How to Tap a Tree for Syrup

maple treePreface:

I am excited that so much interest has developed over learning the skills of the land. I put out an offer to teach people how to use weeds for food and for medicine, and then it became something more. It seems that people are also interested in other skills in harvesting the gifts of Nature. An offer went out to teach how to tap a tree, and many have asked questions, and many have thought that it was cool. To me cool is, when they see their friends with their own syrup, that they made for themselves, gracing a pancake, they will some day want to make their own syrup. That is the pull of Nature on the spirits of people. We want to enjoy the spirit of Nature touching our souls. A walk in a forest will give you all the evidence that you need. You can go into a forest uptight, or angry, and within an hour you will have mellowed to a place of serenity and peaceful calm.

Oh, and getting back to the topic at hand, collecting the gifts of Nature will also fill with that same wonderful feeling, oh and there is also the great taste of Maple Syrup.

Getting Down to Business

First, remember to clean your pails and spiles (taps), preferably with an unscented soap. Your pail might take on the flavour of the scented soap.

Drill a hole in the tree high enough to have the pail hang from it. The best place to tap is on the South side of the tree, and closest to just over a main root. The second best place is to the West side of the tree. So if you only have a few pails and a few trees, tap the South sides of the trees.

Notice that the drill is on an angle downward, enough for the sap to flow down, but not so much that the spile will fall out with the weight of the sap in the pail. On this angle the spile will bind with the weight of the sap. Also, do not drill deeper than 1 and a half inches, that is approx. 5 cms. You should use a 5/16 inch or a7/16 drill bit, depending on whether you have a thin spile, or the thicker one. Most spiles I have seen are the thicker ones.




drill hole

Tap your spile (the tap) into the tree hard enough to get the spile in, but not hard enough to break the spile, particularly if you are using plastic spiles. I noticed that there is a difference feeling to the wood, even in the same tree, as it is being hammered in. This meaning that some wood is harder than others. You have to secure the spires well, it will carry the weight of the sap in the pail. The spire will have to feel secure before you leave a pail on it, or you may come back to find your sap spilled out with the pail on the ground. AAAHHHH. Perhaps, you should start with smaller pails, that will be lighter, until you have some more experience. Of course that means that you will have to check your pails more frequently.



This picture is a more modern spire that is plastic and has the convenience of having the lid attached. Old school works just fine, so there is no need to run out to get the new fangled stuff.

You can also get spires that are thinner, you’ll have to use a thinner drill bit for these, and you put a thin plastic hose on it and run the other end into a bottle or a pail.

After the spire it hammered in, in the old style of spire, this how the older metal spire can look to be used. Notice the hook and the lid rod both go through the hole at the back of the spire. The lid rod will pull out and can be slid through the hole after the hook is in place. Now you can put the lid down. The lid will keep the bark, flies etc. from falling into the sap and decrease the chance of contamination. The debre  may be rife with fungus. If you don’t have a manufactured lid you can use a plate or anything that will stay on top of your pail.











Make sure you drill your holes above the main tree roots on the South, West or East side of the tree.



Other images of tapping. I cannot claim these brilliant ideas.
















This method of tapping would not require you to concern yourself with the weight of the pail, simply drill the hole, still angled, with the proper drill width, likely 3/8ths, tap in the spire and attach your hose and stick it into a clean container.

pails with hoses


I even saw a spire that was a round piece of wood with a slit cut in it to be used for a spire.  Primitive is most welcome and great news.

wooden spire and birch pail





I don’t know where your tapped trees are, they may be half way across town and be an inconvenience to walk to, or even drive. I will give you the rules of thumb so you will know approximately when you have to go to empty your pails of sap.

1.  Sap runs fastest on days where you have a cold night and a warm day.

2.  Some trees give more sap than others. If you have a Sugar Maple it will likely give you more sap, and sweeter than any other Maple. This is the leaf of a Sugar Maple.sugar maple leaf

You will note that it is thinner than its relative Maples. If you don’t know which trees are Sugar Maple, check the ground for last years leaves, that might give you a clue. And if that fails, mark the Sugar Maples next fall for identification next Spring. If you only have a few pails, get the best bang for your buck and tap Sugar Maples if you can.


3.  As mentioned before, sap will run on the South side of the tree more than any other direction of the tree. This is because the sun beats down on and warms the south side of the tree most. And how do you tell what side of the tree is the south side you ask, why it is the opposite of the north side, lol. You can generally know the north side of the tree by the amount of moss growing on the tree. With no sun on the north side the moss will grow thickest, and the sun being strongest on the south side there is usually no moss on that side. This is also how to know what direction you are traveling if you got lost in a forest. Some moss will grow on the South side of trees in very heavy forested areas, but the rule of thumb is that moss will always be heaviest on the North side of the tree.

4. Sap will run more on a 2 degree sunny day than a 4 degree cloudy day. That is the sun on the bark thing again.

5.  As your pails fill, you will want some 5 gallon pails, with lids to hold the extra. If you have too much sap for your 5 gallon pail, empty the sap from the fastest filling pails first. That is where your pails will overflow first.

I will have another blog to help you eliminate the water from your sap, coming up. Notice that I didn’t say boiling. Most people reading this will be urban folk, and you likely don’t have a wood stove to boil down your sap. So come back in a few days and I will give you the lowdown on making syrup from sap, the economical and environmental way. Oh, and also what I learned was from the wisdom of the Native People.

I will give you an assignment before then, but do this right away, because it is important. Collect some 5 gallon pails to hold your excess sap in, and also beg, borrow cake pans, as many as you can, from friends, family, neighbours and whoever, to eliminate the water from your sap. And will want something to cover the cake pans with. And the hard part might be for you to get a cloth funnel to filter your sap. You likely have 2 days to do it, from when your first start collecting sap. I am waiting for freezing evenings…there is your clue.


Here is for an extra treat for those who love to dive into a topic, you know who you are, the really hungry learners.

There  is a Native teaching that says that if a man is low in spirit, he should back himself to the biggest tree in the area, and stay there until he is revived. It does work, I have tried the prescription for the blues that I was feeling, and I walked away from the tree feeling like I could take on the task that had me concerned.

But remember, it has to be the biggest tree in the area, that would be the Mother tree. A Mother tree because it feeds the other trees and shrubs, right down to fungus.The roots of all the plants of the forest are connected together in a network of community.. Nature is more than you could have conceived of.



About pushinback

Back in 1993, I attended an anti-Nafta rally in Ottawa along with over 110,000 others. But despite the overwhelming opposition to NAFTA, the steamroller rolled on. It was there that I came to understand the one vital thing that I have been preaching ever since. There are so many issues, and so many fighting each issue, we are all spinning our wheels, and wasting our time, talents and energy, because each election, we give the politicians our power and so the deck is stacked against us. I said it that day and I say it with more fervency today. We all have one issue that we share, and we should all stop fighting for our own issues and losing anyways, and we should fight to achieve that one thing that we all share. We Canadians all have to fight to finally get a say between elections. We need to fight to make politicians accountable to us, the people. If there is no accountability, and the people have no say between elections, we have no Democracy. My Blog is written to teach the reader the essential knowledge of freedom and Democracy. Please read, and learn. I am one person, but I leave you my witness that one person is not powerless, only first you must first learn and then act. Let the democratic revolution begin. Kindest regards, Rob McQueen
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