I am installing a sprinkler system in my backyard but a thick tree root is crossing a pipe path. This tree was actually removed last year (cut & stump grinding) and the tree roots are the remaining ones. One easy way is of course to rent a stump grinder but don't want to spend money only for this job. I am wondering if there is any other alternative way. I was thinking of using router bits to cut off the top portion of the roots up to, say 10" so that the pipe can pass. But, I am wondering if there is any other better method.

  • 1
    Do you have a chainsaw or tree trimming saw?
    – ArchonOSX
    Apr 27, 2016 at 20:18
  • 1
    About how thick is the root?
    – Chris
    Apr 27, 2016 at 20:19
  • 3
    Please don't use a router in the dirt - utterly the wrong tool. It's actually pretty abusive for a chainsaw, too, though some people will do that (probably with a saw they have borrowed, rather than their own.) @gbronner has the right idea - this is an ideal job for an axe (one large tooth, easily resharpened after use on dirty wood) or a saw you don't love much (even if you have saw-sharpening skills, this would be a job for a saw you save for the ugly jobs, such as a pruning saw.) If you want a power tool, get a sawzall (you can rent, or for this you could get a harbor freight version.)
    – Ecnerwal
    Apr 28, 2016 at 1:31

4 Answers 4


Use a pickaxe to dig a hole around the tree root, and use an axe or a saw to cut the root. Repeat as necessary.
This works reasonably well for one tree, not so well for a forest.

  • I could see where this method might take some time for a forest.
    – ArchonOSX
    Apr 27, 2016 at 22:36
  • Depending on the "other" end of your pickaxe, you might be able to chop through the root with that. I've used an adze type of head to get rid of roots before. Roots are often quite soft compared to wood, so you don't need a super-sharp axe.
    – Chris H
    Apr 28, 2016 at 7:19
  • 1
    Technically, the perfect tool would be a cutter mattock. I've always found them to be a bit unwieldy, so I prefer to use a cheap axe along with the occasional yard sale saw.
    – gbronner
    Apr 28, 2016 at 12:41

When I have been in a similar situation (dead roots), this has worked for me:

  1. Dig around the root with a shovel to remove the bulk of the dirt in the way.
  2. Use a trowel, your hands, something smaller to remove the rest of the dirt near the root.
  3. Use a reciprocating saw (aka Sawzall) to cut through the root. This may take some time depending on how green the roots are, but those saws will eventually cut through it. Homeowners are more likely to own a reciprocating saw than a stump grinder, as well. If not, a decent one can be had for under $100 and is useful for a lot of demolition tasks.

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You said the tree was removed "last year" so the roots are probably fairly dry by now, so a saw should cut through it easier than if it was just removed.

  • Buy blades in multi-packs, because dirt quickly dulls the mild steel. Also, reciprocating saws draw lots of current; either buy the biggest battery pack available or buy corded. Sep 25, 2017 at 10:03
  • There are blades made specifically for cutting trees. They have low TPI and deep gullets - they look like sections out of an old-school bow saw. Very effective on limbs and roots.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 21, 2022 at 15:14

There are several stump removal products; commonly, potassium nitrate (salt peter) works best, but sodium pyrosulfite also works. Drill 5 or 6 holes in the stump and pour in about 1 lb of salt peter (if it's larger maybe you need more). Pour in water, or let it rain in for about a month. This allows the salt peter to be completely absorbed by the stump and roots... it needs to work all the way though the wood.

Then cover it in kerosene and charcoal briquettes. Light it up and it will burn out completely. When done properly it will burn out the roots and all. takes about 3 to 4 days to finish burning larger stumps.

Edit- Stump grinding usually only removes the surface of the stump. Most of it will probably still be there under the ground. But regardless, you can also drill into the offending root, which from what you describe, sounds like is over 10 inches thick. This will save you quite a bit of digging. It may take a little longer, but a lot less labor. I suppose the decision boils down to urgency. Can it wait a few weeks, or do the sprinklers need to be installed ASAP?

  • Did you even read the question? - there is no stump, and it's a bit absurd to wait a month and then light a fire that may be legally questionable when the requirement is to cut one root...
    – Ecnerwal
    Apr 28, 2016 at 1:25
  • I'm with @Ecnerwal on this one in relation to the question. However, I'm very happy to have read it and REALLY want to try it but even though I've got 2 stumps in my yard currently, I can't possibly believe either the city or my neighbors would approve. I wonder of any of my more rural friends have any stumps to remove...
    – kinar
    Apr 28, 2016 at 14:06
  • @Ecnerwal check the edit to my post Apr 28, 2016 at 15:15
  • @kinar I made some edits to my post. It's not a giant fire, it a slow burn that is not obnoxious (like a slow roasting camp fire). When it's all done, there's little evidence that it was ever there... don't forget the s'mores. Apr 28, 2016 at 15:42

Not at all sure what's left to grab on to, but I've used a machine (made by a friend of mine) that is 4 legs with a platform on top. The legs straddle what's left of the tree stump and supports a hydraulic bottle jack. The top of this jack has provision for a hefty chain to slide over it, which has both ends under to attach to whatever it can that's left of the tree. In your case, maybe just the offending root.

The jack is then pumped up, bringing the stump and roots up, opposite from the way they grew. About 10" lift, then re-position so the chain's tight again, and/or adjust the 4 legs. At some point after several goes, it all rises out of the ground, job done.

It's a heavy piece of machinery, and cumbersome to erect/use, but sure did the job well. Worked for me on tree stumps around 12" diameter easily, so could work on tree roots as well.

Otherwise, a similar idea - a sturdy engine hoist, if there's room to get it over the root, and that's maybe more available for hire for a day. This was in UK, so maybe it wasn't available anywhere else.

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