How to Make Your Own Maple Syrup

If you have maple trees close to home, you can try tapping them.

woman outside hammers maple tap to tree

Treehugger / Christian Yonkers

Do you want to learn how to make maple syrup? Do you have some maple trees? Are they sugar or silver maples? If so, chances are you've thought about "sugaring"—the process of collecting maple sap and boiling it down to make maple syrup. Maple sugaring is fun and easy and can be done on a small or large scale, depending on the time you have available and your ability to acquire supplies (for larger operations, this can get expensive).

Sugaring on a small scale is a great way to welcome spring! It's a fun and educational family activity and, even with just a few trees, you may be able to make enough syrup for gifts for friends and family.

Step 1: Determine When to Start

woman investigates trees outside for maple
Treehugger / Christian Yonkers

The exact date when the maple sap starts to run varies depending on the region where you live, and also by year. The general rule of thumb is that the sap begins running when the daytime temperature goes above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit), and the nighttime temps are still below freezing. This is typically sometime between mid-February and mid-March, though it could go later into the spring, sometimes as far as April.

Step 2: Decide Which Trees to Tap

closeup hands hammer sugar tap into tree
Treehugger / Christian Yonkers

Sugar and black maples have the highest sap sugar contents and will produce the best syrup most efficiently, i.e. they require less sap for a given amount of syrup. Sugar maples are also known as hard maples or Acer saccharum.

Red or silver maples can be tapped and make good syrup, but it may be cloudy. Red and silver maples put forth buds a bit earlier than sugar maples, so tapping season may end sooner for these species. You don't want to tap a budding tree, as the syrup will have poor flavor.

Tree diameter is important as well. Avoid tapping trees that are less than 10 to 12 inches in diameter. Conservative tapping guidelines for a healthy, growing tree with no trunk defects are 12 to 18 inches diameter = one tap; 19 to 25 inches diameter = two taps; above 25 inches diameter = three taps.

Step 3: Get Your Equipment

closeup shot of maple tap drilled into tree
Treehugger / Christian Yonkers 

Maple sugaring can happen on a micro-scale or on a macro-scale, with a full sugar shack, evaporator, and so on. I'll be focusing on home or hobby production. Remember that any or all of this equipment can be made, improvised, found, recycled, borrowed, bought used, or otherwise scrounged.

You'll need a drill to make the holes, a spile to direct sap into a covered bucket, collection containers for hauling sap from the tree to the evaporation site, a pan for boiling and heat source, thermometer, cheesecloth and food-approved filters for sap, and storage containers, such as glass jars or bottles.

Step 4: Tap the Trees

closeup hands drilling sugar tap into tree
Treehugger / Christian Yonkers 

Tapping is about as easy as it sounds. You can place taps anywhere on the tree trunk but think about ease of collection and the height of any (potentially melting) snow. Two to four feet off the ground is about right. Drill the hole to whatever specification is on the spile (usually 5/16" in diameter and a couple inches deep), slanting it upward slightly so that sap can run out, then insert and gently tap the spile with a hammer into the hole. Do not pound it in! Hang the bucket or bag onto the spile to collect the sap. It should start to trickle out very slowly.

If previous tap holes exist where you would like to drill, place yours at least six inches to the side and four inches above the height of the old tap holes. When drilling more than one tap per tree, space the taps evenly around the tree.


When tapping, only drill into healthy wood; avoid spots that are dark, decayed or discolored.

Step 5: Collect the Sap

hands hold bucket under tree for sap
Treehugger / Christian Yonkers

It's best to collect the sap the day it runs and boil it down that same day. The sap—commonly called maple water in this stage—will spoil very quickly, especially if the weather is warm. Filter the sap through a cloth or cheesecloth before boiling if possible to remove larger bits of debris, such as pieces of bark, twigs, or insects. You may want to store it in the fridge or freezer at this point until you have a big enough batch to boil.

Step 6: Boil the Sap

overhead shot of pouring sap water through cloth filter
Treehugger / Christian Yonkers

Depending on the sugar content of the sap, it takes about 40 to 45 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of finished syrup. The larger the surface area of your evaporating pan, the more quickly you can evaporate all that water. For the hobby maple sugaring operation, experiment and use whatever you can find for boiling down sap. Evaporators, even small ones, are expensive pieces of equipment (though check your local trader for used ones). A Dutch oven or other wide pan can work.

Remember that this creates an enormous amount of steam and will make everything in the vicinity sticky. You may want to do it outdoors or in a garage or covered area, particularly in the initial phase. Once the sap is getting closer to being done, you can move it into the kitchen for careful finishing.

pouring sugar water from cast iron pot to fresh pot
Treehugger / Christian Yonkers

Set the pan on the heat source (open fire, camp stove, or kitchen range) and fill with sap, being sure to leave room at the top for the sap to roll and foam just like boiling water. Be sure to vent steam well if you're sugaring in the house. Bring the sap to a boil, and continually replace the sap as it boils down. Keep at least 1-1/2 inches of liquid in the pan at all times to avoid scorching.

Step 7: Finish the Syrup

testing boiling sugar on stove with thermometer
Treehugger / Christian Yonkers

As the water evaporates, the boiling point of the syrup that is left continues to increase. Finished syrup boils at 7.1 degrees Fahrenheit above the boiling temperature of water. What is the boiling point of water? It's not just 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The exact boiling point can vary depending on altitude and weather, so have a second thermometer in a pot of vigorously boiling water and use that as your boiling point, or note the boiling temperature as your sap first begins to boil (at that point, it's mostly water). Skim excess foam from the surface of the syrup as it boils.

pouring boiled sugar water into clean mason jar
Treehugger / Christian Yonkers

When you're done evaporating all your sap and ready to finish, continue to evaporate what's left while monitoring the temperature carefully. When the syrup is boiling at 7.1 degrees Fahrenheit above the boiling point of water, filter and package the syrup. If you are using a hydrometer, check the density of the syrup before pouring into containers.

For safe storage, be sure the syrup is at a minimum temperature of 185 degrees Fahrenheit during pouring. After pouring through a food-grade filter (wool is often used) and sealing, turn the containers upside down for a few minutes so that the container neck and lid bottom are covered with hot syrup, then turn right side up again. Store in a cool dark place or in the fridge; once opened, containers should always be refrigerated. If you see any mold when you open a container, remove it by skimming, bring the syrup back to a near-boil (190 degrees Fahrenheit), and repack in a clean container.