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Grinding Stumps

When and Why to Use a Stump Grinder

By Dale Vogelsanger  |  Chipper Expert
After felling a tree, you're left with what many consider to be an eyesore and a nuisance - a stump.

While you may think it's dead and will rot away on its own, it's very much alive.

Tree stumps will actually attempt to regrow into a tree by sprouting shoots. So how do you get rid of it completely?

While there are other methods available, stump grinders are the most efficient.

Stump grinders quickly grind the stump into mulch that can be buried, burned, or used in a garden.

What's a Stump Grinder?

Stump grinders are powerful tools used for removing tree stumps.

By repeatedly chipping away at the stump with a multi-toothed cutting wheel that spins at high speeds, stump grinders are able to rapidly tear and strip away small pieces of the stump, progressing deeper with each pass.

The operator repeatedly makes passes into the stump until all of it has been chipped away into mulch and sawdust.

Why Remove the Stump?

While it's possible for a stump to rot and decompose naturally, it may take months if not years. And in some cases, shoots may sprout up in an attempt to regrow the tree.

Cutting into the stump and covering it in compost or soil will help speed up the process, but problems can still remain. Honey fungus can begin to grow on dead rotting wood, which tends to spread and infest other live foliage.

Grinding the stump until you've reached 4 inches or more into the ground, then covering it in compost and top soil will be your best option. This will help to ensure no shoots spout up and no sunlight can reach the remaining stump to grow fungus.

Stump Grinder Safety

As with any other power equipment, following proper safety procedures is a must. Tree roots tend to grow through and around anything in their path, so be sure to check with a local utility management service to locate buried power lines before operating.

The circular blade that rotates on a stump grinder moves at very high speeds and is capable of causing severe life-threatening injuries.

Be sure to wear protective gear such as steel-toed boots, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, safety glasses, and hearing protection when operating a stump grinder.

Be sure that anyone present in the area to observe or assist with the stump removal is also wearing safety gear or is 50 feet away to avoid injury from flying debris.

Keep all feet and hands away from the blade at all times, and be aware of flying debris.

Why Invest in a Stump Grinder?

If you live on a wooded lot, you're familiar with felling trees and cleaning branches whenever a major storm passes through. Part of maintaining your property is clearing the stumps left behind.

For forestry work, felling trees is a regular part of the job, so stump removal likely becomes a reoccurring task.

Owning your own stump grinder means you always have one available, and you won't have to worry about reoccurring rental fees adding up to more than the cost of owning your own.

Cutting Wheel Size & Cutting Depth

This is one of those situations where you should be careful not to judge a book by its cover. The size of the wheel can be deceiving.

Plus, just choosing the largest wheel doesn't necessarily guarantee the deepest cut below the grade. Many things, such as the design style of the safety guard, the angle of the unit on its axle, and how far past the axle the cutting wheel is mounted effect how deep below grade you can cut.

Pay close attention to the cutting depths for each unit to determine if it'll match what you're looking for. Cutting depth below grade (cutting into the stump below the ground) can range anywhere from 9" - 18" depending on the model you choose. Most models cut 16"-17" below grade, with 9" and 18" being the exception.

Above grade cutting depth is important as well. The above grade cutting depth is how tall of a stump you can grind above ground. Above grade can range anywhere from 10"-24", though the majority of them are 20". If your stump is too high to grind, you're going to need to cut it down to size with a chainsaw first.

Locate Underground Lines

The last thing you want to do is hit an underground line while grinding a stump. Whether it's a power line, gas line, or sewage line, you want to steer clear to avoid causing harm to yourself, your machine, or your utility lines themselves.

States have different names for their surveyors, but look up the contact information for your local underground utility surveyors and make an appointment to have them marked. This service is generally state-funded, so there's no charge to you.

In many states, it's required by law to have an underground utility surveyor mark where the underground lines are before you perform any kind of digging or ground-work.

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