LESSON PLAN: Timber Cruiser

Lumberjack Math Introduction


This lesson takes your students through the steps that a timber cruiser took to make his recommendation: calculating board feet in one tree, estimating the board feet in one acre, and finally estimating the board feet in a 40-acre plot.

Essential Questions

  1. How do you calculate board feet in a tree?
  2. Which plot of land has the most valuable logging rights and should be recommended for purchase?


Upon successful completion of this activity, students will be able to:

  1. Calculate the board feet in a tree.
  2. Decide which plot to purchase to log in the following season.
  3. Solve an historic real-world problem.

Time Needed

Two class periods


Timber Cruiser videos

Helping the Timber Cruiser (optional lesson extension activities)


A timber cruiser was employed to survey the land available to log and estimate the amount of desirable timber available for the lumber company. Once the land had been cruised, lumber companies made bids to purchase either the land or the rights to cut the timber from it. A timber cruiser could have been self-employed, an employee of a single lumber company, or employed by multiple companies. Cruisers worked year-round, often embarking alone on extended cruising trips that spanned weeks or even months. In doing so, they fulfilled a crucial role in the lumber industry, and left a legacy of unique characters and stories.


Acre: A measure of land area, used in the U.S., that equals 4,840 square yards

Board Foot (BF): A volume measurement of lumber. One board foot (1 BF) of wood measures 1 foot long by 1 foot wide by 1 inch thick.

To cruise: To estimate the amount of timber that could be cut from a plot of land, and the ease with which it could be transported to the river or rail spur that will transport the timber to a sawmill

Cruising stick: Tool used by the timber cruiser to measure the diameter of a tree, and the number of 16-foot logs in that tree

Dbh: The abbreviation that stands for “diameter at breast height.” Students will see this abbreviation in the table on the first worksheet that helps them calculate board feet.

Diameter: A straight line that passes through the center of a circle and divides it in half

Lumber baron: A man with great wealth, power, and influence who owned the lumber, the camps, the sawmills, and the land or logging rights to the land

Logging rights: The right to log a plot of land

Red pine: Type of coniferous tree logged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Red pine trees were not as desirable as the white pine trees.

Survey: In the context of the lumber industry, a survey is an estimate of the characteristics and value of the timber stand on a particular plot of land.

Timber stand: In the logging industry, it refers to an area of standing trees to be used for timber

White pine: Type of coniferous tree desired by the logging industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century


Before class, divide your students into six logging camps. If you need smaller groups, have the camp names repeat, or create more camp names on the editable worksheets.

1. Watch the first video, Calculating Board Feet. This video introduces the timber cruiser’s job, and presents the first problem your students will need to solve: calculating the board feet (BF) in one tree.

Transcript | Watch video Calculating Board Feet on YouTube

2. In their logging camp groups, or as a company-wide class, have your students complete the first worksheet, Measuring Board Feet. The worksheets are the same for each student. Order is important with this calculation, so you may need to help your students use the correct order of operations when applying the formula.

3. Watch the second video, Surveying Board Feet, and introduce the second worksheet, How many board feet in one plot? Have your students solve the estimated amount of board feet in a 1/10th acre plot. Before your students complete the worksheet, point out the additional information about the plot’s distance from the river. Discuss why the distance is important.

Transcript | Watch video Surveying Board Feet on YouTube

  • It was best for logging to be done one to two miles away from the river landing. This allowed the sleigh teams to make two trips per day from the cut to the landing. The closer to the river the timber stand was, the easier it was to transport logs from the stand to the river, where the logs were then floated downriver to the sawmills.
  • Towards the end of the winter season when the days became longer, daytime melting and nighttime freezing occurred, and ice roads became very smooth and slick. When, and if, that happened, teams could make more than two trips a day on short haul roads.

4. Watch the third video, Buying Timber Rights, and provide your logging camps with the third worksheet, Plot Recommendation. Each logging camp will have to evaluate a unique set of plots, and recommend the most valuable plot to the lumber company.

Transcript | Watch video Buying Timber Rights on YouTube

5. Have each camp share which of the three plots they are going to recommend to the lumber baron.

Lesson Extensions

(see student worksheet, Helping the Timber Cruiser)

Students who finish early can pick one of the activities on the Helping the Timber Cruiser worksheet. Encourage them to work with one or two other students to prepare a short presentation for the class.

Choices include:

  • Explain how to say large numbers out loud, such as 4,064,000 is “four million, sixty-four thousand.”
  • Explain the order of operations; use the formula for board feet as one example.
  • Discuss the importance of the initial zero in decimal fractions (such as 0.22 instead of .22).
  • Use a yardstick to find the length of your stride, and how many paces you would take as a cruiser.
  • Research the meaning of “acre,” and find the approximate area of your school’s playground in acres.