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Sampling and measuring timber

Quick facts

  • Professional foresters can help you with woodland management and timber measurements.
  • Individually evaluate each tree or set up sample plots to estimate how much timber you have.
  • The products you can make depend on the tree’s usable length.
  • Estimate the tree diameter, merchantable height and defect percent to determine the volume of wood in a timber tract.
Stand of pine trees in Cloquet; the left side of the road was thinned 4 times, the right side has never been thinned.

Knowing the quantity and quality of timber on a woodland can be extremely useful to landowners. 

By measuring timber, you can better understand your woodland’s status and get critical information that can shape management plans and the treatments you use.

There are two ways to estimate how much timber you have. You can individually evaluate each tree, or set up sample plots and use them to estimate overall volume. This does not substitute for assistance from a professional forester, but it will help you understand and implement the proper procedures.

Find a forester

If you have little or no experience in woodland management or timber measurements, get a professional forester to help.

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Select trees to evaluate

There are two ways to determine how much timber is in your tract. You can individually evaluate each tree, or set up sample plots and use them to estimate overall volume.

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Timber products

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Making timber estimates

To determine the volume of wood in a timber tract, estimate the tree diameter, merchantable height and defect percent from a representative number of trees. 

Then, estimate individual tree volume using volume tables. These are generally specific to the wood product: 

  • Sawtimber and veneer volumes
  • Pulpwood volumes

Using the appropriate tree volume tables and expansion factors, you can then calculate the volume of standing trees for each species. 

People who measure timber (known as timber cruisers) need experience in several different timber tracts to produce consistently reliable results. For accurate volume estimates, you may want to get professional help.

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Approximate conversion factors

  • 1 cord = 500 board feet
  • 1 cord = 79 cubic feet of solid wood
  • 1 acre = 43,560 square feet

Charles R. Blinn, Extension forester and Thomas E. Burk, emeritus Extension forester

Reviewed in 2019

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