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How to tap a maple tree

One of the coolest things about sugaring is how simple it is at heart. Whether you have 10 trees or 10,000 the process is basically the same: tap your trees, collect the sap, and boil it down until it’s reduced down to maple syrup. How you collect and boil sap can look pretty different depending on the kind of setup you have, but the first step, tapping, is pretty universal. So if you have a few sugar maples lurking in your back yard and are feeling ambitious, here is the official Mount Cabot Maple Tapping Manual to get you on your way:

What you’ll need:

  • a cordless or hand brace drill
  • hammer
  • spouts (there are many different kinds to choose from based on how you plan to collect)
  1. Find your tree, a sugar maple tree to be exact. Yes, you could tap other kinds of maple, but you’ll get the most volume and sweetest sap from a sugar maple. If you’re not quite sure if you have a sugar maple or not, click here for a little direction. Even if you know that its a sugar maple, look up to make sure the tree still has a top on it. It sounds funny, but it’s happened on more than one occasion that a tap is set in what is actually a stump. Trust us, you’ll get more sap from a living tree.
  2. Pick a spot for your tap hole. If your tree has never been tapped before, most of the wood on your tree should be good to tap. You’ll just want to avoid drilling a hole directly underneath a dead branch. If you’ve tapped this tree before, be on the lookout for old tap holes. To avoid drilling into wood scarred by a previous tap, pick a spot that is at least 6” to the left or right and 24” above or below an old hole. You’ll know you’ve drilled into good wood if the chips on your drill bit come out looking spongy and white. 
  3. Drill. We use cordless 14v drills with 5/16 inch drill bits. If the tree has thick bark, you can scrape some of it away with your hammer claw for better access. Get your footing and use two hands to drill in 1 ½” to 1 ¾”, just deep enough to get into sap wood without causing unnecessary damage to the tree. Make sure you drill on full throttle, fast and straight, to avoid a raggedy or crooked tap hole. A nice clean hole will yeild the most sap and stay open the longest. 
  4. Hammer Time. Put your spout in your hole and give it a few good whacks. You don’t want to whale on it too hard because this might damage the tree and your taphole, but you want to make sure you have a good, tight seal.
  5. Now, if you’re part of the Mount Cabot tapping crew, proceed to repeat this step a couple of thousand times. You’ll be pretty good by you’re last tap, we promise!
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