Cutting down a dead or damaged tree inevitably leads to a dilemma: what to do about the stump. Granted, you could leave it in place, or use an axe and shovel to chop and dig it out of the ground. But the easiest method to remove it is with a stump grinder.
Stump grinders are available through tool rental agencies, and while there are different models, they all feature a large spinning blade (see photo 1) that slowly chips away at the offending stump. A series of levers operate the hydraulics that raise and lower the blade, and for motorized walk-behind models such as the one I used, they also control the steering and the drive system (see photo 2).
To safely operate a stump grinder, start by using a shovel to remove any rocks or other debris from around the base of the stump. Next, use a chain saw to trim the stump close to the ground. Drive the stump grinder into position so that the grinding wheel is centered over the stump's front edge. Start the wheel spinning; then slowly lower it until it cuts into the stump by only a few inches. Use the hydraulic control levers to slowly swing the cutting wheel from side to side. After you've removed a few inches of material, lower the blade a few more inches and repeat the process until you've ground down at least 4 in. below the surrounding soil.
When using a stump grinder, make sure the rental agent walks you through the controls and show you how to safely operate them. Have your local utility agency mark the location of any buried lines. Wear safety glasses and hearing protection at all times, and keep all bystanders away from the machine. And remember to work slowly. Don't try to take a deep cut or force the machine, as you could damage the cutting blade or cause the drive belt to slip.