How to Use a Stump Grinder

How to Use a Stump Grinder Guide

Latest posts by Lacey Jackson (see all)

Getting rid of a stump is very important. If you had trees felled, most tree companies leave the stump behind. Maybe you cut the tree down yourself, leaving you with an eyesore. Leaving the tree stump in place means you can’t use that area for landscaping, it will slowly attract bugs and bacteria, and the tree might try to grow back through that stump.

It can cost $500 more just to have someone remove a stump, but learning how to use a stump grinder that you rent from your local hardware store and spending a few hours in the afternoon can drop that cost significantly.

We like to do a lot of work ourselves simply because I’m frugal enough that I don’t like paying someone else to do something I can easily do. We can’t use methods like burning to get rid of a stump where we live, and I don’t like to waste time doing things manually if one tool can make all the difference.

Not sure which Stump Grinder to buy? Check out our detailed guide to learn how to find the best Stump Grinder for your needs.

Bottomline Upfront

Using a stump grinder is an easy, inexpensive way to get rid of a tree stump that’s blocking your landscaping efforts. You can rent a stump grinder from many equipment rental shops for a half day or full day. With the right personal protective equipment and maybe another person, you can grind away those difficult stumps and use the area once more.

How to Use a Stump Grinder Guide

So, let’s look at everything you need to know to figure out how to use a stump grinder.

Getting a Stump Grinder

Stump Grinder

Firstly, you need a stump grinder. Thankfully, many places will rent you a stump grinder. Usually, you have to rent them in half-day or full-day increments, so be prepared to show up first thing in the morning and rush to get the job done or pay twice as much to rent it for the entire day.

You also have to be cognizant of how you’ll get it home. We have a truck and a trailer, so we can easily rent large equipment, but if you don’t, plenty of places like Home Depot will also rent you a trailer. Conversely, you can rent a trailer separately from somewhere like U-Haul and pick up your stump grinder from a nearby hardware supply store. 

Most companies rent a Toro stump grinder. There are multiple versions from different manufacturers, so you want to take time to listen to the rental company when they explain how it works.

For example: The Toro STX-26 looks like a claw-toy-machine layout; it has tracks and a large handle to move it forward, side-to-side, or reverse. There are key starters and levers for the throttle. There is a small handle you squeeze to raise and lower the cutting wheel.

By comparison, the Power King SGR-13 looks more like a lawnmower with the same type of handle you use to steer and some control levers on either side. There aren’t buttons for moving the cutting wheel up or down; you do it by pushing the large lawnmower-style handle up or down.

I recommend evaluating multiple rental companies if you aren’t going to purchase a stump grinder because the make and model they provide may or may not be suitable for your area.

The Toro is designed to work on steep grades, uneven terrain, or even rocky areas. The fact that it has tracks instead of wheels means it’s much more durable and something you would use if, like myself, you are removing tree stumps on a dangerous slope and need to be able to maneuver the stump grinder from your driveway across that uneven terrain down to where the tree stumps are located.

The Power King model is not nearly as Intense or durable. It is designed for flat surfaces, where you can safely wheel it out of your truck or trailer across a driveway, a flat lawn, or another suburban yard to safely remove a smaller tree stump.

And, of course, if you are looking for something that’s more of a commercial model, you might need to use commercial rental companies that give you things like the Red Roo SP5014 stump grinder, a model that’s used for commercial construction sites. The Red Roo would look like the Toro if you gave the Toro steroids.

Get Dressed

Eye Protection

Going out on the town isn’t the only time you need to wear proper attire. Most people only consider footwear when preparing to do labor. But using a stump grinder comes with a lot of safety risks and a lot of flying debris. So:

  • Put on sturdy closed-toed shoes. I recommend work boots
  • Put on pants and a long sleep shirt. My partner also has a set of coveralls for work, to make getting dressed for yard work a sinch. It also helps reduce the entry places for things like ticks. I am terrified of getting Lyme disease. 
  • Get a set of eye protection, some ear protection (we have the same pair used for shooting), and a helmet if you have it (or, at the very least, a hat). 

My father does a lot of manual labor for his home remodeling and landscaping business. I used to laugh at him for looking exactly like an Asian grandmother in Chinatown: pants, long-sleeve shirts with a cuff or a button, so they stay in place, eye protection, a hat complete with a piece of fabric sewn into the backs of his neck was covered, knee-high socks under his pants and steel-toed boots.

The same steel-toe boots always got me in trouble when he rushed away from work to drop me off at the airport and got flags going through security.

However, as ridiculous as he might have looked growing up, I dress almost exactly the same way now that I’m an adult. Now, I dress exactly like he does when I’m working outside, cutting tiles, doing any type of woodworking, or working in the garden. The more covered you are, the less likely you will cut yourself or be seriously injured when chunks of wood go flying in the wrong direction, you drop something, or you run into a heavy-duty tool.


stump grinder preparation

You have to prepare the area around your stump to maximize the efficiency of using a stump grinder. You also prepare the area to make sure it’s as safe as possible.

  1. Firstly, use a chainsaw (if you don’t have one and don’t foresee needing one beyond a single stump removal, you can rent ones like a Craftsman from a hardware store or tractor supply company) and cut away as much of the stump as possible. The more you can cut away with a chainsaw and the more flush you can be with the ground, the easier it will be to use a stump grinder.
  2. Secondly, use a shovel to dig up any rocks around the base of the stump. As you do this, try to get in and around all of the roots. If there are large rocks left in place, they can:
    1. Damage the teeth on the cutting wheel of the grinder, or
    2. Act as small shrapnel that comes shooting out at you 

In either case, it is very dangerous. So do the prep work to remove anything that could cause problems later.  

Interesting Read: How to Find the Best Stump Grinder Replacement Teeth.


how to operate stump grinder

Stump grinders have a cutting wheel at the front and two large wheels at the back, which you can use to move around your property. You should always stand safely behind the control panel a few feet from those wheels.

Whether you purchase a stump grinder or rent one, make sure you familiarize yourself with the manufacturer, so you know how to operate that particular machine. They work roughly the same way, but there might be small differences. Think of it the same as getting behind a new car; you know how a car works, and you know which buttons might indicate which action, but you still need to familiarize yourself with the layout of the new vehicle.

  1. Raise the grinder wheel above the edge of the stump (keep the engine throttle in ‘slow’). 
  2. Start the spinning cutting wheel and lower it onto the stump. You will pivot the stump grinder cutting wheel side-to-side as it chews away at the stump. 
  3. When you are ready, raise the grinder wheel, move the stump grinder forward a few inches, lower the wheel, and repeat the side-to-side movement. 
  4. Ensure you also grind away any roots you see sprouting from your tree stump. Note: you might have to increase the engine throttle to get this part done. 
  5. When you are done, remove the parking brake, pull the grinder away from the area, and shut off the engine. 


Once you have finished grinding away your stump, it’s time for you to treat the area. The process of using a stump grinder leaves behind a lot of wood chips and dust. You can use a basic rake to spread the chips and such over the natural hole you left behind. 

If you are going to use the area for anything, you can add some mulch and topsoil and even throw some grass seed on top if you remove the stump in the middle of your lawn. 

Tip: Topsoil should be mixed in with the wood chips in the hole to prevent soil compaction if you want to use that area for any type of landscaping thereafter.


Question: What is the Cost of a Stump Grinder Rental?

Answer: The average cost for a rental is about $270 per day. This is for a full-day rental. It might cost a lot less in some places, especially if you rent the Power King model from Home Depot. You might only spend $100 per day. More heavy-duty models will cost up to $500 per day depending on where you rent them and how long you rent them. 

Question: How Far Down Should I Remove the Stump?

Answer: You should expect to cut about four inches down if you are removing a stump in a landscaped area. If you are removing a stump from the middle of your lawn, you want to go a few inches farther down. 

Question: When is the Best Time to Grind a Stump?

Answer: The best time to use a stump grinder is when you have good visibility, and there isn’t bad weather. If you have a rental scheduled and it starts raining or a heat wave in your area, avoid being outside for prolonged periods.

Question: How Many People Does it Take to Use a Stump Grinder?

Answer: Technically it only takes one. One person can safely operate a stump grinder, but if you are unsure about using large tools or you’reare worried about safety, I recommend having two people. We always have two people when operating heavy machinery just to be on the safe side. 

Having a second person nearby also means you have a second party to prevent any children or pets from wandering where they shouldn’t.

Question: How Long Does it Take to Use a Stump Grinder?

Answer: It takes between 3-6 hours, depending on the size. I would strongly suggest you factor that into your rental as most rental companies will rent in half-day or full-day increments. You will also have to consider how much time it will take to drive to your rental location, load the tool, and unload it on your property (and, of course, in reverse order) because all of that will count towards the rental period.

If it’s your first time using a stump grinder, just rent it for a full day, maybe multiple days, if you have multiple stumps to get rid of.


You can easily keep your yard in order by removing a tree stump yourself. Using a stump grinder is a safe, effective way to get rid of a tree stump for a nominal fee.

Plenty of places rent stump grinders, and with a small investment, you can also get the personal protective equipment you need. Make sure that once you remove your stump, you treat the area so that it can be a usable space.

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