.

Step 3

Position the Machine

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Remove the tow bar and roll the grinder up to the stump. Adjust the handlebars so they’re at a comfortable working height—about waist height.

Set the brake. Push down on the handle-bars to raise the cutter head free of obstructions and start the engine. It’s a little tricky to hold the handlebars down and start the engine at the same time, so you may need a helper. Throttle the engine to full open.

Step 4

Grinding Tips

Warning: To avoid a broken thumb, hold the handlebars in an open grip, with your thumbs on top of the bar. This way, if the machine kicks back and drives the handlebars down, they’ll be pulled from your grasp. Always keep the brake on when grinding because it prevents the machine from kicking backwards if it hits a rock.

Let the weight of the machine apply the force to the cutting head. Don’t pull up on the handlebars to grind faster.

Pivot the grinding head slowly across the stump by rolling the unlocked wheel forward and back. Shut the engine off after removing about 4 to 6 in. of stump, then roll the machine forward, reset the brake and resume grinding. It usually takes about 45 minutes to grind a 20-in. oak stump. Check out another way to remove a tree stump yourself.