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how to tap a sugar maple tree


Food, water, and shelter are the three basics of survival and always remain a top priority for preppers. Growing (and raising) your own food and budgeting for purchases of long-term storage food are the best ways to make sure that your family does not starve during a disaster. Utilizing what nature offers us to enhance our homesteading efforts is but another way to decrease our reliance on grocery stores.

As our FEMA series notes, help may not arrive for at least three days, and when the trucks do come rolling in, they will not necessarily provide enough of the basics to go around.

Maple sugaring is quite the big deal in my neck of the woods. Folks form several states away travel to the Hocking Hills region to tap into trees and be a part of the traditional sugar production process. Turning maple tree sap into syrup and then into sugar is a family-friendly fun outdoor activity enjoyed by tens of thousands of visitors to state parks and rural farms each year.

Mastering the Native American skills and replicating the process on your own land, as the pioneers once did during the founding years of our nation, will enhance your homesteading skills while saving money for syrup and sugars in the process.

Although many people solely associate syrup with the sugar maple tree, the sweet and tasty condiment can be extracted from a variety of other trees as well. Tree tapping typically occurs between mid-February and the middle of March. The precise time of year depends on what variety of tree is being tapped and where the tree is located. Tree sap flows when daytime temperatures are above freezing and when the thermometer dips far below freezing at night.

Trees That Can Be Tapped For Syrup And Sugar

  1. Black Maple Tree – The sugar maple offers the highest sap yield, making it the most popular for syrup and sugar production. The sugar content of the tree is about 2 percent. The black maple tree makes nearly as much sap as the sugar maples produces. The sap is widely considered to be just as sweet as the sap offered by the sugar maple tree.
  2. Red maple – This tree offers a lower sap yield than the sugar or black versions of the tree but buds earlier in the spring. Silver maple trees also offer early spring buds and possess a 1.7 percent sugar content.
  3. Bigleaf Maple – This variety of the maple tree grows plentifully from British Columbia to California. Native Americans successfully tapped bigleaf maple trees for centuries. The amount of sap flow is less than the yield from a sugar maple but is regarded as just as sweet and delicious.
  4. Norway maple – The non-native but now rather invasive tree can be readily tapped for syrup, but the sugar is not regarded to be as sweet as the yield from sugar maple trees.
  5. Big Tooth Maple – This type of maple tree, also known as the canyon maple, is found primarily in Texas and the Rocky Mountain states. While the sugar content of the tree is known to be comparable to that of the sugar maple, it yields a lower volume of sap.
  6. Rocky Mountain Maple – Not surprisingly, this maple tree grows in the region that is included in its name. Plateau tribes in the western United States were fond of tapping this maple tree for syrup and sugar.
  7. Manitoba Maple – This version of the maple tree is also known as a boxelder tree. The trees commonly grow both on the prairie region of Canada and along the road in more urban areas. Although this tree can be tapped for sap, it reportedly offers a yield that is about half the volume offered by sugar maple trees.
  8. Black Walnut – While known primarily for its timber value, the tree offers sap in every season but the summer. The black walnut tree is commonly found in the Midwest.
  9. Sycamore – This North American tree has a lower sugar yield content than the sugar maple, as most trees do, but it boasts a popular butterscotch-flavored sap.
  10. White Walnut – This tree is also often referred to as a butternut tree. It produces a sap that contains about the same percentage of sugar content as the sugar maple. The volume of sap is also believed to be comparable to that of the popular syrup-producing tree.
  11. English Walnut – These are the walnuts commonly eaten and purchased from supermarkets. They are not typically found in the Eastern United States, but rather are grown most abundantly in California. English walnut trees can be tapped successfully, especially when subjected to a freezing winter and spring.
  12. Paper Birch – This variety of birch tree only has a 1 percent sugar count, bus is known to produce the sweetest sap of all tappable birch trees. The yellow, black, river, gray and European white birch trees also can be tapped for syrup and sugar. The gray birch is really more of a bush, but if it grows tall enough, it can be tapped as well.

Tree Tapping Tips

Make sure the tree is both large enough and healthy before tapping. Typically a tree can be tapped three times before the need to move on to another tree arises. When a tree is only between 12 and 20 inches in diameter, use just a single tap to avoid over-taxing the tree. If the tree is up to 27 inches in diameter, two taps can be used. If you are lucky enough to have a tree on your property that is at least 28 inches wide and healthy, three taps can be used. Some veteran tappers believe that trees with a “large crown” or with a multitude of full branches, offer a higher sap yield.

How to Tap A Tree


  • Bucket with a cover to prevent unwanted bits of nature from falling inside
  • A food-grade barrel or clean trash can to use as a vat to store the tree sap
  • Drill and either a 7/16 or 5/16 drill bit
  • Spile
  • Hammer or rubber mallet


  • Find the side of the tree that gets the most sunlight, typically the south side of the tree.
  • Look for the perfect place to place the spile. Tap below a large branch or above a large root if possible.
  • Drill a hole for the spile slowly and steadily to avoid splitting the wood. Drilling on a sunny day within the proper temperature range is recommended.
  • Put the sap device at least six inches from an old tapping hole if one exists on the tree.
  • Tap into a visibly healthy section of tree wood. If the shavings are either tan or light brown when drilling the hole, the wood is most likely healthy. If the shavings are more chocolate or dark brown in color, you will need to find another tree to tap.
  • Hold the drill at a slightly upwards angle to allow better sap flow. Drill the hole about 2.5 inches deep. Make certain to remove all shavings after drilling.
  • Tap the spile into the tree using a hammer or rubber mallet. The spile should fit snugly and not fall out or be easily pulled out by hand. Do not hammer too hard or the wood can splinter. You can make your own spile by folding aluminum piping 3/8 in diameter and placing it into the drilled hole. Copper is toxic to trees; do not use folded copper for a sap pouring spout.
  • Hang the bucket over the spile by its handle. It takes about 30 days to collect all the sap the tree has to offer. Most healthy- and moderate-sized sugar maple trees produce up to 80 gallons of sap.

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