Homemade Tapping Spiles from Sumac or Elder


Here is an easy way to make your own spiles for tapping maples using sumac or elder branches that costs nothing more than a few minutes.

Sumac and elder are shrubs that enjoy those fringe areas between wood and field. Where I live they can be reliably found besides railroad tracks or on many-a roadside. The sumac we’re after is easily recognizable by the red cone of berries that stay on top of the branches into the winter, while elders are a little trickier, but yield a scrumptious berry during summer. Best to do your tap harvesting during pruning season, that is, while they’re dormant.

What we need is a good branch of either, no thinner than an index finger, and not necessarily too much thicker than a thumb (but there’s plenty of wiggle room here). Avoid areas of nodes and branches too dramatically curved. Straight-ish is the ticket.

Snip the branch into about 4 inch sections.

Next with a long thin nail, some firm wire, or thin screwdriver, work out the soft pith from the center to make it into a tube. Give it a test by trying to blow air all the way through.

Once that’s done starting from about the middle point, whittle a gradual taper to one end. Go all the way around it so you have a cone on one end.

That’s basically it. Often times I’ll hang my collection buckets so I’ll put a notch on the top of the untapered end for the bucket’s string to rest in so it doesn’t slide off.

I like to generally rough them out then bring a knife with me when I do the tapping in case I need to make modifications. The drill bit you use for tapping the tree will be dependent on the thickness of your branch. We want the hole a little bit smaller than the branch, hence we made that tapered end to snugly find its place when pounded in.

These taps last quite a few years and if they don’t it’ll only cost you 5 minutes to make new ones.