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How to Use Stump Grinders: 5 Steps to Removing Unsightly Stumps

30SG-0010After felling a tree, there are a few reasons you should consider removing the remaining stump. Tree stumps are eyesores, and they make mowing and lawn care difficult. Stumps are notorious for sprouting shoots in an attempt to regrow the tree, and the decomposing stump is prone to fungus and pests - which have the potential to infest nearby, healthy plants. Stump grinders are tools that make quick work of stump removal, so here a few tips for their use.

Read First: Choosing a Stump Grinder: 4 Key Elements to Consider

Follow these steps for safe and efficient stump removal:
  1. Prepare the Stump
  2. Follow Safety Procedures
  3. Recommended PPE
  4. Operating and Grinding
  5. Cleanup and Fill
Prepare the Stump

Before beginning to grind the stump, you will need to prepare the stump and surrounding area. Clear a wide area around it, particularly of anything you wouldn’t want covered in mulch. You don’t want to lose your chainsaw under a pile of chips! Remove any large rocks from the base of the stump as these will cause unnecessary wear and damage to the cutter teeth. Optionally, you may use a chainsaw to trim the stump closer to the ground. This step will save you time grinding, though it is not necessary if your stump falls under the maximum operating height of your selected machine. 

ppeFollow Safety Procedures

It's essential to read and understand all operator and safety instructions before operating your equipment. Call 811 to locate any underground utility lines before operating. Stump grinders are loud, powerful machines, and the cutting wheel rotates quickly, throwing debris clear of the cutting head. Consider the proximity of any buildings, windows, and vehicles to avoid any damage from flying debris. Ensure all bystanders are wearing eye and ear protection and are well away from the machine to avoid injury. Anyone operating the machine, or assisting the operator, should wear adequate PPE (personal protective equipment).

Recommended PPE
  • Safety Glasses (full face shield recommended)
  • Hearing Protection
  • Safety Boots
  • Gloves
  • Long Sleeves and Pants (nothing loose fitting)

Operating and Grinding

Read the manual and understand the operating instructions for your selected stump grinder. Whether you are operating the cutter head via handlebars or lever controls, the procedure for approaching and grinding the stump will be identical for each type of machine.

Position the machine so that the cutter wheel is over the edge of the stump. Move the engine to full throttle and engage the cutter wheel. Slowly swing the cutter head in a sweeping motion across the edge of the stump. Lower the cutter wheel and repeat the swing in the opposite direction. To avoid bogging the engine or stalling the cutter wheel, listen to the engine and pay attention to the cutter wheel speed, adjusting depth and swing speed accordingly. Continue until the stump is cut about four inches below ground level.

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Cleanup and Fill98209014_647791402438399_8199863076606967808_n

Once finished, cleanup is simple - rake and remove all chips from the area. If you have removed your stump from a landscaped area, the following steps illustrate how to restore the area:

  • Remove as many remaining tree roots and as much debris as possible. This will prevent fungal disease as the remaining pieces may continue to decay underground.
  • Rake the remaining soil and gently pack the hole with fill dirt, ideally a topsoil similar to the surrounding area.
  • Lightly water the soil to settle the dirt. Fill again if needed to level the area. You are now ready to spread grass seed or plant ornamental flowers in the fresh soil.

You may be surprised at the amount of mulch you’ve created with this project. The good news is you don’t have to throw it all away! Consider using those chips in your garden for weed suppression and water retention.

Here's a tip from Mr. Tree Service to make the most of your mulch.


Remember that tree roots will grow around and through any obstacles in their path. Always Call 811 and identify any utilities before you dig. Happy Grinding!

This post was originally published in June 2020 and has been refreshed and updated.

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