Gardening

Making a DIY maple sap stile from an elderberry branch

We’re now into the maple syrup season. Some years we start earlier, other years later, it all depends on the weather.  Cold nights with quickly rising morning temperatures stimulates sap flow.

Now that I reminded you of it, maybe you’ll want to try making some maple syrup yourself this year. But first you’ll have to collect maple sap and for that you’re going to need some equipment before you start. One very important piece of equipment is the stile, or tap. That’s the little doohickey that is used to funnel maple sap from the tree trunk to a pail or other collecting container.Like so many other things that started out simple, a huge retail industry has developed around selling items for tapping maple trees. To hear them tell it, you can’t even get sap out of a maple tree without their products. People have been tapping trees and making maple syrup for centuries. How did they do it without access to modern day gadgets? Well, they made their own equipment using raw materials available in the environment around them.

If you hurry and ask for priority shipping, you may be able to order tree tapping stiles online and get them before the season ends. Or you can make your own.

You can easily carve a stile from an elderberry branch using tools you already have around the house. Sumac branches work just as well or perhaps even better than elderberry and may be easier to find in your neighborhood.

The hardest part of the whole process is finding the shrubs. Once you find a likely bush, take out your sharpened pruners and cut off a section of branch around a half an inch in diameter.  Freshly cut, green stems are relatively soft and very easy to work with.

The cut your branches into sections 3 to 4 inches long.

This is about the size you need to make a tap.

Using a screw driver, hollow out the stem by removing the soft pithy part running through the center.

I use a flat bladed screwdriver to clean out the center.
Work the screwdriver all the way through to form a hollow tube.
Try to get as much of the pith out as you can.

Then, use a sharp pocket knife to whittle away one end to form a taper. This will be the end that goes into the tree.

A utility knife makes short work of tapering the end.

Finally, make a slanted cut at the far end to form a spout. And that’s all there is to it.

A completed stile or tap. You can peel off the bark if you want a cleaner look.

Your first stile will probably take several minutes to make but once you’ve done it, you’ll find the next one will be easier and can be finished in less than a couple of minutes.

I’m not going to go though all the steps necessary to tap a tree and boil down sap into syrup but if you want to learn more, click here  to find an old publication that I posted several years ago describing the process from start to finish.

After the first year, you may find you’re interested in expanding your syrup making hobby, if that’s the case then by all means go online and start collecting  more sophisticated equipment for next year.

Bob Dluzen
As a result of being a gardener for more than 40 years, 30 of those as a professional, Bob's gardening has become an integral part of his life. "It's the ever-changing seasons and the wide variety of plants and gardens that keeps me intrigued," he says. Bob lives and gardens in rural Monroe County.