How to Preserve a Tree Stump (Why and How)

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Last updated: October 14, 2021

There are so many things you can do with a tree stump that it may be worth preserving it for future use. But preserving a tree stump is not as easy as it may sound, and comes with risks and challenges.

Let’s dive a little deeper into this, as we review why you’d want to keep tree leftovers, and how best to preserve a tree stump for outdoor or indoor use.

Why Keep a Tree Stump?

You keep it because, for personal reasons, you want to. Maybe it’s ingrained in the landscape or just worth repurposing.

You have to take into account there’s more to the stump than what it looks like. The moment the stump and tree are separated, the stump is on its way to decaying. In time, it becomes a nesting ground for carpenter ants, termites, and other critters.

You can leave the stump and let it rot. You can accept the coming invaders that could spread to your plants and thriving trees. You can also remove the stump, grind it down and send it on its way.

Or you can preserve it.

Why Preserve a Stump?

With a little work and the right tools, you could have a new piece of art to display around your home or come up with a recycled, natural furnishing. What’s possible only requires a little imagination.

Tree stump used as pot stand

We think hanging onto the stump is a nice idea. It adds to the home aesthetic, and it’s a pretty eco-friendly project.

It’s a simple backyard landscaping idea that offers plenty of design options. Check out our list of garden tree stump ideas for some inspiration.

Not All Stumps Are Good to Go

Wood dies slowly. It decays and breaks apart. If preserving a stump, you want a high grade of wood. We’re talking oak, redwood, western red cedar, or similar material.

These woods are perfect for preservation projects due to their durability.

How to Preserve a Tree Stump for Outdoor Use

If you’re not interested in uprooting the stump, there are still many ways to repurpose it. Modify a leftover log into a garden container or play table for the kids or just make it part of your patio seating area.

Either way, if you’re leaving the stump outdoors, you still want to keep it safe. Ultimately, the best way to preserve wood outdoors is to seal the surface. Sealing is an excellent alternative to digging the stump up or burning the stump.

Once it’s cleaned up and even polished, the stump will add reinforced character to your outdoor spaces. You can now enjoy the stump as a natural chair, a table, or a garden box (if you hollow the stump out first).

Preserved tree stump

Make sure you have a plan for what you’re going to do with the stump before you seal it. Otherwise, you may have to reseal the stump a second time.

So, let’s take a look at the process.

1. Your Toolkit

The first step is to put together what you’ll need to preserve the tree stump.

Here’s the list:

  • Various cloths
  • Sandpaper (at least 81 grit)
  • Polyurethane wood sealant
  • Gloves

2. Clean the Surface

Put on your gloves. Examine the surface of the stump carefully. If you spot lingering lumps or bark, remove them. You want to get as smooth a surface as possible without killing the rugged, outdoorsy appearance.

After that, go over the surface with a clean, damp cloth to remove debris and dirt.

3. Sanding

This is an optional step. It’s only necessary if you want a smoother surface. The process will also simplify the seal.

Get your high-grit sandpaper and start buffing the surface. Keep at it, make sure you work all areas evenly until you have your high-grit paper’s ground to fine-grit. The surface needs to feel even and smooth to the touch.

Once you’ve finished this, get a damp, clean washcloth and wipe down the surface.

4. Apply a Wood Sealant

Time to finish. Take your brush and apply two or three coats of the polyurethane wood sealant along the stump’s surface. After you’ve done this, wait no less than two days for the sealant to completely dry.

Your stump is now preserved and ready for whatever repurposing you have in mind for it.

Tree stump used as a game board

How to Preserve a Tree Stump for Indoor Use

If you’re planning to use the stump indoors, remove the tree from the ground. Saw off all portions you don’t want to use.

Depending on the wood’s thickness, leave the stump outside for at least six months or so (longer if the weather is really wet) to ensure it completely dries out.

It’s best to leave the stump in a shed or garage as the climate can keep it unnecessarily moist.

1. Your Toolkit

This is, not surprisingly, a far more extensive project. You will need significantly more time and maybe even a little help.

Here’s the list of supplies:

  • Various pieces of cloth
  • Rotary hammer (optional)
  • Planer
  • Electric sander
  • Gloves
  • Sandpaper (at least 80 grit)
  • Wood filler
  • Wood stabilizer
  • Gorilla tape
  • Plastic sheet or tarp
  • Ties
  • Finishing gloss spray

2. Remove Stump From Ground

You can find plenty of videos and blogs about DIY-ing your tree stump. Go ahead and give them a look and decide if you can handle it.

We have also created a guide explaining how to remove a tree stump without using a grinder, which you may find useful to have a read through.

When a stump’s removed from the ground, you have to remove the root structure as well. It’s an arduous process, and we prefer to turn the chore over to the professionals. But then, we’re lazy.

You should also take note that as long as any part of the tree’s in the ground, there’s still the possibility of fungi and pests infestation. Read up on tree care and apply the principles to the stump.

3. Begin Treatment

Clean the stump thoroughly with a wet cloth. Clear debris as best you can. Rub with the grain in circular, gentle motions. Do this with the top and bottom of the stump.

Do not use the cloth for wiping the bark. You might make the bark fall off or flake. If there are any flaking pieces on the stump, mainly the bark, gently pull them off. Remove any bugs, twigs, and leaves.

Depending on your plan, you might want to remove the bark altogether. Two conditions make this a safe move. One, the bark doesn’t seem too dry. Two, there’s no black ring between the wood and the bark.

To remove the bark, use a rotary hammer. Slide the hammer top to bottom. The bark should come off with no trouble. Now you’ll have a pleasant wood appearance. The bark gives the stump a rustic look. Removing it now requires sanding the stump.

4. Time to Smooth It Out

Get out your planer. This is a flat head power tool used to even surfaces. Use the planer on the stump’s top and bottom perimeters. Do this until the edges are smooth to the touch.

After smoothing, sweep up any debris.

If you’re not already wearing gloves, put them on. Get your sandpaper. Rub the stump’s top in circular motions to remove the top layer. You want the grain level. Do the same to the bottom. If you removed the bark, sand the sides and smooth them out.

Finish the sanding with your electric sander, but only if the finish is rough or dirty. You want to remove layers until you have a fresh, clean look. Watch for rings at the top and bottom. That’s the signal of fresh wood coming up.

Once you have your finish, wipe the stump down with a lint-free, damp piece of cloth.

5. Finishing the Job

If you see deep or large cracks, it’s okay. But if you want to get rid of them, use the wood filler. Hope you’re still wearing those gloves!

Tape up areas around the sides and bottom below the cracks so that your epoxy doesn’t get out, then drizzle the filler into the cracks. Let the wood be overnight to ensure thorough drying.

Your wood stabilizer, available online or at a hardware store, prevents cracking, warping, or checking. Use a small amount at first, roughly half a cup.

Rub the compound into the top of the wood with a dry, clean cloth. Using circular motions, rub the stabilizer into the grain. You may need to add more of the chemical as the wood will quickly absorb the compound.

Tree stump table

Tie a plastic sheet or tarp to cover the surface. Leave the stump for a few hours so that the stabilizer dries well. Once it has, repeat the entire stabilizing process with the bottom of the stump.

After the second drying process, you can apply up to two coats of stabilizer to the stump, always letting the top and bottom dry for two to four hours each.

Happy with the results? Good. The last thing we want is to prevent wood and bark from falling off the sides. We’re going to seal it with a clear finishing gloss spray, applying it to the entire stump. Put the stump in a dry spot (shed or garage) and leave it overnight to dry.

Final Thoughts

And you’re done! Hopefully the above guide answers all your questions regarding preserving a tree stump.

Whether you set up the stump in the lounge room as a checkers table or leave it outside to accent the ecosystem, you’re going to love having kept your tree stump instead of destroying it.


How to preserve a tree stump for outdoor or indoor use

Thomas Dunnett

The backyard is the perfect place to bond with family and friends, to have a good time, or to simply relax with some fresh air and a bit of sunshine. With this website I am hoping to share my passion for the backyard with you.

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