In the Grind

While maybe not the most common piece of equipment in your fleet, owning a stump grinder can prove to be very profitable. Whether your client wants to clear his property or you need to remove a dead tree, the job is not done until the stump is gone. And tree removal can be a lucrative add-on to your business. But first, you'll need to invest in a stump cutter or grinder. Here's how to pick the one right for you.


While all jobs won't be alike, try to get a good idea of how often you'll remove stumps and how large they'll be. On average size matters a great deal because grinders, like saws, come in all sizes — and for good reason. If you are removing a small stump, a small walk-behind grinder may be just the ticket. These are light, powerful and much less expensive than other sizes of grinders. Keep in mind that with these, you must manually manipulate the grinder and the operator is closer to the job than with larger machines.

If, on the other hand, the stump in question is larger, say an 8- to 12-inch stump, a larger walk-behind grinder will do the job quicker, increasing productivity and profits as well, — more than making up for the cost of the equipment. Larger walk-behind grinders are also ideal for those jobs where access is limited and a full-sized grinder is out of the question.

If you are removing many stumps, have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle and access is not a problem, you may want to consider a tow-behind grinder. These grinders feature hydraulically operated controls and you can tow them to the stump, making short work of practically any size job you can throw at them.

There are several sizes of self-propelled models available, as well. Many of them are tracked machines for areas where vehicle access is limited.

Before making your purchase, try renting a few different grinders to get a feel for what you like the best. There are several good brands of equipment out there, but be sure the rental center or dealer you deal with has a dedicated service department and parts on hand to keep you up and running. The lowest price is not always the best way to make a purchase decision, especially when it comes to something as expensive as a stump grinder.


Once you've decided on the size of grinders for the job, take the time to read the operator's manual. Even if you are renting the machine just for the day, you and your crew need to be familiar with all the features, controls and safety precautions particular to the machine you are using.

Some safety rules are universal but bear repeating:

  • Always wear ear and eye protection. Stump grinders are loud by nature and, obviously, operate by chipping away at the wood, so there is a lot of debris.

  • Police the area. Make sure that the location is clear of obstructions, bystanders and other objects (such as vehicles), and make sure the ground is not too soft or slick for safe operation of the equipment.

  • Don't crowd the machine. Don't try to hurry through the job, and if the grinder is not cutting properly, stop and determine why.

  • Do not operate the equipment at extreme angles or in dangerous environments where the machine could tip or slide.


Maintaining the equipment insures your productivity and profitability. The exact maintenance requirements vary from machine to machine, so consult the operator's manual for specifics, but here are some general maintenance tips to keep in mind:

  • Always check the condition and tightness of the teeth before beginning a job. Missing teeth can throw the cutting head out of balance, causing expensive bearing damage to the machine and creating a safety hazard, as well. Dull or chipped teeth should be replaced for the same reason: they can cause undue strain on the machine and premature failure of other parts as well. Replace teeth-mounting hardware (bolts, pockets, nuts) on a regular basis.

  • Check the level and condition of hydraulic fluid, and always clean the area around the fill cap before removing it to avoid getting dirt in the system.

  • Check the condition and tightness of any drive belts. Keeping a spare on hand will save you a lot of time and trouble.

  • Check the oil level in the engine before every job. Also, check the air filter frequently. Stump grinders live in a nasty environment, and you have to keep the air filter clean or the machine dies a nasty death.

  • Make sure all guards, shields and safety labels are in place, and that all controls operate properly.

  • Grease fittings on a regular basis; every eight hours of use is common. Consult your owner's manual for exact schedules.

  • Follow the engine manufacturer's recommendations on oil type and when to change it. Dirty oil can cause premature engine failure as surely as low oil will.

  • On an air-cooled engine, be sure to keep the cooling fins, air intake and blower housing clean and clear of debris.

  • On a liquid-cooled engine, be sure the coolant is the specified type, the level is correct and that the radiator fins are unobstructed and clean. This is a critical maintenance point because stump grinders create a lot of dust and debris that can find its way into your engine quite easily if you do not take preventative maintenance seriously.

  • On a tracked machine, make sure the tracks are properly tensioned before beginning work for the day, and keep an eye on them afterwards.

  • On tow-behind machines, make sure the wheel bearings are serviced at least once a year and that the braking system (if equipped) is kept in proper working order, as well.

  • All stump grinders generate a lot of vibration, so be sure to check for loose fasteners on a daily basis.

Finally, keep a written record of all maintenance done to the machine. It's not a bad idea to print out a daily checklist to go over each morning before leaving for the job. These records can help keep you out of trouble and keep your machine operating properly.

Stump grinders, while a bit maintenance intensive, are a great addition to your landscaping arsenal. They can do the job quickly, profitably and safely as long as you and your operators use good judgment.

P.D. Peterson is a freelance writer who resides in Bristol, Va.

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