Mo & Terry Smedley


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Stump Wars

The week of September 18, we're launching an all-out assault on at least four stumps left over from previous thinning operations.   The objective is clear - remove the stumps while minimizing impact to the surrounding yard areas.   In the past, I've used the backhoe to dig out stumps.  That leaves an enormous crater, and it really beats up the backhoe, which was never designed for such severe service.  It is immensely satisfying, however, to hoist an offending stump out of its socket after a couple hours of digging and prying with the backhoe. 

This time around, I'm going to try a gentler approach that is gaining widespread acceptance in the tree service profession - using a stump cutter or grinder to "chew" the stump down below the ground surface.  This is much less intrusive than digging the large crater, and at least in theory will take less time than digging the stump out with my smallish backhoe.  The stumps to be removed this time are larger and less rotted than ones I've dug out previously.  One of the stumps measures five feet across!  This will be a tough test of the stump grinding method!

I'm renting a Vermeer SC252 25HP stump grinder in Olympia.  The unit weights about 1100 pounds, and comes on its own trailer.  Vermeer makes top quality equipment - we own a Vermeer brush chipper that has always served well.   You can rent smaller "handlebar" stump grinders, but they're no match for the five foot stumps in this project.

I'll post daily results from the project, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of the week.  Updates have been posted "newest to oldest", so if you've been following this project, the most recent news is right at the top.  Scroll down to see the previous days.

Project Conclusion:  A 25HP or larger stump grinder makes possible all kinds of grounds improvements.   In the almost 30 years we've lived here, our clearing, trails, and outbuilding placement have been constrained by where the stumps are.  With a few hours time, it's possible to remove even the largest of stumps.  Grinding the stumps instead of digging them is relatively non-invasive, which was a key requirement for getting rid of the two stumps in the front yard that were positioned more or less between our three lateral septic drain field lines.  Digging them out with the backhoe would have risked disturbing the drain tile or rock.  The larger stumps would realistically require a much larger backhoe or an excavator, which would mean contracting the work out.  The stump grinder is equipment I can transport and use myself, which makes scheduling projects far more flexible.  There are larger grinders that can do this job faster, but the 25HP size is easily moved around the property, in sometimes tight quarters, with 36-48" of clearance all that's required.  I have a long list of other clearing projects that will be made possible by access to a stump grinder.

Day 7: Sunday, September 24 - unexpected benefits!

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Unfortunately, I have no "before" pictures, so it's a little hard to fully appreciate what became possible once stumps were no longer the limiting factor.  The path to the right has always been a trouble spot - it's just barely wide enough for a wheelbarrow, and it's never been possible to get the tractor or other equipment through here.  Armed with the stump grinder, I cleared the path to the left with the tractor and box scraper - plenty of room for all of our equipment now. The box scraper is a terrific tool for trail building.  Its four drag teeth capture most of the brush, and the small stumps, while the twin blades at the rear of the box lay the soil down smooth.  The scraper is 48", and all of our equipment will travel on a 48" patch (excepting the trailer). Here you can see where I spread the remnants of an enormous stump to build the road.  The stump was about 50" at the base, and about 24" tall.  All the chips generated from grinding make nice paving material.   In the 28 years we've lived here, it's never been possible to get a tractor down this end of our North fence line.  To blaze this trail, I felled one tree (using the tractor, wire rope, and a snatch block anchored to another tree to precisely control the felling direction), and ground out three good sized stumps.  There's plenty of additional cleanup that can be done on the edge of the trail, but I can now get the tractor and chipper all the way through.
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This is looking back at the new fence line trail. After a little more smoothing, this is the area adjacent to the house where we plan to put a dog kennel.  It 's amazing how getting rid of the stumps makes a nice, open area.    

Day 4: Thursday, September 21

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With the four originally planned stumps now gone, today I worked on some "extras".  This stump by the equipment shed was forever a pain to mow around.  This was another pretty good sized one - about 48".  It was a little tricky getting this one out because the grade around the stump was sloped about 8" from one side to the other.  After grinding it down a ways, I used the box scraper to drag a new, level grade, then reground the stump to about 6" below the new grade.  There was a 30" stump at the base of the tree whose top blew over onto the house earlier this year.  There are also a couple of much smaller stumps in this area (12" or less in diameter).  The Vermeer made quick work of those - until I ran out of gas.  I'll finish up the last of the little stumps tomorrow.   Here's a closeup of the carbide cutters.  They have three cutting edges (the cutters can be rotated in 120 degree increments).   The machine was starting to vibrate - a lot.  I found the dullest of the cutters, and spun them 120 degrees.  The performance picked up dramatically.   I'm pretty sure this machine could be made to run even better than it does now by replacing several of the most-worn cutters.  That's always the downside of rental equipment - they tend to run them until they're basically dead.   

Day 3: Wednesday, September 20
The original objectives of this campaign have been met!

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This is the smallest of the four stumps in this project. It measures less than two feet across.  The Vermeer makes quick work of this - the entire width of the stump can be cut in one pass.  I did not have to reposition the cutter.   As an experiment, I started on this stump at its original felled height to get an idea if it is really time-effective to cut the stump low with the chain saw beforehand. This is the last stump.  It measures a little over 3 feet.  I decided it was best to cut the stump very low before starting.  While the cutter went throw my experimental "high stump" fast enough, it created an enormous pile of debris that had to be removed (see later picture).   Look at how sound the wood is in this Douglas-fir stump, some ten years after cutting.  So much for the "let it rot" approach to getting rid of stumps, although I have seen hemlock and pine stumps that are thoroughly rotted after a few years.  The Grays Harbor rain came with a vengeance today.  I managed to get the job done, but the ground was getting pretty wet and slippery.  Raked more or less smooth, it looks pretty good.  It took about three hours to do the grinding, and another three to do the cleanup and smoothing. Here's the enormous pile of stump cuttings that wouldn't fit back in the hole.  I loaded them in the trailer and will use them to fill in our trails (when we get a little drier day).  Unlike the tree chipper which blows its chips right into the trailer, there's only one way to get the stump cutter chips into the trailer - a shovel at a time.  That's why I decided to cut the last stump low before starting - to minimize the amount of debris that has to be shoveled away.

Day 2: Tuesday, September 19

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Here's the Vermeer SC252 that I rented from LewRents in Olympia.  It uses the same Kohler V-Twin 25HP engine that is on our Vermeer wood chipper.  This is industrial-strength equipment that's a delight to explore. The cutter wheel is 1/2" thick, 16" diameter.  The 16 carbide cutters form a 19" circle tip-to-tip.   Hydraulic cylinders raise and lower the cutter wheel, and move it from side to side.  The side to side "sweep" rate is automatically restricted to keep engine rpm up as the load increases. Here's what the larger stump looked like after I made four passes through it.  
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It took about three hours to get to this point.  The stump has been ground down to about 6" below the ground surface.  This very large (5 foot diameter) stump required repositioning the cutter many times.  The biggest challenge was seeing what was left to cut and confirming the stump depth below all the debris that was accumulating under the cutter. The smaller stump was a much easier task.  It took about an hour and a half to grind this one down.  I only had to reposition the cutter a few times to get it all. Here's a more or less finished product.  I've spread the stump chips and back-bladed them with the tractor.  There's more smoothing that can be done, but that can wait until the other stumps are taken out.  Eventually, a dog house (or two) and a fenced run are going in this new flat space. Here's tomorrow's project:  The two stumps in the front yard.  One of these is pretty small, the other is about the same size as the smaller stump I did today.  I'm estimating three to four hours to take both of these out (after an hour or so of chainsaw work to cut these down to ground level).

Day 1:  Monday, September 18

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The first two stumps to go are located near the house.  We're thinking about building a dog kennel in this area.  It's easy enough to make out the large stump in the foreground.  There's also a pretty good sized stump hidden below the small hemlocks a little further away. After several hours of chain saw work, I've taken the two stumps down close to ground level.  This is the first step in grinding them out - it should be faster to cut out the above-ground portion than to grind it away. One stump measures an impressive five feet across.  This will be the most severe test of the grinding equipment and process. The second stump in this area is about half that size - about 30" across at the ground.
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My chain saw can't cut 5 foot stumps (or 30" ones for that matter) in one pass, so the above ground wood came out in pieces.  Notice how good this wood (fir) looks even after these stumps have been sitting for  about seven years  in the Olympic Peninsula rain.  Only the outermost couple of inches were rotted, the rest of the wood was firm and sound all the way to the ground.