Northern Woodlands / Spring 2017 15
stick vertically, with the bottom (zero) end aligned
with the base of the tree. The numbers along the
right edge will give the number of 16-foot logs in
the tree. The trained eye of a forester or harvester
can use this reading, along with his or her knowledge of tree value, to predict with some accuracy
the useable height of the tree.
A landowner interested in the tree’s height for
reasons of curiosity or safety – for example, if the
tree is to be felled near a structure and its height
is a concern – can use this method as well. By
determining the number of 16-foot sections in the
tree, and adding extra to account for the upper
branches, the height of the tree can be estimated.
The result will be accurate enough for many
situations, but probably not enough to bet the
porch roof on.
Many models of the Biltmore stick include
a chart that combines the diameter and height
readings to determine the board feet of lumber in a
given tree, though these numbers do not take into
account any defects or other variables in the tree.
Some Biltmore sticks have markings on the back
that allow them to be used as log scale sticks.
The Biltmore stick remains a staple in many
settings today. It is one of many tools in a forester’s
tool belt, along with calipers, diameter tape,
and more high-tech instruments. Other forest-measurement options may be more accurate, but
the Biltmore stick is quick and easy and requires
no calculator. It also serves as an excellent management tool and an education aid for woodlot
owners, silviculture students, outdoor enthusiasts,
and backyard tree aficionados.
Using the Biltmore stick to measure a tree is
as simple as holding the stick against the tree
and taking a reading. The directions on mine say
to “hold stick level at 25 inches from eye against
tree at height of 4. 5 feet.” In practical terms,
that’s arm’s length at breast height.
Line up the “zero” end of the stick flush with one
side of the tree, and the number at the opposite
side of the tree should give the approximate
diameter of the trunk. Disparities can occur,
mostly because trees are not perfectly round. A
more precise measurement can be attained by
taking a Biltmore stick reading at two or three
sides of the tree and computing an average.
The Biltmore stick can also be used to measure
the height of a tree (see photo at right). This is
a little trickier but is handy for a forester’s quick
assessment or a landowner’s reasonable estimate.
To use the stick in this way, step off 66 feet from
the tree – either by pacing or tape measure – and
turn around to face the tree. Hold the Biltmore