Can a Mini Excavator Remove Stumps?

When it comes to clearing your backyard, you can use a hoe to soften the ground, a rake to clean out all the debris, a plate compactor to plain it all out, but you won’t be able to remove heavier debris or dig deeper holes without working way too hard. You can’t use an excavator since it won’t be able to reach the backyard.

That’s where a mini excavator comes into play. It is smaller than a full-blown excavator but gets most jobs that a DIY-er would need done rather easily. With the wide array of attachments you can use, there is very little that a mini excavator can’t do. However, can the mini excavator remove stubborn stumps?

Yes, you can remove tree stumps with a mini excavator, but of course, there is a limit to how big a tree stump it can remove. For smaller stumps, a mini excavator can simply pull it out. For larger stumps, you may need special attachments for mini excavators. We’ll discuss the details below.

What Is a Mini Excavator

Mini excavators are excavators that weigh between 0.7 to 8.5 tons. These excavators are also known as compact excavators. These generally include a standard backfill blade and an independent boom swing. The attachment in front can be changed depending on what you want to do.

The light and compact design of excavators make it suitable for use in DIY projects, but that is not to say that these excavators aren’t used for larger construction projects. Ideal for tight spaces, these excavators pack a punch and are useful for underground plumbing work, electricians, and most importantly for landscapers.

Three diggers including a mini excavator
Three diggers including a mini excavator

Renting or buying a mini excavator is much more cost-effective than opting for a full-sized excavator. They aren’t as powerful, yes, and may take a bit longer to complete the same task, but it’s better than going at it with hand.

Why Use a Mini Excavator for Stump Removal?

Whether you’re building a detached garage, play area, patio, or simply landscaping your backyard, a tree stump can come in the way and therefore be an inconvenience, to say the least. Furthermore, after you’ve cut down a tree, its stumps can dry out and invite pests to make a home in. These can be ants, termites, beetles, or even hornets!

Removing a stump by hand can be very difficult since a tree’s root ball can be 3 to 7 times larger than the tree itself (depending on the climate). Trees that get enough water may not need to spread far and wide compared to those in drier areas.

Furthermore, removing them by hand can spread the decay and pests further as you continue to dig around the stump and its roots. The teeth at the end of its bucket help dig rather easily and reach deeper into the ground.

Before we cover how to use a mini excavator for stump removal, it’s worth pointing out that if there’s limited access for the digger tray to work (due to a nearby wall, for example) then a mini excavator might not be the best choice – no matter how small the stump is:

A small tree stump but with limited access
A small tree stump but with limited access

How to Use a Mini Excavator For Stump Removal

With a mini excavator, removal can be done either by:

  1. Digging, or by
  2. Grinding

Digging

To remove a stump via the digging method, you don’t need any fancy attachments but can use the same bucket that you got it with. This will save you a few hundred dollars in terms of rent but you’ll end up disturbing the ground.

Before you start digging to remove said stump(s), remember to call your utility providers for an inspection. If a line is running through your backyard and right around the stump, digging with an excavator is out of the question. We’ll discuss its solution in the next section.

Digging stumps with mini excavators

Once you’re sure there are no utility lines:

  • Begin by aligning your mini excavator with the stump. Stand close, but not too close to the ground you’re about to excavate.
  • Make sure you are careful of the overhead branches, if any.
  • First, loosen soil around the stump by picking up the fill and dropping it back. In the interest of saving cost and time, try to minimize fill wastage as much as possible.
  • Once the soil is loose, you can try to pull the stump out with the bucket’s teeth. Try to put the teeth under the stump – the roots will follow.
  • If it still doesn’t come out, dig a little deeper and repeat the above step until you can pull it out.

Remember; aim for the roots.

For larger stumps, it is a good idea to take it slow and dig deeper. However, the grinding method is better suited for those.

Grinding

The best way to remove stubborn, larger stumps that your mini excavator might not be powerful enough for is via grinding. This method also works if there are utility lines running under the stump. Instead of renting out a crane for these stumps, you can rent out a grinding attachment such as the Stumper 220.

These grinder attachments are basically machines with hydraulic cylinders at the end that rotate at high speeds, chipping away the stump under it. To use the stump:

  • Rest the excavator bucket on the ground and detach it carefully
  • Attach the grinder securely and connect it with your excavator
  • Once turned on, slowly lower the grinder onto the stump. Make sure there is no one around the stump because chips fly away at very high speeds
  • Keep lowering the grinder until the tree stump is at ground level. Raise it up to let it cool down before continuing (optional)
  • Continue grinding until you’re six to eight inches below the surface. This is to ensure that insects don’t have a place to nest in it

The grinder will leave behind chips in the form of mulch that you can use elsewhere. Fill the hole left behind and you’re done! Grinders don’t leave behind any holes or tears in your lawn nor do you have to fill the hole back up.

Alternative Methods for Stump Removal

There are several methods to remove the stumps from your backyard besides using a mini excavator, with one of the most commonly used ones being with a crane. You basically hook up the stump with a micro-crane and pull it out. It can be a bit messy and leave behind tears, but it is a much quicker method, nonetheless.

A very painful way to remove stumps is to start digging manually. This is quite literally a very painstaking task. You can use stump removal chemicals to rot the wood within a few weeks and break it easily with an axe or sledgehammer. You can burn it as well, but we advise against that. You never know with fire.

Cost of Renting a Mini Excavator for Stump Removal

It goes without saying that if you’re a DIY-er, renting a mini excavator is much easier than buying it. It also makes much more sense, to be honest.  

On average, mini excavators can cost somewhere between $200 and $500 per day without extra attachments. Daily rentals can go down as you increase the term for which you’re renting it. As for the attachments, costs can vary from anywhere between $70 per day to $800.

The grinder we mentioned above can cost you around $100 to $150 per half a day. Some also offer the same for less, though, so be sure to ask your local hardware store.

What Size Excavator Should I Use for Stump Removal?

Let’s get one thing clear; if you know how to use it, you don’t have to worry about the tonnage of your excavator for removing stumps. However, that is not to say that removal is going to be easy, no matter what size you choose.

Of course, you are going to have a hard time removing larger tree stumps by digging around it with a 10 ton mini excavator; but it can be done. Different jobs require different excavator sizes, which we’ll discuss in our blog about the best mini excavators for digging stumps. 

Speaking of digging, the technique will also dictate the size of your mini excavator. If you’re grinding stumps, you can get it done with even the smallest excavators. For digging, you’re going to have to consider various factors.

We hope we were able to answer your question of whether or not a mini excavator can remove stumps, along with any other concerns.

Happy digging!

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