Biltmore stick

Biltmore stick

A Biltmore stick is a tool sometimes used to measure various tree dimensions, such as diameter at breast height and height. It looks much like an everyday yardstick. A Biltmore stick is considered to be only marginally accurate. Some foresters use the tool regularly, however, many prefer to use more accurate tools such as a diameter tape to measure DBH and a clinometer to measure height. On the other end of the spectrum, some foresters consider the use of a Biltmore stick to be no more accurate then their own visual estimates (based on experience estimating the height and DBH of trees), and make it practice for their surveys to be largely completed in this manner.

Principle of Operation

The biltmore stick uses the principle of similar triangles. Similar triangles involve using identical angles but different side lengths.



DBH is measured by holding the stick a fixed distance, usually 25 inches, from the eye, and at breast height, which in the US is 4.5 feet up the bole of the tree. The left side of the stick is flush with the left side of the tree. The number where the right side of the tree lines up with the stick is the approximate DBH of the tree.


To measure height, the user of the Biltmore stick stands a fixed distance from the tree--usually 66 feet in the US. The stick is held upright, with the back edge of the stick facing the user. The back edge of the stick will be marked with 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 log markings, indicating the number of 16-foot logs in a tree. The bottom of the stick should line up with the bottom of the tree's trunk. The height of the tree is how high the tree goes up on the stick to a merchantable top.

Tree height is measured to a merchantable top. A merchantable top is considered to be the point to which a tree can be accepted by a sawmill, and this point can be reached either by defects (extreme sweep, crook, deviating branching, or other defects) or at a diameter limit for very straight trees (a regular cut off is 4 inches diameter).


The Biltmore stick is so named because it was developed at the Biltmore estate, one of the first places in the US where forestry was applied as a science. Gifford Pinchot, future first chief of the US forest service, and then Carl Schenck were hired in the late 1800s to restore convert|125000|acre|km2 of land around the Biltmore estate to a healthy forest. Schenck was the developer of the Biltmore stick.

Ever since this time, the Biltmore stick has been used by foresters to quickly cruise timber.



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