How Much Lumber in that Tree? (E2915)

Measuring diameter and height to determine tree volume.

There are times when a woodland owner may want to determine the board foot volume of certain trees in his or her woodlot for building purposes or for sale. Measuring the volumes of standing trees enables the property owner to select the proper combination of available trees to provide the desired amount of lumber. Volume calculations can also help the woodland owner avoid harvesting more trees than necessary and can give him or her an accurate accounting of the number of board feet for sale.

Large trees that will yield boards for lumber are called sawtimber trees. Sawtimber is measured and sold in terms of board feet. A board foot is 1 inch thick, 1 foot wide and 1 foot long. The first step in determining the board foot contents of standing trees is measuring their diameters and usable heights. Tables 2, 3 and 4 summarize these volumes using various log rule techniques.

Anyone can determine the board foot content of their trees by following a few simple steps. This bulletin describes how to estimate the amount of lumber in a tree with easy-to-make tools. If an estimate of the entire woodlot is needed, however, the owner should contact an area forester or a consulting forester for this service. More complex techniques are involved in estimating volumes on a large scale, which are beyond the scope of untrained individuals.

Measuring Diameter

Tree diameters are measured at breast height, which is 41 ⁄2 feet above the average ground level. Although diameter tapes are often used to take this measurement, another tool, called a Biltmore stick1, is easy to construct in the home workshop. Use a straight piece of hardwood that is free from knots or other defects, as shown in Fig.1. The stick should be 30 inches long, 1 ⁄2 inch thick and 11 ⁄2 inches wide, and beveled on one edge.

''

Fig. 1. Dimensions of Biltmore stick designed to measure tree diameter on one side and merchantable tree height on the other side.

Sand the sides and edges of the stick smooth. The stick is then graduated on the unbeveled side according to the figures given in Table 1.

1The Biltmore stick may also be purchased from forestry equipment catalogues such as Forestry Suppliers or Ben Meadows.

Table 1. Biltmore rule graduations.

Diameter-graduations on a stick

Distance in inches from end of stick to diameter graduations

Diameter-graduations on stick

Distance in inches from end of stick to diameter graduations

5

4.6

18

13.7

6

5.4

19

14.3

7

6.2

20

14.9

8

7.0

21

15.5

9

7.7

22

16.0

10

8.

23

16.6

11

9.2

24

17.1

12

9.8

25

17.7

13

10.5

26

18.2

14

11.2

27

18.7

15

11.8

28

19.2

16

12.5

29

19.7

17

13.1

30

20.2

Measure tree diameters with the Biltmore stick in the following way (see Fig. 2):

1. Hold the stick 25 inches from your eyes in a horizontal position. Hold the beveled edge of the stick against the trunk of the tree at breast height.

2. Look straight at the tree without moving your head from side to side. Adjust the stick so that the left or zero end is lined up with the left side of the tree.

3. Without moving your head, shift the line of sight to the right-hand side of the trunk.

4. Read the diameter on the stick nearest the point at which the line of sight crosses it.

Tree diameter can also be measured using an ordinary tape measure. Wrap the tape around the circumference of the tree at 4.5 feet above its base. Divide the circumference by 3.14 (π) to calculate the diameter of the tree.

''

Fig. 2. Measuring tree diameter with a Biltmore stick.

Measuring Height

Tree heights are measured in units of 16-foot logs or fractions thereof. In slender, straight trees, this measurement is taken to a point on the upper trunk of the tree where the diameter inside the bark is 8 inches. With older trees, however, excessive branching or forks may reduce the usable height. One should then measure the distance between stump height and usable height.

A Merritt rule for measuring tree heights can be inscribed on the reverse side of the Biltmore stick; then both rules, one for measuring tree diameter and the other for measuring tree height, will be on the same stick.

To inscribe the Merritt rule on the stick, simply mark graduations of 6.1 inches from the zero end of the stick (see Fig. 1). Each graduation represents a 16-foot log length. Inscribe half-log marks halfway between the 16-foot log marks. Make the graduation for both the diameter scale and the height scale with a sharp pencil or marker. Then give the stick a coat of clear var nish or polyurethane. This will bring out the color of the indelible lead, as well as protect the stick from moisture and discoloration.

Measure tree heights with the Merritt rule by the following method (see Fig. 3):

1. Stand 66 feet from the base of the tree. Hold the stick vertically at a distance of 25 inches from your eye.

2. Adjust the stick so that the zero end is in the line of sight with the upper limit of usable height.

3. Without moving your head or the stick, shift your line of sight to the stump height at the base of the tree (usually 12 to 16 inches above ground level). From the scale, read the number of logs (or fractions of logs) in the tree.

If the ground is not level, stand on a spot that has about the same elevation as the base of the tree.

''

Fig. 3. Measuring tree height in 16-foot log units with a Merritt rule.

Determining Tree Volume

After the diameters and heights of the trees have been measured, the board foot content for each tree can be read from a volume table. Board foot volume is estimated in many ways. Because many of these calculations were developed before the benefit of calculators, estimations are simplified formulas that are easy to tabulate by hand. Other, later formulas are more complex but ultimately more accurate in estimating the amount of useable wood. The International log rule (Table 2), one of these more recent estimation systems, gives a very accurate measure of the amount of lumber that a sound, straight tree will yield at the sawmill.

Local customs, however, sometimes require using other log rule calculations when standing timber is sold. Estimated volumes from two other log rules, Doyle and Scribner Decimal C, are given in Tables 3 and 4.

If you are going to fell the trees yourself and haul the logs to the mill, read the board foot values in Table 2, the International rule. However, if you are selling standing trees in the Lower Peninsula (and if the buyer insists), use the values in Table 3. If your trees are in the Upper Peninsula and the buyer demands it, use the values based on the Scribner Decimal C rule (Table 4).

In using these tree volume tables, increase the volumes by 10 percent for the following trees: balsam fir, spruce, white oak, yellow poplar, black cherry, beech and ash. Also, make suitable deductions for visible defects, such as rot.

Table 2. Tree volume table based on International log rule.

Diameter 4 ½ feet above ground (inches)

Number of 16-foot logs

 

1

2

3

4

Volume in board feet

10

35

60

 

 

11

45

75

 

 

12

55

90

120

 

13

65

110

145

 

14

80

130

175

 

15

90

155

200

 

16

 

180

240

285

17

 

205

280

330

18

 

235

315

375

19

 

265

360

425

20

 

295

400

480

21

 

330

450

540

22

 

370

500

605

23

 

405

550

665

24

 

440

605

725

25

 

485

665

800

26

 

 

725

880

27

 

 

790

950

28

 

 

850

1,030

29

 

 

920

1,110

30

 

 

990

1,070

Table 3. Tree volume table based on Doyle rule.

Diameter 4 ½ feet above ground (inches)

Number of 16-foot logs

 

1

2

3

4

Volume in board feet

10

15

20

 

 

11

20

30

 

 

12

30

45

50

 

13

40

60

70

 

14

50

75

95

 

15

60

95

120

 

16

 

115

150

170

17

 

140

180

210

18

 

165

215

250

19

 

195

255

300

20

 

225

295

350

21

 

260

345

400

22

 

295

390

460

23

 

330

445

520

24

 

370

495

580

25

 

415

560

660

26

 

 

620

740

27

 

 

685

815

28

 

 

750

890

29

 

 

825

980

30

 

 

900

1,070

 Table 4. Tree volume table based on Scribner Decimal C rule.*

Diameter 4 ½ feet above ground (inches)

Number of 16-foot logs

 

1

2

3

4

Volume in board feet

10

3

4

 

 

11

4

6

 

 

12

5

8

10

 

13

6

9

12

 

14

7

11

15

 

15

8

14

18

 

16

 

16

21

25

17

 

18

25

29

18

 

21

28

33

19

 

24

32

38

20

 

27

36

43

21

 

30

41

49

22

 

34

46

55

23

 

37

51

61

24

 

41

56

66

25

 

45

62

74

26

 

 

68

81

27

 

 

74

89

28

 

 

80

96

29

 

 

86

104

30

 

 

93

112

*The figures shown in this table must be multiplied by 10 to obtain board foot values.

Related Events

Related Articles

Related Resources