Sometime in January, when winter was really dragging on, I got interested in tapping Maple trees. As a young boy, I had tapped maple tree a couple times and really enjoyed it.
We are blessed to have 8 Maple trees on the property of God’s Green Acres. As I started researching it, I found that tapping trees and gathering sap was the easy part. It could also be inexpensive if one didn’t buy special devices. However, the challenge is evaporating the sap down into syrup in a cost effective way.
Maple sap is generally boiled down into syrup in a ratio of 40 parts of sap to 1 part of syrup. That means if you gather 40 gallons of sap, you have to boil off 39 gallons of water and yield one gallon of sap. That is a lot of boiling. Traditionally, wood fires are used to boil the sap.
We heat with wood and this year has been a struggle given the bitter cold long winter and our poor preparation. We ran out of wood in late December and have struggled to get wood to heat our home. Therefore, my enthusiasm for tapping maple trees was met with the reality that wood fired evaporating would not work for us. I had to find another way.
I stumbled upon many folks who had made waste oil heaters. In general, a waste oil heater is made to use waste veggie oil or motor oil. If built properly, they burn the oil completely and give off a clean exhaust. This was an exciting find as the building was not technically challenging and I believe I could acquire waste oil from many folks I know and restaurants. However, no one I found had built a maple syrup evaporate that use waste oil except commercial outfits that sold their evaporators.
Well, I continued researching and thinking about how to take the basic design elements and make a waste oil fired evaporator. About the time I was acquiring parts for my waste oil burner prototypes, my good friend Justin Miller let me use his welder. It would be come invaluable in the creation of the prototype heaters.
I got the boys involved in firing our burner 1.0. It actually worked! We then went through v 3.0. We had a general design that we believed could be used to heat a pan and evaporate syrup. We still had to make the burner functional and build some structure around it to hold the pan, preserve heat and provide chimney venting.
By this time, the end of February was in sight. I had been working feverously in the evening and off times because I knew soon we would have to get the taps in the trees and start collecting the sap. I envisioned gallons of sap collected and not having a way to evaporate it. The burner would be the bottle neck. Since we had a basic design, I decided it was time to make some taps (called spiles).