How To Get Rid Of A Tree Stump With Charcoal?

By Tree Expert Codey Stout
Updated On

Are you wondering how to get rid of a tree stump using charcoal?

You’ve come to the right place!

In this Tree Triage guide, you’ll learn:

  • Safety concerns while using charcoal to remove a stump.
  • How to get rid of a stump by using charcoal to burn it out.
  • The advantages of using charcoal to burn out a stump.

And much more!

Get Rid Of Tree Stump With Charcoal

So, if you’re looking for answers about using charcoal for tree stump removal, keep reading our detailed guide below to get answers to all of your questions!

Is It Safe To Remove A Tree Stump Using Charcoal?

Tree stumps can be a hassle to remove and often involve tedious (and expensive) stump grinding, which is why many homeowners turn to alternative methods like charcoal.

Using charcoal to burn out stumps is a great choice for several reasons such as affordability, safety, and flexibility. Though there are some inherent safety hazards that you really should be well aware of to mitigate your risk of setting your yard, property, or neighborhood on fire. 

Burning a stump

Anytime you set fire to anything (and let it smolder for long periods of time), there is a risk of that fire spreading. Realize that this process, depending on the weather and size of the stump, can take several days. 

In this video, a gentleman spends 10 minutes a day for 15 days tending his slow-burning, large stump. Every day he has to go out and restart the fire. For reasons of time and commitment alone, this option is not for everyone. 

Also, the man in the video shoots compressed air into his smoldering coals. This is done both to blow out the fine ash so that the fire can burn more efficiently, while simultaneously stoking the fire with direct oxygen.

At one point during the series of his daily video clips, a small secondary fire is started from the sparks he shot out of his burning stump. This is why we don’t recommend this DIY method unless you are quite sure you can perform it safely.

If you elect to use this method of stump removal, please look into any local ordinances, or fire safeguards put in place due to seasonal changes in heat and humidity — or outright fire bans that may be in place. You also might want to have a short, informative conversation with your local fire department. 

Finally, have a hose ready nearby, preferably one with a quick turn nozzle, so that you only have to twist it to let the pressurized water loose. If for some unseen reason, the fire you’ve built breaches its containment, the hose may actually melt and flood the area with water. Of course, having a fire extinguisher standing by is always a great idea.

How To Get Rid Of A Tree Stump With Charcoal

This is a great DIY project, but make sure you’re ready to spend some time with this process daily, as you most likely need to reignite a new batch of charcoal until the job is finished.

Remember that this process is hazardous. Take every precaution to keep your fire and live ash from escaping your controlled burn. It’s absolutely in your best interest to be overly cautious, rather than underestimating a single spark that could destroy your property, home or even your whole neighborhood. 

What Tools Will You Need?

The DIY tools recommended here will certainly help you achieve a quicker burn, but aren’t entirely necessary. If you don’t have these, Amazon will be a great place to order them from and you might find spade bits that are longer than you can find locally.

  • A power drill. Specifically an impact drill as this has more power than a common use drill. Take your time, and let the tools do the work. Forcing the drill down doesn’t help very much and you can snap the spade bit.
  • A spade bit (rather than a regular drill bit) of at least a half inch, with a depth as long as possible to drill holes.
  • A chainsaw. This will help you cut down the stump to ground level if necessary (the more you cut, the less you will have to burn) and create a divot in the top of the stump to place, or build your charcoal fire. 
  • Charcoal briquettes. As big a bag as might be necessary.
  • A BBQ lid (optional). This will be used to direct the heat downward, toward the stump and protect the burn from the elements, while reducing the chance of sparks escaping to the surrounding area. 
  • A charcoal starter chimney and/or a steel drum barrel with the bottom cut out (reference this paper here). These can be used to both start the charcoal and then protect the area outside of your controlled burn. 

Additionally, with a barrel, you can burn off some of your kindling, cut limbs or scrap wood around your yard, if you have any. If you are going to use a cut steel drum barrel for this work, drill some holes about a one and a half feet above your burn so that air can feed the fire. 

YouTube video

Step-By-Step Process To Burning A Stump With Charcoal

Now that we’ve gone over the essential tools and things you should know before you dive in, let’s walk through the step-by-step process of removing a stump using the charcoal method.

Step 1 – Drilling Holes

Using a chainsaw to score a stump before burning

Drill a good number of holes with your impact drill, using the longest spade bit you have available. As you drill, make sure to periodically pull the bit free to remove the shavings, or your bit can get stuck in the stump. 

Alternatively, or in conjunction with the holes, cut cross hatches to the sides of the stump and/or cut out a diviot to set your burning coals in.

Step 2 – Build A Charcoal Fire

Adding coals to the scored stump

Build your charcoal fire in your starter chimney. Less charcoal is better at first, you can always add more later.

Safely contain the fire with either your bbq lid, or steel drum with the bottom cut out. Remember to have water standing by for the duration of the burn. 

Depending on the size and condition of the stump, this could take as long as two weeks. Don’t expect your stump to be burning continuously for that time. You will probably need to restart the charcoal burn daily, as it will burn out.

Safely clear the ash each time you reignite the burn. Assume all of the ash you clear is live and smoldering. This way you will pay attention to where it goes and what it could ignite. 

Covering the stump to let it burn

Step 3 – Dig It Out

Grinding a stump

After you’re satisfied with the depth of your burn, clear the area and go about digging out what you can with hand tools, like an ax, mattock and shovel. 

As mentioned above, don’t expect the roots running from the stump to be burnt. Either you will leave these to rot, or you’ll finish digging them out by hand, depending on your needs.

Now you have successfully completed burning out your first stump with charcoal. If you have other stumps to complete and it makes sense with their type and location, just repeat the process as necessary.

Once this stump has been totally burnt away, you should no longer have any issue with shoots sprouting around your yard and if you like, this could be your new fire pit.

Note: Sometimes this process is called ‘charpitting.’ 

How Long Does It Take To Burn A Tree Stump With Charcoal?

The two main factors that impact how long it will take to burn out a stump with charcoal are the size and the state of the stump in question.

If the stump is old and rotted, it won’t take much time at all, even less than you might expect, even if it’s large. Whereas a small, green, fresh-cut stump may take longer, simply because of its water content.

Finally, this is a much faster method than using Epsom salt, potassium nitrate, or tree stump killer — which can take 3 to 6 months. Even then, the stump will still have to be removed one way or another, unless you choose to just let it rot away over time.

Advantages Of Stump Removal Using The Charcoal Burn Method

One of the first advantages is that it’s very inexpensive. Renting a stump grinder can be cost-prohibitive and could easily be overkill if you’re just looking to rid your yard of one or two stumps. 

Here are some other advantages.

  • Generally, it’s a clean method of removal. If you choose to soak the stump with used motor oil, vegetable oil, or kerosene as an accelerant, then the process is a little less ‘green’ and using used motor oil may, actually, be against the law. Here’s a good government paper on outdoor burning in Texas. 
  • Insects that may inhabit your stump, like termites or carpenter ants will be eradicated then and there.
  • Ash from burnt (untreated/unpainted) wood (from your stump or fireplace) is great for your garden, or compost barrel by being rich in minerals. 
  • Your only real variable is time. Depending on the size of the stump and a few other minor factors, will dictate how long a complete burn will take.
  • It’s also pretty flexible, meaning your stump may still be alive, but with charcoal and time, you can get it done. If it’s already dried out and old, then the process will only move along faster.

Disadvantages Of Stump Removal Using The Charcoal Burn Method

Knowing that your property is most likely surrounded by flammable materials, fire safety should be your main concern. Safely preparing the area for your controlled burn (that’s what this is), should be your second concern.

This means clearing the surrounding grounds down to the soil. Also, encircling your stump in question with rocks or other fire-retardant protection measures is not just a great idea, it’s common sense. 

Know that fires can actually spread underground by burning duff. This is usually a thick layer of dry, organic materials found often on forest floors. More on duff fires here

Finally, if your plan for the area is to make that section of land arable, you’ll likely have leftover root systems to contend with. These tree roots will get in the way if you plan to rototill the land in preparation for a garden, as this charcoal process will really only burn out the bulk and the sides of the stump.

Note: Realize that burning out a stump may be illegal in your county. Feel free to reference this paper and consult with your local fire department.

When Should You Hire A Professional?

We always recommend working with our tree experts whenever you’re in doubt about your ability to safely and effectively remove a tree or stump. We will have a stump remover, or grinder, to make quick work of any stumps you have in question. 

Once finished with the removal, our team will backfill the area with soil that should be a nice mound slightly higher than ground level. This will settle with rain, decomposition and time. Feel free to plant some grass seed on it, even as a mound. Eventually, and with a little encouragement, it should settle level to grade.

If you have any questions at all, feel free to reach out and request a quote to see how we can help.

Meet Your Tree Expert

Codey Stout

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