May 27, 2021

Homespun: Removing Stumps

by Matt, Herbal Head Honcho

Sometimes you can’t save a tree. My last house had a pine tree that leaned further over the driveway every year, and with a trunk nearly two feet across, we didn’t want it on the cars! We cut it down and rented a stump grinder to grind it down below the lawn level. But what if you can’t get a grinder to the stump?

Removing Stumps

Despite YouTube disasters, we CAN pull stumps safely and efficiently,* but it takes leverage - lots of it. Archimedes said, “give me a lever long enough, and a place to stand, and I can move the world.” Pulling stumps is like that—trees are seriously connected to the Earth! 

First, we need an anchor, or “place to stand” that won’t move. Trees are good at not moving (that’s why we have a stump problem). So first we’ll find 2-5 big trees a few feet apart, and not too far from our stump. Drive a stake about halfway between the stump and the trees to mark our anchor point. 

Next, we’ll make a sling of heavy nylon rope to go around each tree to distribute the force. Tie the rope to the stake, and run it straight to the first tree, wrapping tightly around the trunk 2-3 times, then back to the stake. Do the same with the next tree, and so on. (We wind around each tree 2-3 times to keep the rope from peeling the bark off the tree if it slips, but pad them with old towels, too.) Our sling now has two ropes to each tree (6-10 in all), coming together in loops at the stake. Tie the two loose ends of the rope into another loop, even up the loops, and attach a hook or chain so all the ropes pull evenly. We now have our anchor point to “move the earth!”

Now get a rope, cable, or chain cinched nice and tight around the stump. If the stump is tall, attach near the top, to use the trunk as a lever to help break the roots loose. If not, wrap it where you can, or dig it out enough to go under or around it. Cut any roots you can with a chainsaw, ax, or pickaxe. Bolts going into or through a stump may work too, but they’re dicey. 

Now we need pulleys for leverage! Small stumps, or ones with lots of roots cut through, might come out with a “come-along,” a hand winch with a pulley built-in. Bigger stumps need more pulleys—each one doubles the rope, and the force applied. With a “double sheave” (2 pulley wheels) at both stump and anchor, we can stand safely out of danger, apply 100-200 pounds of pull, and deliver thirty-two times more force at the stump (over 3 tons). Pull a little, dig, chop, lather, rinse, repeat—before you know it, your stump is out! 

You can also use a farm jack (5000 lb) to pull them straight out of the ground. Great for 4-6 inches diameter, with some digging and chopping. Just remember the jack is stronger at the bottom than the top, so lower it to get another bite if needed and stop if it starts to flex! 

*Removing stumps yourself can be dangerous. Ridgecrest takes no responsibility for the information in this article.