Tree removal and stump grinding has been an issue since man first began to deforest tracts of land for cultivation. The methods have changed markedly over the years, but it still proves a time-consuming and tedious process with no easy or cost-effective solution. This, in itself, has created a market for tree removal and stump-grinding services. But even with the proper equipment, removing a tree and grinding its stump can still can prove difficult.
Before the advent of power tools to speed the process, trees would have to be felled by hand with a saw and a hitched team of mules or horses to haul the tree away. Afterward, the stump would be removed by men using axes, shovels, and mattocks to break up the surrounding earth, chop through the roots, and literally drag it from the ground. A horse or horse team might be attached by leads to the stump to pull it free. The stump would then be chopped up for kindling. This method was used up the late 1800s before tractors became readily available and is still employed by Mennonites, Amish, and other groups that eschew technology, as well as those who do not have access to it.
Factors to Consider
When removing a tree, sometimes the methods employed must be tailored to the situation. For example, a tree behind a heavily urbanized locale might not be readily accessible by heavy machinery. This would require the use of man-portable equipment like a lightweight stump grinder. Furthermore, should a tree be close to a building of any kind, extreme care must be taken to fell the tree so that it does not cause any damage in the fall. This entails the use of pole trimmers to cut away surrounding branches, leather straps and cleated boot spikes to allow a workman to climb to the top of the tree, and a belt mounted chainsaw to cut the tree into sections from the top down.
Once a tree is felled, if sufficient time is available, it can just be left alone. Without a surface area to perform photosynthesis, the tree roots die. Over time, up to a year, both the tree and stump rot away thanks the presence of inherent fungi and bacteria. Chemicals such as potassium nitrate or other fertilizers can be applied to both the tree and stump which provide nutrients to these fungi and bacteria and help them propagate. This can speed decay up to several months.
The common current method used to fell trees and remove stumps uses portable machinery. A wedge is cut into the base of the tree with a chainsaw. This wedge is as deep as one-third the tree's width and designed to upset the tree's balance. The cut is placed low on the tree, so when a chainsaw cuts the rest of the way through the tree from the opposite side, the tree will fall in the direction of the wedge. From there, the tree is cut into pieces small enough to be carried and hauled off. A stump grinder, a two-wheeled device with a centralized downward-facing circular saw blade, is worked into the stump until the entire stump has been reduced to mulch, which is then bagged and carried away.
To clear hundreds of trees at a time, industrial equipment is required. A large tracked vehicle called a logging iron, similar to a backhoe in design, is driven up to a tree, a long articulating steel arm with claw ends on the top of the iron grasps the base of the tree, and then a circular saw mounted on the arm parallel to the ground turns up to speed, cutting through the tree in the space of a minute. The arm puts the cut tree aside and moves on. Behind the logging iron works a bulldozer, which uses its dozer blade to push the tree root out of the ground. Secondary equipment then loads the tree roots into a truck and brings it to an industrial grinder, which turns the roots into wood chips.