How to Remove a Tree Stump

Published December 5, 2019
Tree Stump In Forest

You can remove a tree stump without needing to be an expert. Knowing how to speed up the decaying process or the proper burning techniques are just a few ways you can get rid of unsightly tree stumps interfering with your landscape aesthetics.

1. Potassium Nitrate to Speed Up Decaying Process

This method requires the tree stump to be at least 12-18 months old in order to work. The potassium nitrate will speed up the decaying process when added to the stump.


  • Chain saw
  • Shovel
  • Work gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Drill, with 1" spade bit
  • Drill bit extender up to 10"
  • Bucket with a spout (for hot water)
  • Water
  • Pot for boiling the water
  • Stove to boil water
  • Potassium nitrate in a plastic bottle with self-funnel tip
  • Garden hose or bucket of dosing water in case of runaway fires

Drilling Instructions

  1. Saw the stump as close to the ground as possible while leaving enough of the stump exposed above ground so you can drill side holes for venting.
  2. Don the gloves and safety goggles.
  3. Attach the spade bit and extender to the drill.
  4. Hold the drill at the center of the stump and drill down vertically about 10" deep.
  5. Remove any shavings left by the drill, so the hole is clean.
  6. Repeat drilling about 2"-3" inside from edge of the stump.
  7. Move around the stump, spacing each hole about 2" apart.
  8. Be sure to clean out the shavings for each hole before moving to the next one.
  9. Once all the vertical holes on top are drilled, you need to drill side vent holes.
  10. Place the vent holes on the side of the trunk about 3"-4" from the top.
  11. Drill these holes at a 35°-45° angle positioned beneath each vertical hole so the two holes connect inside the trunk.
  12. Clean out the shavings from these holes as best you can.

Potassium Nitrate Instructions

  1. Position the potassium nitrate bottle funnel above the center hole and fill the hole with the granules or powder.
  2. Move to the next hole and repeat.
  3. When all the holes are filled, you'll need to add hot water.
  4. If working in your yard, you can boil the water on your kitchen stove and pour into the bucket.
  5. If working away from home, you'll use water that hasn't been heated. You may need a stick to stir the water in each hole to help the potassium nitrate to dissolve.
  6. Fill the bucket with hot water and pour into each vertical hole.
  7. The potassium nitrate will dissolve in the water and the surrounding wood will absorb it.
  8. You can leave the stump to decay with the help of the potassium nitrate.
  9. The decaying process will take around 4-6 weeks.
  10. The stump is ready to be hacked up when the wood has a spongy and soft texture.
  11. You can use an axe or hatchet to chop up the stump and remove it.

2. Burn Stump With Potassium Nitrate

Some people prefer a faster stump removal and use the explosive nature of potassium nitrate to ignite the stump and let it burn. There shouldn't be any danger when lighting the tree stump if you've allowed the solution to soak into the stump at last 24 hours.

  1. This method requires stacking and igniting kindling on top of the saturated stump.
  2. Be sure to stack kindling so there are air pockets for air to circulate and fan the flames.
  3. Don't stack the kindling too high, a couple of inches high is ample. You just need enough to ignite the stump.
  4. The stump will take a few days to burn up while it smolders. How long it takes depends on the size and age of the tree and the level of potassium nitrate saturation.
  5. Keep a garden hose with the water turned on nearby in case you run into any fire problems.
  6. Never leave open flames unattended.

3. Substitute Epsom Salt for Potassium Nitrate

You can use Epsom salt in place of the potassium nitrate. You will also need to cover the stump with a tarp. This process will take longer than the potassium nitrate but will be just as effective.

4. Lazy Stump Removal Method With Epsom Salt

You don't necessarily have to drill holes in the stump. You can simply mix salt and water with a 1:1 ratio and pour over the stump once or twice a week. You'll need to keep the stump covered with a tarp between dousings. The saltwater will kill the stump and will be soaked up into the stump wood, all the way to the root system. This is a slower process, but easier than drilling holes.

5. Remove Tree Stump by Burning

There are a couple of ways you can burn tree stumps. You can use the potassium nitrate method and give it a big boost by igniting a little kindling stacked on top of the tree trunk and allow it to slowly burn out the tree stump (2-3 days).

Metal Drum Method

You can use a metal drum and charcoal to burn the tree stump. The drum intensifies the heat and assists the charcoal in burning it. The following video demonstrates how to use the charcoal and drum to burn a stump in a day or less, depending on the stump size. The key is to cut the stump as close to the ground as you can, score it with your chainsaw and pour kerosene or other ignitable oil over the stump.

This video demonstrates how to use a metal drum to burn a tree stump to ash.

Wood and Charcoal Burn

This method uses charcoal and firewood to set the stump on fire. Don't leave the stump high above the ground. This increases the amount of stump you have to burn as well as increasing the burn time.

  1. Saw the stump close to the ground to speed up the process.
  2. Surround the stump with charcoal and firewood.
  3. Set the charcoal and firewood on fire and allow to burn until the stump catches fire and burns to ash.

In this video demonstration, the stump is left too high above the ground, increasing burn time and effort.

6. Use a Stump Grinder to Remove Tree Stump

Another common way to get rid of a tree stump is to rent a stump grinder. You'll need to wear safety glasses and noise mufflers/hearing protectors.

  1. Before you start, saw the stump as low to the ground as possible. This will reduce the amount of time and work to remove the stump.
  2. The stump grinder will have tracks to help you maneuver the machine to the tree stump.
  3. Line up the cutting head above the stump.
  4. Lower the cutting head and begin grinding the stump.
  5. Move the cutting head gently from left to right to ensure you're evenly cutting the stump.
  6. The amount of time it requires to grind up the stump depends on the size of the stump and if it's newly cut or has been cut for some time.

Learning How to Remove a Tree Stump Is Easy

Once you learn the different ways that you can remove a tree stump, you can decide which method is best for your project. You may decide that not every tree stump should be removed using the same method.

How to Remove a Tree Stump