We made this basic and cheap maple syrup evaporator for less than $50, and it took less than an afternoon to put together. So you can file it under “cheap” and “easy” — but you can also file it under “effective.” We used it to boil down a season’s worth of sap from 18 taps (roughly 180 gallons). (When you’re done, here’s our article on what you need for a backyard sugaring operation.)
>> March 2018 update: We’re now using this setup for our second season! We also used it last year to evaporate birch sap for birch syrup, and plan to do so again after this year’s maple harvest.
Considerations for a Basic and Cheap Maple Syrup Evaporator
If you don’t care too much about appearance, all you need for a syrup evaporator is
- A place for a hot fire
- A container to hold the sap that can withstand the heat
- A way to hold the container above the hot fire
- A way to divert smoke away from the sap
We did a decent amount of research into frugal setups and were initially interested in a barrel setup. Ultimately, though, this is cheaper and easier.
Here’s the shortest section! What you need to make this evaporator:
- At least 13 cinder blocks (depending on how tall you want your chimney — the taller, the better, without it getting dangerously precarious) — $1.70 each
- Two stainless steel pans (you could get larger sizes to increase surface area, and thus evaporation rate, but you’ll also then need to tweak the spacing of the firebox) — $13.00 each
The Evaporator Design
The front blocks create the firebox and hold the stainless steel pans by their lips. The chimney is set on two vertical blocks, with a gap between them and two blocks behind that gap at the rear. The gap in the front, then, allows the smoke to leave the firebox and travel up the chimney.
You’ll also want:
- A candy/deep fry thermometer
- Or for more precision, a hydrometer and hydrometer test cup
- And a skimmer to skim off foam as the sap boils
Note on cinder blocks and heat: If the blocks have a lot of moisture in them and you heat them up real fast, they’ll start to crack. Our blocks have a few cracks in them, but because of the way they’re stacked, they’re not going anywhere. We’ve since started keeping it covered when not in use, to avoid it getting soaked in rain and snow.
Here’s how we collect maple sap using five gallon buckets.
Here’s all you need to know to make birch syrup.