Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Ohio State University Fact Sheet

School of Natural Resources

2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, Ohio 43210


Measuring Standing Trees

Determining Diameter, Merchantable Height, and Volume

F-35-02

Randall B. Heiligmann
Extension Specialist, Forestry

Stephen M. Bratkovich
Former Extension Specialist, Forestry

Woodland owners often need to measure the merchantable board-foot content (termed "volume") of certain trees in their woodland. In order to sell timber, for example, an estimate is needed of the quantity to be sold. If trees are to be cut to provide lumber, an estimate of volume is needed to determine what size and how many trees to cut. Using the methods described in this article, a woodland owner can estimate the board-foot volume in one or several trees. If an estimate is needed for several acres, however, it is recommended that the woodland owner engage the services of an Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry Service Forester, a consulting forester, or an industry forester. Methods needed to accurately and efficiently inventory timber volume on large areas are beyond the scope of this publication.

Tree Volume Estimation

In the United States, the most common measure of lumber volume is the board foot, defined as a piece of wood containing 144 cubic inches. It can most easily be visualized as a board 12 inches square and one inch thick (12" x 12" x 1" = 144 cubic inches). However, any piece of wood containing 144 cubic inches is a board foot (e.g., 3" x 4" x 12"; 2" x 6" x 12"; etc). The board-foot content of any board may be determined by multiplying the length by the width by the thickness, all expressed in inches, and dividing by 144 cubic inches.

The board foot is also the most common volume measure for trees and logs to be used for lumber and veneer. The board-foot volume of a tree or log is an expression of the number of board feet of lumber that can be cut from that tree or log. The lumber volume that can be cut from a tree or a log depends on a great many variables, including how the tree is cut into logs, the dimensions of the lumber, how much of the log is lost in sawdust and waste, and the efficiency of the sawmill and workers. Because of these variables, the board-foot volume of a tree or log cannot be measured exactly but is estimated.

Numerous methods (called "rules") have been developed to estimate board-foot tree volume. Two board-foot volume rules are commonly used in Ohio, the Doyle and the International 1/4-Inch rules (Tables 1 and 2). Both of these rules provide an estimate of the board-foot content of a tree based on tree-trunk diameter breast high and merchantable tree height (discussed later). The Doyle rule is the most common rule in Ohio. It is used by the timber industry and many professional foresters. The International 1/4-Inch rule is used by state agencies and the U.S. Forest Service.

Table 1. Standing Tree Board Foot Volumes - Doyle Rule
Dbh
(inches)
Number of 16-Foot Logs
1/2 1 1-1/2 2 2-1/2 3 3-1/2 4
Board Feet
12 20 30 40 50 60      
14 30 50 70 80 90 100    
16 40 70 100 120 40 160 180 190
18 60 100 130 160 200 220 40 160
20 80 130 180 220 260 300 320 360
22 100 170 230 280 340 380 420 460
24 130 220 290 360 430 490 540 600
26 160 260 360 440 520 590 660 740
28 190 320 430 520 620 710 800 880
30 230 380 510 630 740 840 940 1,040
32 270 440 590 730 860 990 1,120 1,220
34 300 510 680 850 1,000 1,140 1,300 1,440
36 350 580 780 970 1,140 1,310 1,480 1,640
38 390 660 880 1,100 1,290 1,480 1,680 1,860
40 430 740 990 1,230 1,450 1,660 1,880 2,080
42 470 830 1,100 1,370 1,620 1,860 2,100 2,320
From: Ashley, Burl S. 1980. Reference handbook for foresters. USDA NA-FR-15. 35 pp.

Table 2. Standing Tree Board Foot Volumes - International 1/4-Inch Rule
Dbh
(inches)
Number of 16-Foot Logs
1/2 1 1-1/2 2 2-1/2 3 3-1/2 4
Board Feet
12 30 60 80 100 120      
14 40 80 110 140 160 180    
16 60 100 150 180 210 250 280 310
18 70 140 190 240 280 320 360 400
20 90 170 240 300 350 400 450 500
22 110 210 290 360 430 490 560 610
24 130 250 350 430 510 590 660 740
26 160 300 410 510 600 700 790 880
28 190 350 480 600 700 810 920 1,020
30 220 410 550 690 810 930 1,060 1,180
32 260 470 640 790 940 1,080 1,220 1,360
34 290 530 730 900 1,060 1,220 1,380 1,540
36 330 600 820 1,010 1,200 1,380 1,560 1,740
38 370 670 910 1,130 1,340 1,540 1,740 1,940
40 420 740 1,010 1,250 1,480 1,700 1,920 2,160
42 460 820 1,100 1,360 1,610 1,870 2,120 2,360
From: Ashley, Burl S. 1980. Reference handbook for foresters. USDA NA-FR-15. 35 pp.

A comparison of these two volume tables will show that they are not identical. The International 1/4-Inch rule is generally considered to be the best estimate of the amount of lumber that can actually be sawn from a tree or a log under optimum conditions. The Doyle rule substantially underestimates the volume of trees in the smaller diameter classes. The International 1/4-Inch rule should, therefore, be used when the most accurate estimate of yield is important, as when determining how many trees to cut to obtain a specified amount of lumber. When marketing timber stumpage, however, the choice of volume rule is less critical. Confusion on quantity should not arise as long as both buyer and seller know which rule was used to estimate volumes. Timber stumpage prices are commonly adjusted based on which rule is used.

Measuring Tree Diameter

Tree-trunk diameters are measured at breast height (termed diameter at breast height or DBH), defined as the diameter of the tree 4-1/2 feet above ground on the uphill side of the tree. If a tree forks below breast height, each trunk is treated as a separate tree. DBH can be measured with a tree caliper, a Biltmore stick, a tree diameter tape, or a flexible measuring tape (e.g., cloth or steel). Tree calipers, Biltmore sticks, and tree-diameter tapes can be purchased through forestry equipment supply companies. The flexible measuring tape can be used to measure tree trunk circumference and circumference divided by 3.14 to determine diameter.

Measuring Merchantable Height

Diagram of merchantable tree height

Merchantable height is the height of the tree (or the length of its trunk) up to which a particuar product may be obtained, usually minus a one-foot stump height. Merchantable tree heights for sawlogs and veneer are generally estimated to the height where the trunk diameter tapers to 10 inches, or until heavy branching or defects are encountered. The merchantable height of very valuable trees, such as veneer black walnut, may be measured to the nearest foot or two feet. The merchantable height of most other trees is measured in units of 16-foot logs and 8-foot half-logs. Merchantable height measurements are rounded to the nearest half-log. Thus, a tree with a merchantable height of 42 feet would be measured as having 2-1/2 logs of merchantable height.

Merchantable heights may be measured with a number of special instruments designed specifically for tree-height measurements such as clinometers, altimeters, relascopes, or hypsometers. These instruments are available through forestry equipment supply companies. Merchantable heights can also be measured with a long pole if only a few trees are being measured and they have relatively short merchantable heights. With some practice, merchantable heights in log and half-log units can be estimated quite accurately, particularly for trees with short merchantable heights.

Using the Tables to Estimate Merchantable Tree Volume

Once the diameter at breast height and the merchantable height of a tree have been measured, Table 1 or 2 may be used to estimate its volume in board feet. For example, a 20-inch DBH oak tree with a merchantable height of 2-1/2 logs contains 260 board feet Doyle rule or 350 board feet International 1/4-Inch rule.

When using these tables, it is important to remember that only that portion of the trunk that will produce a useable product should be measured. Portions of the trunk or entire trunks that are hollow, excessively crooked, rotten, etc., should not be measured. You may hear foresters or buyers talking about gross and net volume. Gross volume is the estimated tree volume without deduction for defects (i.e., the DBH and merchantable heights of all of the trees were measured ignoring defects, volumes were determined, and the volumes were added up). Net volume is the estimated tree volume with proper deductions made for defects.

Click here for a PDF version of this Fact Sheet.


All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.

TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181



| Ohioline | Search | Fact Sheets | Bulletins |