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Old Fashioned Maple Sap Collection

Updated on February 11, 2015

Collecting Maple Syrup the Old Fashioned Way

For those that have a few trees, or even better yet, a few acres with sugar maple trees growing on them, old-fashioned maple sap collection may be for you.  Many people who have these trees fantasize about what it would be like to make their own maple syrup from their very own trees, but they just aren't sure how to go about it.  If you're wondering how to do this, the following information should get you off to a good start!

Maple Sap Collection Equipment

There isn't a lot of equipment that you'll need if you're collecting maple sap on a small scale (less than 50 taps). You will need the following:

  • Spiles (taps) – costs about $2-$3 per spile
  • Buckets or collection bags – buckets cost about $16 and collection bags about 40 cents
  • Collection bag hangers- if you're using this method, costs about $5.50 per hanger
  • Bucket covers – costs about $2-$3 per cover
  • Collection tank – varies greatly; some people use steel drums, others use large water tanks or stainless steel tanks made for this purpose
  • Evaporator – costs depends on whether you're buying new equipment or used. Some people just use a cauldron outdoors or large stainless steel kettle over an outdoor fire
  • Containers for the syrup – costs depends on method; professional bottles or mason jars
  • Thermometer – about $12
  • Hydrometer – about $15
  • Food-grade syrup filters (don't use coffee filters) – about $15- most are re-usable

While I do mention collection bags, this is a slightly newer way to collect sap instead of the buckets. However, the collection method is pretty much the same as using buckets. Keep in mind, all collection equipment should be clean and food-grade materials. Never use anything that was used for storing noxious chemicals. Bleach containers may seem clean, but they can give your syrup an off-flavor.

Maple Sap Collection Practices

If you don't like cold weather, then embarking on this type of project won't appeal to you.  Maple sap is collected starting in January or February, depending on your location.  It can be collected when there is a thaw (above 40 degrees Fahrenheit), usually for a period of 4-6 weeks.  During this time, it may thaw and re-freeze several times in your area.  Maple sap collectors are patient people, but they know they have to always strike when the iron is hot.  Maple sap collection ends when the trees start to bud.  This is because the sap will start tasting bitter.  Sap made under this condition is usually called "buddy" sap and it can't be sold.

Tapping Sugar Maple Trees

The trees are tapped each year in a different location on the tree. You won't drill a hole in the same place twice on any tree. This gives the tree a chance to heal. The size of the hole you will create depends on the stile type you have purchased. If you have a lot of trees to tap, it is a good idea to buy a cordless drill and several backup batteries. This will save you a lot of time out in the woods.

The taps should be placed 4.5 feet (or higher) above the ground and should be drilled on a slight, upward angle, making it easier for the sap to flow into your collection container. If you find that when you're drilling that the wood is more brown than white, stop and drill a hole in another area of the trunk. Brown wood will give your sap an off flavor and it will also contaminate your entire collection container if you dump it in together.

A rule of thumb regarding the number of taps and the size of the tree:

  • A tree should be 10 inches in diameter before it is tapped for the first time
  • A tree 10-15 inches in diameter can support 1 tap
  • A tree 16-20 inches in diameter can support 2 taps
  • A tree 21-25 inches in diameter can support 3 taps
  • A tree larger than 25 inches can support 4 taps maximum

How to Tap Maple Trees

Storing Maple Sap

The sap may be stored for a day or two before it has to be made into syrup.  During this time it needs to be in a cool, dry area out of direct sunlight.  Professional grade storage containers are made for this purpose and can be purchased from several manufacturers.  Some of them are listed in the links below.

Making Maple Syrup

Since maple sap is mostly water, it takes quite a long time, usually at least 8 hours, to make even a small quantity of syrup. What is important for someone just starting this hobby to know is that it is better to do this outdoors than indoors. This project creates a lot of steam and condensation in your home, even if you have a great fan above your stove. The residue from the steam is sticky and will create quite a mess to clean up after you're though. This is why most people who make gallons of this will do it outdoors.


Don't tap more trees than you can handle!  On average, each tap will provide 6-10 gallons of maple sap.  It takes about 10 gallons of sap to produce one quart of syrup.  To make this quart, it will take about 8-10 hours of constant heat to make the syrup.  Obviously, this is a time intensive hobby.  Unless you have the equipment, and hopefully an outdoor sugar shack, tap just a few trees.  You'll have enough syrup to last the year and a little extra to give to family and friends.

Business Opportunity

For those who find they really enjoy this kind of work, the potential to make extra income is great.  The expected prices for syrup for the 2010 year is about $15 per quart or $60 per gallon, depending upon grade.  Speak with your local Cooperative Extension office to learn more about this hobby!



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  • Research Analyst profile image

    Research Analyst 8 years ago

    This is really interesting and entertaining at the same time. Thanks for sharing!