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DIY Stump Removal: Tips and Tricks

Lone tree stump in yard
Jcmiller73 / Shutterstock

Did you have to cut down a tree from your yard due to a storm, natural disaster, root growth, or an infestation? The tree stumps left behind can be an eyesore. If you’ve got some free time and don’t mind flexing your muscles to get the job done, you can avoid costly stump removal services and take care of the project yourself.

While there is more than one stump removal process, the following guide shows you the easiest way to get it done yourself. Before putting your saw to wood, make sure you’re wearing proper safety equipment and clothing. This includes safety glasses, safety gloves, earplugs, long trousers, a jacket, and proper boots. Consult with a local home improvement expert if you’re unsure about proper chainsaw operation and safety procedures.

8 steps to DIY stump removal

Step 1: Cut down as much of the tree stump as you can

Cut down the stump as low as you can. The only way to really do this effectively is with a chainsaw. We recommend wearing steel-toed boots, work gloves, earplugs, and eye protection while using a chainsaw.

Step 2: Drill holes into the remainder of the stump

Drill from the top down, with every hole about 2 to 3 inches apart and about 8 to 10 inches deep. Drill holes from the sides of the stump as well, aiming to intersect with the holes coming down from the top. Make sure to use a drill bit that’s 3/8 of an inch in diameter.

Step 3: Apply the chemicals

Once you’re done drilling the holes, pour the stump removal chemicals down each of the top holes. When choosing a tree stump removal chemical, fine granules are much easier to use. Products that come in powder form tend to clog at the very top of the holes, while products made with fine granules usually roll right down to the bottom.

Step 4: Pour water into the holes

After each hole is filled with a stump removal chemical, add water as per the instructions that come with the chemical you purchased.

Pro tip: Pouring too much water can dilute the stump chemicals, which could have a negative impact on how well the product works. Always measure your water precisely and follow the written instructions closely.

Step 5: Cover the stump

The stump removal process usually takes several weeks depending on what chemical is used. To protect children and animals, make sure the stump is covered at all times. Any exposure to the stump without taking precautions could be dangerous. Cover the stump with a tarp and pieces of scrap wood, rocks, or bricks. Periodically check the stump to see how much effect the chemicals have had and that the covering is still in place.

Step 6: Soak the stump with kerosene

Once the stump looks more like a sponge or mulch and breaks apart easily, it’s time to break out the kerosene. Soak the stump and let it sit for a few more weeks. Kerosene is used at this point because you won’t be able to manually remove the stump in its current state.

Step 7: Set the stump on fire

First, check with your town about any restrictions to open fires in your area. If all is well, it’s time to set the stump on fire. After a few weeks, uncover your stump, remove any surrounding debris, and create a ring of rocks or bricks around the stump. Add some kindling if needed and set it on fire. Keep a hose, a fire extinguisher, or baking soda nearby in case the fire spreads too far.

The fire should go out when the stump is totally gone, leaving only a hole in the ground where it used to be. Be prepared: it can take days for the embers to burn down. Never leave the initial fire unattended and make sure there are no people or animals nearby who could get hurt.

Step 8: Fill the hole

Once the fire is out and the stump is gone, pull out any remaining roots and fill the hole with sod. Pack the sod firmly and block off the area for another week as a precaution.

Products and tools you’ll need for tree stump removal

  • A chainsaw: You don’t need an expensive chainsaw for this job, especially if you’re just using it for the first step of the process. A 10-inch chainsaw should do the trick.
  • Drill bit: The bit should be long enough to make holes 8 to 10 inches deep and specifically made for wood boring.
  • Drill: We advise against buying the cheapest drill you can find. A high quality brushless 20-volt drill should do the trick. While you’ll need to spend more upfront for a quality drill,  you’ll be able to use it on various home improvement tasks for years to come.
  • Safety gloves: A good quality pair of safety gloves are needed when working outside or with power tools.
  • Safety glasses: A pair of safety glasses is especially important when working with chainsaws and any type of chemical.
  • Earplugs: A good set of earplugs is essential to protect your hearing whiles using the chainsaw. They’re relatively cheap and sold in large quantities. Make sure they’re specifically made for construction.
  • Work boots: Proper steel-toed work boots need to be worn when removing your stump or during any other heavy-duty projects.
  • Kerosene: At a minimum, one gallon of kerosene is needed, regardless of the brand. The total amount needed will likely depend on the size of the stump, so buy more than you think you’ll need.
  • Tarp: a tarp is needed to cover the stump as it decays.

Frequently asked questions

Do I need a grinder for DIY stump removal?
In some cases, a stump grinder is necessary for the removal of stubborn or very large stumps. This DIY guide recommends a process that does not require a grinder, but you will need to rent or purchase a chainsaw.

How long does it take to remove a tree stump?
In this process, the chemical breakdown process usually takes four weeks. An additional two weeks (or more) are needed to allow the kerosene to soak through the stump.

When is the best time of year for stump removal?
The best time of year to remove a tree stump is during the winter. The process of removing the stump is more effective in colder soil and the surrounding greenery is less likely to be damaged. Ideally, the process of stump removal should occur immediately after a tree has been cut down regardless of the season.

Do I need a permit from my local city for stump removal DIY projects?
In most cases, you won’t need a permit to remove a stump located on your property — but play it safe by checking with your local city government first about permits and open fires.

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