Renting a Tree Stump Grinder
So if you read our prior post on cutting down the vast majority of trees that were in our backyard you’d realize we have around 100 stumps to take care of. Every time I’ve cut a tree in the past the stump is always an issue. Rarely can you pull the whole thing out cleanly. Typically what happens is that I’ll let it rot in the ground for about a year until it gets worked over by nature and then you can hack it out with a pickax. With so many stumps though, the yard was a virtual landmine.
The next easiest solution then would be to grind the stumps. When you grind a stump what you’re basically doing is using a giant blade to eat at it. Instead of a horizontal cutting motion (which you would use to actually cut down the tree), the stump grinder is positioned vertically. As such the blade is positioned towards the ground and you need to swing it back and forth, essentially cutting into the stump and dirt alike. The net result is a large pile of mulch-like shavings from the wood and a penetration depth of a few inches into the ground. This way you can sod above the stump location and allow nature to take care of the rest.
As you would imagine hiring out this type of job can get expensive. Normally gardening services will either have a grinder or have access to one and will charge you either by the stump or by the lot/acre. With this in mind and the fact that we had so many stumps to deal with, I thought of renting the machine from Home Depot.
Not all Home Depots have a rental area, but in the ones that do, you’ll find an interesting assortment of tools. This includes stump grinders. I rented the largest stump grinder they had for the day (I believe the amount was around $200 give or take.) Given the pricing, I was hoping that a full day of grinding between my buddy and I would save me over $500. With the goal at hand we set off at 6:00 am to Home Depot to pick up the grinder. After getting it home we waited until 8 am so as to not wake up the neighbors and then went at it.
A few things to keep in mind when using a hand-swung grinder. First, you can’t really see what you’re grinding all too well. The machine is large and cumbersome and you’re basically using your full force to move it, much less with any degree of precision. Second, it’s loud. Like crazy loud. You’ll need hand, eye and ear protection to use it for more than a few minutes. Lastly, the amount of material you’ll want to remove so it doesn’t get stuck is minimal. If you go in too deep or try to take too much on it’ll get bogged down or stuck.
The problem with renting one of these machines then is the fact that you have to be relatively delicate with it, while at the same time it being very difficult to maneuver. After the first couple of stumps, we felt like we were getting the hang of it. Grinding a solid tree was much easier than grinding a fibrous ropey palm by the way. It didn’t much like palms in the least. However, we were rolling along until the machine got stuck a few times.
The friend I had assisting me that day is a bit of a loose cannon so he would just shove the grinder at the trees far more forcefully than I would. Yes, it would go faster, but it’d get stuck, then after getting stuck a few times it outright broke down. We thought, no problem, we’ll just head back to Home Depot and pick up another one. Unfortunately, Home Depot did not have another one (they did but they claimed it was broken) and they refused to fix ours as one of the belts had torn. I ended up paying about $100 for a 4-hour rental (they rent it for 1-hour, 4-hours or the day and we slotted in between the 1 & 4). We were able to grind about 10 stumps. Not a terrible price/stump, but nowhere close to what we had hoped for.
The issue we had is that the machine couldn’t keep up with the abuse. Unfortunately, this has been a recurring theme for rental tools at Home Depot. Clearly what they rent out is subject to intense abuse so the chances of you getting something that has been battered down is relatively high. While the grinding we were able to accomplish was helpful, we decided to leave the rest of the stumps for the tree cutting service that was going to come and finish off the yard.
So, should you rent a stump grinder yourself? Probably not… If you only have a few stumps to deal with then it is easily within the grasp of the average DIY’er to rent the machine and grind those down. If you’re dealing with a large number of stumps though you’re probably in too deep. We saw the difference first hand when our professional arborist brought his machine. He uses a hydraulically powered remote controlled unit with a massive blade. Not only can he stand in front of the cutting area to see what is getting shaved down, but the hydraulic arms he can make small adjustments allowing the machine to shave off a bit at a time. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try a few stumps on your own, it’s just not as easy as it seems.