Last year we showed youÂ how to tap maple treesÂ and how to collect that sap andÂ make homemade maple syrup. This year we’re stepping up our game! More trees. More taps. More sap. More fire. More syrup! Last year we did about 12 taps, but to make the most out of our short sugaring season this year, we added on a bit… just a bit. Like, added on 100 or so more taps. We started searching online for new taps and decided on two styles and compare the two. Here’s our comparison of two different maple taps (also known as spiles), and a guide of what to look for when buying maple tapping equipment!
Maple Tap #1: Stainless Steel
We were originally looking for stainless steel taps with the ability to hang a drip tube from the spout. Some vintage stainless steel spiles will have an open pour spout on them, designed to have a bucket hanging from the spile and allowing for the sap to drip into an open bucket. We prefer using the drip line because it will prevent any debris from falling into the bucket.
The perks of stainless steel taps is that they will last you forever. They’re easy to clean and you can use them year after year. However, they’re going to be more expensive (ranging anywhere from $3-$6 per tap). You can find some good deals online if you’re buying in bulk. We found some used stainless steel spiles that are still in great shape.
Maple Tap #2: Plastic
The plastic spiles we ordered from Leader Evaporator Company are essentially the same design as the stainless. They’re made to hang a drip line off of, and not to hang the bucket from. However, these plastic spiles have three flutes in the end that you tap into the tree. They’re also a little longer than the stainless and has a larger tapered end. The great thing about the plastic spile is that the flutes allow the sap to draw into the spile and the larger tapered in makes a better seal on the outside of the tree.
Obviously, plastic won’t stand the test of time against stainless steel. And there’s a greater chance of the plastic breaking when you’re taking the tap out of the tree. So there’s that. But they are significantly cheaper than stainless steel taps. The plastic ones are a great option if you’re just getting started into sugaring or are planning on going through a large amount of taps.
What we found is that the plastic ones from Leader actually worked a lot better than the stainless steel ones! As we mentioned before, the plastic spiles have three small flutes in the end that insert into the tree. We believe this helps draw the sap into the spiles. The larger tapered in of the plastic spiles also creates a better seal without having to tap the spiles too far into the tree. We were getting frustrated with the stainless steel spiles until we realized that although they’re the same size as the plastic ones (5/16″), they need a smaller pilot hole. This will create a better seal and will prevent you from shoving the tap too far into the tree.Â What we’ll probably do for next year is to cut small flutes into the stainless steel taps and see if that makes a difference.
But it’s not all about the equipment, it’s what you do with the equipment that counts. Ha! But really, no matter what kind of tap you have, you have to know how to use it. There are three distinctive layers of the sugar maple tree that you should know about when you’re tapping trees for sap. First, is the outer bark. The second layer is where the sap flows through the tree, it’s like the capillaries of the tree. This is appropriately called the sapwood, or vascular cambium. The third layer is the heartwood. This is the central supporting layer of the tree, like the bones of the tree. When you tap the spile into the tree, you want to tap it in just enough that it gets into the sapwood. This is how the sap flows from the tree and into our spile. If you tap the spile in too far past the sapwood and into the heartwood, you won’t get anything except sap pooling all around your spile. Think of it like a doughnut. There’s the outer layer; the glaze, icing, sprinkles, whatever (like the bark), then there’s the inner sweet, melty layer where all the good stuff is. Then there’s the doughnut hole. There’s nothing there. It’s stupid. You want to tap past the flaky glaze and into the sweet dough. Go past that, and you’re in the hole.
Now, excuse me while I run out for some doughnuts.
Remember to tap the spile in just enough so it makes a seal around the pilot hole and watch the sap drip away! Happy sugaring!