Have a Maple Tree? How to Tap a Maple Tree for Making Syrup!

Which trees can you tap for sap, what do you need, and how do you do it?  You’ll never believe it but I have the answers to alllllll those questions for you right here.

3 vintage sap buckets hanging off the trunk of a large maple tree.

If you stumbled here because you want to  learn how to make maple syrup, you should read this post first. It explains ALL you need to know about making maple syrup right at home with your own tree.

Let me be serious for a moment.

1. … That is the number of maple trees in my backyard.

360.  … THAT is the conservative estimate of how many bags of maple leaves I’ve raked up and put out to the curb since I moved into this house 10 or so years ago.

886,762,254,981.   … That’s the number of maple keys I’ve picked up, swept up or pulled out of my backyard.

3.  … The number of toy poodles gone missing in the neighbourhood that I suspect were eaten by my tree.

42,567,897,432,156,789,$%6&@##$,234,5%6,981.  … THAT is the exact number of times I’ve stood at the base of my maple tree swearing at it until a molar exploded out of my head.

My tree is a quiet but scary tree.  If my tree were a mythical creature and if Ninjas were mythical (as if), my tree would be a Ninja tree.

As it turns out, it’s just a  Black Maple.

So.  After more than 10 years of cleaning up after it, I thought it was  just about time that leaf vomiting, key  spewing, dog eating tree did something for ME for once.

And it did.  That tree gave me maple syrup.  Who knew!  I thought only Sugar Maples could do that.

As it turns out, pretty much any maple tree can give you sap worthy of making maple syrup, but there are 4 Maple Trees that are your best bets based on the amount of sugar in their sap.  In order of preference:



Sugar maples, black maples, red maples, silver maples and birch trees all have sap that can become sweet pure syrup.

Yes.  A birch tree.  All of these trees have enough sugar in their sap to make maple syrup.  The difference is the sugar maple and the black maple both have higher sugar content in their sap, so they take slightly less sap to make syrup.  They also produce useable sap longer each season than the others do.

If you don’t know which type of tree you have, but you know you have a maple, don’t even worry about it.  JUST TAP IT.

I’m not going to get into it much more than that, because today is just about what you need to tap a tree.  Once you have that figured out, you can read this post that’s a complete guide to how to turn your sap into genuine maple syrup.

But for now, if you have a maple tree or access to one, you only need a few things to tap your tree.


How to Tap a Maple Tree

You need …

A stainless steel maple tree tap with hook being held up by hand with fingernails painted red.

You can order taps (spiles) from (Amazon).

You can also get taps at farm stores, some hardware stores and sometimes sugar bushes in your area will have some for sale.

The hook is for hanging your bucket off of.  If you buy taps, DON’T forget to get the hooks too if they aren’t included.

A maple tree spile showing the smaller end that goes into the tree.


Sap buckets are usually made of plastic now.  I couldn’t bring myself to use plastic, so I found myself some older aluminum ones off of Kijiji. (2 for $10)    I … I … just couldn’t use plastic.  Not that I’m anti-plastic, it has many uses and is recyclable.  It’s just … plastic doesn’t seem very pioneerey.

I suspect when I die and they cut me open, they will find a tumour in the shape of Laura Ingalls hanging off of my heart.

You can still buy aluminum sap buckets, they’re also available on Amazon.

Vintage sap bucket being held up.


Also pick up some bucket lids.  (available at the same places you get your taps)  The lid keeps bugs, twigs and rain out of your sap.

Sap bucket lid used for keeping debris out of the sap while it's collecting.


You need a drill to drill a hole in your tree, as well as a 7/16ths (or slightly larger) drill bit.

Cordless Ryobi drill with 7/16ths drill bit in it for tapping a maple tree.


You want to drill into your tree between 2 and 3 inches, so mark your drill at 2″ if you have a smaller tree, 2 1/2 – 3″ for larger ones.  You can use a piece of tape to mark it or mark it with a Sharpie.

Drill bit marked with a Sharpie to help you know how far to drill into the maple tree's trunk.


Drill your hole on a slightly upward angle.

Do NOT drill a tree that is less than 10″ across. It’s too young and tapping it could kill it.

If your tree is 10 – 20″ – 1 tap

If your tree is 20 – 27″ – 2 taps

If your tree is 27+ (and healthy) – 3 taps

Drilling into a maple tree at an upward angle for tapping in the spile.


Choose a day that it’s above freezing to drill your hole.  If it’s freezing you risk the bark on your tree cracking which will cause sap to drip out.

Sap will come out of the  hole immediately if you’re drilling later in the season but it’s BEST to drill a day or two prior to when you think sap will run so you have a clean hole.

Clear away the shavings from drilling with a small twig so your hole is clean.

A newly drilled hole in a maple tree immediately wet with sap.


Gently hammer your tap in.  You don’t want to hammer it in so hard it splits the bark.  For one thing, you’ll lose sap out of the split and for another you’ll never be able to get the tap out.

If it’s above freezing, the second you put your tap in it will start dripping.  And unless you the shrivelled  heart of a rainbow hater, your eyes will drip too.

It’s a sappy miracle.

Beautiful shot of a single drop of sap falling out of a maple tree tap captured in mid air.


Immediately hang your bucket.  I washed my old buckets with hot water and soap, sprayed them with a bleach and water mixture, let them stand … and then washed them again.

A vintage sap buckets hangs off a tap on an old maple tree.


Don’t forget to put the lid on.

A vintage sap collection bucket with a lid on it hanging off of a tree in spring.


Sap is clear liquid.  But near the end of the tapping season it may start to look slightly cloudy.  As long as it tastes fine and isn’t deeply cloudy it’s still good to use.


The perfect conditions for tapping a tree are when it’s below freezing at night and above freezing during the day.


Once the tree starts to go into bud you can’t tap your trees anymore, the syrup this late sap makes will be bitter.


It depends on the season, but generally you have 3-4 weeks before conditions aren’t right for sap to run anymore. Plus after 3-4 weeks the hole you drilled into the tree will start to scab up and close over.


The rate at which the sap drips will depend on the weather conditions that day. Sunny and warm always = faster running sap.

On my first day all 3 buckets were 1/2 – 3/4s full within 12 hours.

Today, on the other hand, I only got a few inches in each bucket.

It takes approximately 40 parts of sap to make 1 part of syrup.

The inside of a sap bucket as it collects sap.


And now you wait.  Once your sap buckets are full, empty them into 5 gallon plastic pails (food safe ones), cover them and keep them cool by putting them in the shadiest/coldest part of your yard for up to one week.

This means if you’re tapping trees you need to be boiling syrup once a week so your sap doesn’t go bad. Think of your sap as milk.  Not water.  Even though it is crystal clear like water.  It is perishable and needs to be kept cold.

Vintage sap buckets hanging off or very large maple tree trunk.


  1. Clean your buckets well with a light bleach solution before using them to prevent bacteria.
  2. Do not tap a tree that’s less than 10″ across.
  3. You can tap once nighttime temperatures are below freezing and daytime temperatures are above freezing.
  4. Drill a hole in your tree with a 7/16ths drill bit at a slightly upward angle.
  5. Hang bucket and collect sap.
  6. Store collected sap in cool area for up to one week.

If you’re ready to do this then DO IT NOW.  You can make it easier on yourself by buying an entire


It has 3 buckets, 3 lids, the drill bit you need, 3 spiles and hooks, a straining cloth and an instruction booklet.

If you’re in Canada I’m afraid the kit is only available in plastic. :(  But you can get all the supplies including metal lids and spiles at TSC. Their buckets are plastic too though.  Check Kijiji like I did, you might get lucky.

I waited for over 10 years to tap my tree and the second I inserted that tap and sweet sap started running out I could have punched myself in the throat for not having done it sooner.

7,453.  The number of minutes I spent attempting to come up with a clever closing line for this post.

0.  The amount of clever lines I ended up coming up with.

Now that you know how to tap a maple tree,  LEARN HOW TO TURN THAT SAP INTO SYRUP!


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Have a Maple Tree? How to Tap a Maple Tree for Making Syrup!


  1. Maria says:

    So cool, I can’t wait to one day have a tree of my own to tap! I absolutely love this kind of stuff!

  2. Amie says:

    YES! YOU ARE ME! Or, you have my maple tree, except that mine is a Norway maple, which I am informed is considered an invasive species around here (meaning, New England). And based on the zillions of blasted saplings we (I) yank out of the gardens each year, I am inclined to agree.

    All of which is to say – I tapped a maple tree this week and made maple syrup yesterday! (ok, my husband did most of the standing around cooking the sap while I entertained his parents). I am beyond excited and wanted snow to pour it onto so I, too, could be Laura Ingalls Wilder. Instead, I will settle for about a cup of slightly overboiled, delicious, amazing, luscious maple syrup. Made from our one tree in our little city yard. Even in a weirdly warm winter.

    Now, to convince my husband that in the next few years, we should get some chickens…They are even allowed now!

  3. marilyn says:

    that is pretty cool, i think maple syrup and sugar bushes and tapping trees is sooo canadian, i mean i know they have it in the usa but really we probably invented it..i’m sure we did. idnt every canadian kid go to the sugar bush during march break…or on a class trip in march..unless you were one of the rich kids and went to florida..too bad for you. anyway people..VOTE VOTE!!! karen needs us dont let her down..she doesnt let us down.

  4. I knew you could do this but I really didn’t have a clue how…so thank you for sharing….

  5. Ashley says:

    Blerg! I just posted the EXACT SAME POST THIS MORNING!

  6. Korrine Johnson says:

    Sadly, this is not possible in Florida, but I am nonetheless impressed. I have voted and will be here with fingers crossed until Friday. You GO girl!

  7. Barbie says:

    I gotta find me a maple tree to sap now! I just HAVE to! Thanks Karen….I will now be obsessed with finding me a damn maple tree! LOL

  8. Val says:

    Wow, that’s so cool! Funny post too, you know you’re good when you get ME to smile at 8am! The “I’d Tap That” pic really got me, haha! Happy tapping!

  9. calliek says:

    We tap maple trees and make syrup in Toronto with Not Far From the Tree (read about our adventures http://backyardfarmsto.blogspot.com/2010/03/for-last-tw-o-weeks-ive-been-totally.html ) and I can add this tips:

    You can tap Norway Maples too- the ratio of sap to syrup is much higher tho because the sugar content is low- you’ll need approx 65 litres of sap to make 1 of syrup (sugar maples only require 35 l, black is about 40, red and silver slightly higher)

    You can get these amazing kits! http://www.maplekits.com/
    They are designed to use with 2 litre pop bottles which are the perfect collection system. When one bottle is full of sap you just switch it for a new one! No buckets, no lids!

  10. Maria says:

    Nice post Karen and great photos :)
    We are very busy this time of year tapping over 2000 trees in our bush in NH. Not running yet but will soon! I have a little tip for you that I think you will like- to ensure that you don’t drill too far into your tree ( it can be hard to see that little line) slip a piece of rigid tubing over your bit cut to length. When it hits the tree you know you’ve gone the distance! Happy boiling!

    • Karen says:

      Maria – 2000 trees! Good lord! Feel free to offer any tips or advice. Comment, email me, scream as loud as you can … whatever. ~ karen!

  11. Lynn says:

    I live much too far South to have this opportunity in my own yard – I am SOOO jealous! I have dreamed of having my own little camp and sugar shack tucked
    away in the woods…tending the fires and smelling it cook. Romantic visions of a Renaissance Woman indeed! This may be my favorite thing I’ve seen you do! Who cares about watching other crap when you can watch a girl tap her own maple tree?!

  12. Mary Werner says:

    Loved the pic of the drop of goodness falling into your pail and love your posts. In Florida we have to cut our palm trees to get to the heart and cook it like cabbage (hence the name cabbage palm) to get a great treat – but it tastes like cabbage not syrup, go figure. I voted both times!

  13. I gotta say, those buckets looked so gorgeous hanging on the tree, I was thinking….thinking….how about hanging potting buckets in the spring with succulents and ivy, and puuurty spring flowers? (when the maple season is over) It would cheer up a tree. And me. I am doing it.
    Love your maple buckets. Good choice. Plastic is icccky, oh pioneer woman.
    Lynne xx

  14. magali says:

    why are you speaking in fahrenheit?! What’s next, you’ll be writing colour as color?!

    I wish it times a million that I had a maple tree in my tiny Montreal backyard. I think that when I buy a house, one of my criteria will be for for the backyard to have a maple tree.

  15. Kerri says:

    Impressive! I really reeeally hope my neighbors don’t catch me tapping their tree.

  16. Rebecca says:

    This is so cool! You are very worthy of winning best diy blog!

  17. Laura Bee says:

    May have to do this to my own swearing tree. Been years since I’ve tapped!

  18. Brenda says:

    Oh I love this !! Pray for snapping cold nights and sunny days..the sap runs the best. Your own maple syrup…how cool.

  19. Err, Karen, could you BE any more Canadian?

    Can’t wait to see how you turn the water into wine. (Oh, tell me that’s really next weeks project?)

  20. Maggie Cooper says:

    There aren’t many things better than freshly made maple syrup, unless it’s the blueberry pancakes to put the syrup on. I live in Texas and we don’t have maple trees. Growing up on a farm in north central Pennsylvania, we had bunches of beautiful maples that we tapped every year. Love the smell of maple syrup boiling on the stove. Enjoy your tree!

  21. Rebecca says:

    So awesome. I thought it was only sugar maples. I’m going to find the supplies and I may or may not tell my father in law what I am up to with his huge maple. If he finds out, well I’ll make him some pancakes.

  22. lori says:

    i live in Tennessee wonder if i can find a big enough maple tree here to tap into. !???
    might just have to go tree hunting.

  23. Leena says:

    Want to just mention that you don’t need any special equipment for this. Just a bucket or a bottle and a rubber tube (approved for food). Here are a few pics http://www.arktisetaromit.fi/nettilehti/artikkeli.php?aid=74&lid=10
    I know it’s in Finnish, but just check the pics.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Leena – I know. I meant to mention this in the post and *completely* forgot. For the cost though (very inexpensive) I like the look of all the equipment. The metal spile and buckets etc. It looks good. ~ karen!

      • Leena says:

        totally get it, the metal bucket and the spile looks way better than the plastic variation. I just don’t think stores sell those metallic ones here, maybe it’s only a Canadian thing…

  24. Rebecca says:

    “32 Fahrenheit?” Karen, you’re making maple f’n syrup, and you give the temperature in Fahrenheit? What kind of Canadian are you?
    My neighbour taps his beech tree. His wife says the syrup has no flavour, but he still does it every year. I alas, have only a spindly cedar and an apple tree that produces strange apples the size of tiny cherries.

  25. Marti says:

    This is very cool! VERY COOL! Wow, Karen, I’m blown away!

    Um, any chance you will give a small jar of your future homemade maple syrup to the person who votes the most times? Er, not that that is “legal” or anything. But, if that should somehow happen?

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