Tapping your maple, birch or walnut trees is one of the most simple and enjoyable Spring activities for the outdoor enthusiast. While this activity is quite simple in theory, knowing the small details can help bring you a successful season of tree tapping. One of the most commonly asked questions we hear is, “How deep do I drill a tap hole in the tree?”
How Deep to Drill a Tree Tap Hole
Generally speaking, we drill one inch or 1” past the bark of the tree. The thickness of each tree’s bark is the variable; which is dependent upon both the species and the age of the tree. Older trees generally have thicker bark than younger ones, so a tap hole’s total depth may be deeper than on a younger tree. You may also find that species such as the red maple may have thicker, chunkier bark – especially if the tree is large and very old.
Measuring the Drill Bit Depth
We recommend measuring out 1” to 2” on your drill bit with a measuring tape or ruler. You can mark the bit using a small piece of painters tape wrapped around the bit to serve as a depth-guide for drilling the trees. The correct size bit is 5/16”. We have medium aged trees with average bark thickness, so we marked out a depth of 1.5” on our bit. This allows for approximately 1/2” thick bark and an additional one-inch drilling-depth past the bark.
Drilling your Tap Hole
Carefully drill your tree at a very slight upward angle on the side of the tree where the sun is shining on it. If the sun shines on that side for the majority of the day, it tends to produce more sap flow. If you tap on the shaded or dark side of the tree, it tends to produce less sap flow. Allow the bit to remove the wood shavings, and never blow out the hole with your mouth. Blowing into the hole can contaminate the tree with your saliva. That will cause the tree’s internal healing process to go into overdrive and close up the hole faster, resulting in less sap flow and a shorter season.
Inserting the Spout into the Tree
Carefully tap the spout into the tree, gently, and not too hard. We are not putting nails into a deck – there is no need to pound the spout in hard. You should be able to twist and pull the spout out of the tree with a little effort without damaging the tree or the spout. If you destroy the spout upon removal, it’s likely because you drove the spout in too hard and too far into the tree. A few light taps so it is snug, nothing more. As you can see in the photo below, ice-cold sap immediately begins to drip from the spout.
Connecting the Tubing
Slip your 5/16” food grade tubing onto the barbed end of the maple spout or spile. This can be difficult in colder weather, so you may want to warm the tubing in hot water first. Hold the end of the tubing in hot water for 10-15 seconds and then connect to the spout.
Choosing a Sap Collection Container
The best collection container is a clean, food grade container such as a five gallon bucket with lid, or gallon size spring water jugs. We don’t recommend used gallon milk jugs, as the flavor of milk is very difficult to clean out. Tree sap is very delicate and can pick up flavors from the collection container very easily. For best results, use spring water jugs to collect sap. Be sure to check the container twice a day – morning and night – as sap flow varies throughout the season. You may find some trees produce more sap than others, and that is totally normal and to be expected.
Do you have more questions about tree tapping and making syrup? Check out our FAQ page here, or connect with us directly on Facebook and Instagram. We’re happy to answer any of your sugaring questions, no matter how small!