How to Remove a Tree Stump by Hand

How to Remove a Tree Stump by Hand

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Stubborn tree stump in your yard got you feeling… Stumped? Haha, get it? OK fine, I get it, tree stumps and bad jokes are equally annoying. Here’s how to remove a tree stump by hand so you can save money and get that part of your yard back for good.

If you’ve recently cut down a tree, or moved somewhere that has a bunch of tree stumps lingering from the past, you’re probably wondering how to get rid of that pesky stump. 

Let me manage your expectations here: it’s not going to be easy. Stumps are stubborn and there’s a reason people often just leave them where they sit. 

But it is possible!

The way you’re going to get this done really depends on what tools are available and how much time you have on your hands.

Why Remove a Tree Stump By Hand?

The easiest way to dig up a tree stump is by using a grinder. They’re a big machine that can be brought in. The machine uses blades to grind the stump down into saw dust in a process that takes between an hour and five.

Once the stump is ground into sawdust that’s used to fill the hole, then you just level it out with some dirt on top and you’re done. No more stump!

Save Money

Except a stump grinder runs in the neighbourhood of two thousand dollars or more. Even having a professional come in and do it with their own machine will cost you a couple, or even several hundred dollars.

Tight Spots

Stump grinders are pretty easy to maneuver, but they can’t get in everywhere. If your tree stump is too close to other objects it may not be possible to have it ground down via a machine.


Stump grinding machines are noisy, so if there’s a sound bylaw in your area you may want to consider hand removal instead.

How to Remove a Tree Stump by Hand With Tools

getting ready to remove a stump by hand with tools

You Will Need:

  • Saw – Either a reciprocal saw with a long blade (cordless or long enough to reach the stump), a chainsaw, a hand/bow saw, or an axe
  • Mattock or other sharp digging tool
  • Shovel
  • Optional: A garden hose or pressure washer are also nice to have
  • Possibly: Straps or chains and and a vehicle to pull out the stump

1. Dig around the tree stump

If you have a mattock (pickaxe) it’s a lot easier if you use that to loosen up the dirt around the stump first. A sharp shovel or garden spade could also do the trick. This is where the water comes in handy – you can use it to wash away the dirt as you dig.

2. Remove dirt until the roots are exposed

You’re looking for something called the tap root. This is the biggest root that all the other roots are sprouting from. You might have to dig up a fair bit to expose it, and it will be large depending on the size of your stump.

3. Chop up roots

As you dig, chop up exposed roots. You can do this with your axe, your mattock, or with a saw. I find that an axe works best. The chainsaw is handy too, but just make sure you’ve thoroughly cleared the dirt around the roots or else you’ll dull your chain quickly. If you use a reciprocal saw make sure the blade is long enough.

4. Cut the tap root

This is what’s holding the stump in place, and severing this large root is necessary in order to pull up the stump. Try wiping the dirt off it first before chopping so your tool doesn’t slip. It’s going to be a bit of work! 

5. Pull the stump out

Now that you have the tap root severed and the dirt removed around the stump you should be able to pull it up. This isn’t simple, and most stumps will require a bit of extra force. The easiest way is to strap chains to the stump and use a vehicle to pull it up.

For smaller stumps, you might be able to do this with an ATV. Believe it or not, I once used a quad to pull up some small trees and shrubs and it worked fine.

6. Fill the hole and clean up

Once the stump is out remove any excess roots from the area. Then fill the hole with dirt and level it. Finally, add seed or sod on top if the stump was on your lawn and water it thoroughly. 

If You Don’t Care About Removing the Whole Stump

Another option if you’re not too pressed about leaving the root system intact is to just cut away at the stump. 

  1. Dig down a few inches, deeper if you’re using a chainsaw.
  2. Use your reciprocating saw or chainsaw to slice the top off the stump. It should be a few inches under the dirt. 
  3. If you can’t reach the middle of the stump use a sledgehammer or mattock to break it up at that point.
  4. Once the top of the stump breaks off, replace the dirt on top and re-seed the grass as needed.

Eventually the stump will rot naturally under the ground.

How to Remove a Tree Stump With Chemicals

Stump that is being worn down

Before You Start

You should follow the steps above to cut down the stump to ground level. It will make it easier for the chemicals to penetrate the root system. Drilling holes into the stump also help spread the chemical around easier.

Also, make sure you use gloves when handling hazardous chemicals and keep them away from kids and pets. Many of these will also kill other flora in the area, so be careful where you pour.

Rot Out a Stump With High Nitrogen Fertilizer

Once you’ve cut down and drilled holes into your stump, fill the holes with a fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen content. Then, soak around the tree stump making sure to get a lot of water into the ground. 

Next, cover the stump with a plastic tarp. That will help lock in the moisture so it doesn’t evaporate. It’s better if you do this in weather that’s cooler, but not too cold that the stump won’t rot as easily. 

You’ll then want to cover the stump with an organic mulch. This will lock in moisture and heat so the stump rots. Mulch and straw are good options for this. Wet the mulch too!

If you live in a windy area you might want to weigh the tarp down further with rocks or flower pots. 

It’s going to take a few weeks for this process to work, but you’ll need to tend to the stump in between. Dig out pieces that break off and periodically add more water and fertilizer to the stump, covering it back up each time. 

After about 4-6 weeks the stump should be significantly broken up and you can remove the pieces and bury whatever is left to decompose naturally underground.

Stump Out

There’s a product out there called “Stump out”. They’re chemical granules that get poured into the stump designed to aid decomposition. It needs to sit for 4-6 weeks, and works best with stumps that have already seasoned for 12-18 months. 

But it works, especially if you use it before trying to remove the stump by hand or burning it.

You don’t have to cut down the stump before using this product, either.

How to Burn a Stump

Burning away a stump

I can’t help but be partial to this one since I currently have a fire pit situated on top of a stump, slowly burning it down. Burning is a great (and natural) way to remove a tree stump from your yard by hand.

Fire Pit

Like I mentioned above, situating a fire pit on top of a stump is a great way to slowly burn it without detracting from your yard. Find a fire pit enclosure that’s open on the bottom, then put it right on top of the tree stump. Eventually it will burn down with regular fire pit use.

Alternatively, you can use a burn barrel to do the same thing as long as it’s open at the bottom.


Kerosine always does the trick when you’re trying to light something on fire. There’s two ways to do this: first and simplest, just pour the kerosene over the tree stump and light it on fire. It should burn, but you might need to repeat this process a couple of times.

Second, there’s a really cool technique where you drill into the tree stump. Make a hole in the middle to the bottom of the stump, as deep as you can. Then drill holes from the outside to connect with that hole. These act as vents.

Pour kerosene over the stump and inside the hole, and it should burn a bit easier than with kerosene alone.

Final Thoughts on How to Remove a Tree Stump By Hand

It goes without saying that a seasoned stump will be easier to remove than a green one. If you have the time, let it sit for a year or two before undertaking stump removal so it has time to dry out.

Removing the entire root system is an arduous task that may or may not be necessary depending on what your plans for the space are. It’s a lot easier to just remove part of the stump either with tools, chemicals, or by burning and then bury what’s left under the ground to decompose naturally. 

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