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Copyright:  Mike Sillett


1. Intro
2. Materials
3. Kitchen Equipment
4. Procedure

photo of a 6 inch spile from Elderberry trunk.
Maple Sap spout - spile

1. Intro

A lot of people know that the trunks of black elderberry bushes have provided people with an easy to use natural product for making maple spouts, called Spiles, in the maple syrup industry.
However, what a lot of people don't know is how easy it is to gather sap from easy access maple trees.
Maple trees, especially sugar maple, are everywhere in southwestern Pennsylvania. And you do not need a major sap collecting operation to make enough pure Maple syrup for your own personal use.

You don't need to invest a lot of money for equipment. Just a few spiles, a few 1 gal. cans or empty 2 litre bottles to hang on or under under the spile, a drill and a bit of the right size and you can start gathering sap as part of your foraging hobby.

Knowing that it is easy to make spouts, hereinafter spiles, from elderberry trunks is not the same as actually making them or seeing the steps involved in doing so.
This tutorial is to show how easy it is to make spiles so that you can go ahead and make one and tap a tree in February / March.

Once you see how easy it is to collect sap you too will start making maple syrup for yourself.

2. Materials

An elderberry bush.

Here is a perfect candidate growing along a mine water reclamation pond.
Elderberry bushes are often found on edges, thin woods, old trails, railroad tracks and boarders of tracks. If you find a woodsy area that looks scruffy it probably has some elderberry in it somewhere.

Try this link if you wish to delve further into Finding Black Elderberry bushes.

photo of an Elderberry bush - May.

Cut off the trunk which has the size diameter you need. A diameter of half an inch + is good.
This section of trunk will provide several spiles of the thickness which I consider acceptable.
photo of a portion of an Elderberry bush.
I chose this trunk because it was reasonably straight and the diameter of the trunk is what I want.

3. Equipment

A knife,
A thin shanked flat screwdriver,
Hacksaw blade,
Some type of metal rod or coathanger piece,
Bamboo skewer ( optional )

photo of some the tools used for making Elderberry spiles.

These are some of the tools I use for making the spiles.
From left to right, portion of elderberry trunk, thick piece of copper wire, hacksaw blade, thin shanked flat screwdriver, pocket knife.

4. Procedure

Cut a length of trunk that you believe has the thickness that you desire for the spile.
There is no set standard. Past practice was to drill a hole in the tree that is 7/16 inch. Some use a 5/16 inch hole.
You should make the finished spile thickness whatever you want. It won't hurt to consider past practice as a guide.

Trim off the leaf stems. Leave some stem stubs on the trunk where the leaf stems were removed until you know whether you want them removed later as the process progresses.

photo of a portion of the Elderberry trunk.

This piece is very nice. It's the thickness I want and straight.

You can see in the photos below why elderberry trunks are easy to work with. Note the lighter color of the center of the trunk.
That is the pith. The pith is reasonably soft, sort of like styrofoam, and can be removed without any special tools.
In fact you can dig out the pith of a 6 inch spile with a thin piece of sharpened hardwood or bamboo skewer. It's just a bit more time consuming. Then use the skewer edge to clean out the bore with plunges.
I did it a couple of times just for 'chits & giggles' and can say it takes about half an hour. All you do is keep digging out a bit of pith from one end until approximately the center is reached then work from the other end the same way until the middle is breached.

With a metal rod / coathanger piece or screwdriver it takes about three or four minutes.

photo of portion of trunk showing the center pith.
photo of the cut-off end of the trunk showing the center pith.
Here you can see the center pith, the outer wood, and the layer of bark of the trunk.
The outer wood is surprisingly tough.

Using the hacksaw blade cut off a piece about 6 inches long. It might be a bit on the longish side but that is good in case you error along the way. You will be glad that the little extra length is there then.

photo demonstrating the use of the hacksaw blade to cut off the appropriate length of elderberry trunk.
Measure and cut. I like 6 inche spiles. After you make and use a few spile you may decide otherwise.

    Part 2 - Pith removal, tapering and finishing.



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