Bushes and shrubs are common fixtures in rural and suburban landscapes, adding beauty, interest, and privacy to a property. Eventually, however, they outgrow their space and need to be removed or replaced.
If you’ve ever tried, you know that manual removal of an established bush is a backbreaking trial. Using a car, truck, or tractor to pull a shrub is quicker, but it can also cause expensive damage to your vehicle, landscape, or nearby structures, and can be hazardous, to boot.
A third option is to build your own “bush jack.” In simple terms, a bush jack is a chain fall hoist suspended from a heavy wooden tripod. Few bushes can resist 2,000 pounds of steady, upward force for long. Gearing and mechanical advantage transform a small fraction of “human pull” force into that steady, 1-ton pull.
Supplies to build a bush jack cost $100 to $150 and are available at most big-box stores or online. Assembly will take roughly half an hour. Use sawhorses or an outdoor workbench to help with laboring over the long timbers.
Tools and Materials:
- 8-foot-long, 3×4 landscape timbers (3)
- 1-foot-long, 3/4-inch coarse threaded rod (1)
- 3/4-inch coarse thread hex nuts (2)
- 3/4-inch flat washers (2)
- 1/4-inch wood thread screw hooks (3)
- 10-foot-long light metal chain
- 1-inch-wide, 2-foot eye-to-eye nylon lifting sling
- 2,000-pound capacity chain fall hoist
- Scrap plywood (optional)
- Safety glasses
- Work gloves
- Circular saw
- Power drill (cordless or electric)
- 3/16-inch twist drill bit
- 1-1/8-inch spade bit
- Tape measure
Construct the Bush Jack
Step 1a-b: Measure 9 inches from one end of a landscape timber, and locate the center of the flat face. Use the 1-1/8-inch spade bit to bore through the timber. Take care when breaking through, as too much force can cause large breakout splinters, and keep your hands and loose clothing clear of the bit.
Step 2a-b: From the opposite side of the timber, measure 4 inches from the end. Use a 3/16-inch twist drill bit to drill a blind hole, 2 to 3 inches deep, in the center of the rounded face. Screw a 1/4-inch hook all the way into the hole, positioning the opening towards the opposite end of the timber. Repeat steps 1 and 2 on the remaining timbers.
Step 3: Lay out the three timbers side by side, lining up the 1-1/8-inch holes and alternating the orientation of the hooks. Slide the 3/4-inch threaded rod through all three timbers. Install a 3/4-inch washer and 3/4-inch nut on each end of the threaded rod, placing the nuts within 1 inch of the timbers on each side.
Step 4 (optional): Cut scrap plywood into three 18-to-24-inch squares. These will serve as “flotation” feet and will prevent the tripod from sinking into soft soil under a load.
Safe Jack Setup
Perform these steps each time you use the bush jack.
Step 5: Stand the timbers upright with the threaded rod on top. Spread the bottom ends out to create a tripod, making sure each 1/4-inch hook points outward. For the best stability, space the feet about 4 to 5 feet apart, and place a scrap plywood piece under each one for better load distribution.
Step 6: Once the tripod is set in place, hook the chain on the 1/4-inch hooks, keeping the chain free of slack. Place the end of the chain on the same hook you started at, creating a loop which ties all three legs together (see photo above). This prevents the tripod feet from spreading or “walking” outward under a load.
Step 7: Loop the 2-foot nylon sling over the center leg of the tripod so the eyes of the sling hang evenly beneath the connecting rod.
Step 8: Lift the chain fall hoist into position, catching both sling eyes with the top hook of the hoist.
Pull the Stump
Most bushes will need some prep work before they’re ready to be pulled, especially dense, overgrown evergreens. Use a pruning saw to cut branches back to roughly 1 foot from the main trunk. Don’t cut all the way back to the trunk; the stubs will provide purchase to keep the chain from slipping under a load. If the bush is growing near a sidewalk, foundation, or other structure which may be compromised by roots, trench along the structure with a ground shovel or mattock to locate and cut away any heavy roots presenting a risk to the structure.
Center the tripod over the stump, with plywood pieces under the feet and the chain looped around the legs to prevent the feet from spreading. Suspend the chain fall hoist from the center leg of the tripod.
A chain fall hoist has two different chains: a heavy “load” chain, outfitted with a hook, and a lighter, continuous “hand” chain. Pulling on the hand chain will draw the load chain up or let it down, depending on which side of the hand chain you pull. The load chain travels at a much slower rate than the hand chain, but with proportionally greater force.
Using the hand chain, run the load chain all the way out, so the hook end is as long as possible. Wrap the hook end of the load chain around the base of the stump, and hook it back to itself. Make certain the tip of the hook points downward, with the chain resting against the inside back of the hook. With one hand, pull the load chain upward and taut while you run the hand chain up to take up the slack in the load chain. Avoid wrapping the chain around either hand or creating pinch points. Either can cause serious hand injury.
When the load chain is taut, you’re ready to pull in earnest. Take note of the hand chain; it may be long enough to drag on the ground. The key to effective pulling is maintaining a smooth, fluid pull. Avoid snagging the hand chain on obstacles or snarling it on itself; either will cause it to jam. If the hand chain jams, don’t try to force it through; reverse the pull to free the hand chain. You’ll quickly develop a smooth, easy pulling rhythm, and the stump will begin to lift out of the ground.
As the bush emerges, its roots will carry a fair amount of soil with them. Pick or knock the soil loose with a shovel or digging bar, knocking it back into the hole. This will significantly lighten the load on the hoist. Watch for heavy roots that stretch far from the trunk. Chop or saw them free as far from the trunk as possible, especially if you feel the hoist begin to “load up,” or approach its force limit. Before cutting anchoring roots, lower the load slightly to reduce the tension it’s under, so it doesn’t recoil. Over time, the roots left in the soil will break down, returning to the earth.
Cleanup and Storage
When the stump and attached root system is hanging free, knock and pick the rest of the soil off the roots and back into the hole. This will make discarding the stump easier and minimize the size of the hole. Lower the bush to the ground, unhook the load chain, and you’re done. It’s just that simple. The entire process, from cutting the bush back to a manageable size to pulling the root system and disposing of the waste, takes about half an hour, depending on the extent of the roots, and light to moderate effort. You can also use a bush jack to pull fence posts, including heavy posts that are cemented in place.
Storage is simple. Unhook the chain around the legs and remove the hoist and sling. Fold the tripod together and lean it in a convenient corner of your garden shed. Spray down the hoist gearing and chains with WD-40 or a rust preventative oil spray, and store it in a bucket with the tripod and chain. I guarantee you’ll be using your bush jack again. If your neighbor sees you using it, they’ll probably ask to borrow it too!
Andrew Weidman lives and writes in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. He’s the vice president of the Backyard Fruit Growers, a grassroots group of volunteers dedicated to helping people grow healthy fruit in their own backyards.