How to dig out a stump

Digging stumps out with an excavator can be a highly effective method in the right situation. This is something a lot of contractors can do themselves and potentially save their client's time and money.



You will need a sufficiently large excavator for the job. The bigger the better. Although small excavators can dig out large stumps it is not cost effective as it will be very time consuming and there's a lot of wear and tear on the machine.


You must have a suitable bucket or ripper for stumps. A ripper pick works well as does a standard rock bucket. Do not use a weed or tilt bucket because they just aren't suitable for this. There are other attachments especially for digging out stumps but if you have one of these I'm guessing you won't be reading this guide. A thumb to aid moving the stump around after you've dug it out is also an advantage.


Dig all the way around the stump and make sure to cut through all the horizontal roots from ALL sides. Generally you will end up a very big hole around the stump and a matching big pile of dirt. If you can't dig all the way around the stump due to an obstacle such as a building or other structure being in the way then there is a good chance that you may not be able to dig it out at all and it will need to be stump ground.


Once you've dug all the way around you are ready to pull the stump out. Use a levering action by pushing down and rolling the curve of back side of the pick or bucket along the ground so the tip pushes up under the stump. Do not simply pull upwards with the boom of the excavator as it’s not very effective and usually results it in the bucket slipping off the stump violently. If the stump still won't budge at all you will need to continue digging around the outside and even start digging at an angle under the stump if possible. The aim here is to continue to cut more roots until you've got the one that was holding it. Eventually the stump will pull out easily and you wonder what all the fuss was about.


Now you are left with a dug out stump with attached roots which is many times bigger than it looked when it was in the ground. There is no "silver bullet" for the disposal of these. They are very heavy and awkward to handle which makes them expensive to transport and dump. If you are paying to dump offsite the cost of doing this often exceeds what it would have cost to have the stump ground. The ideal scenario is to dump them somewhere on site where they can either be buried or left to rot for many years.



  • When you have to move an excavator on site especially for the job. It is almost never cost effective unless the the digger has other work to do while it’s there.

  • When you can’t fit a sufficiently large excavator into the site

  • When the ground is wet and you don’t want a huge mess

  • When you can’t dig all the way around the stump to cut all the roots holding it in. For example, when it is too close to a fence or building

  • When you don’t have a cheap or free way to dispose of the stump after you’ve dug it out

Stumpmaster Limited

 021 330 212

New Zealand




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