It is starting to get cold in Ohio and that means the sugaring season is right around the corner. In 2014, we tapped our first maple tree and processed several gallons of sap in the house. We learned a lot that year, like to not process sap in the house. The syrup we made was great, but we knew we needed a better setup if we wanted to produce enough to make it worth our time.
In 2015, we decided to build a syrup evaporator out of a 55-gallon drum. It was a relatively easy process and the results were far more effective than the previous year. Like most homestead projects, there is always room for improvement and we are already cooking up ideas for the 2016 season.
For those out there that want to process a gallon or two of syrup for use throughout the year, this type of evaporator is a good place to start. The materials list is short and simple. First we start with a 55-gallon drum. The drum will need both ends and preferably ends that are attached to the barrel. Like most projects we waited till the last minute, so this evaporator was build in about four hours two days before we wanted to start processing sap.
Step 1: Making the door.
This project was the reason that I acquired my new favorite tool, the angle grinder. The order that the cuts for the door are made really matter. With a cutoff wheel in the grinder cut the hinge side of the door. After this cut is finished attach the hinges. This keeps everything square and makes the process much easier.
After the hinges are attached cut the remaining three sides of the door. Once the door is cut you are going to need some sort of latch. I used an L bracket and a clip for attaching electrical conduit to a wall. They were spare parts that we had laying around and it worked just fine. We were rushing to get this project done so whatever we had laying around was what we used.
Step 2: Cutting the holes for the steam table pans
The secret to a good evaporator is surface area. The goal is to have as large of a surface as possible so the sap will evaporate as fast as possible. We chose some large steam table pans. The 55-gallon drum had enough room along the top for two pans. We used pans that were 20-3/4-inch length by 12-3/4-inch width by 6-inch heigh. The challenge with this step is that the pans are tapered. I traced a rough outline on the top of the drum and cut out the hole. I then trimmed the hole larger little by little till the pans fit snug. With two pans, we had a little over three feet of surface area to work with.
Step 3: Legs
This step was easy, and an accident. I needed a way to keep the drum from rolling while I worked on it, so I stuck it between a few cinder blocks. I wanted it up off the ground so I shoved some scrap steel through the holes in the blocks and a stand was born.
Step 4: Chimney
To get the firebox to draw air in and exhaust the smoke up and out, we needed a chimney of some sort. We created one by using duct work. We only needed two pieces. One 90 degree boot and one piece of pipe. We cut a square hole the size of the boot in the back of the drum and attached it with self-tapping screws. The pipe was then set in the boot and attached with more self-tapping screws.
Step 5: Setting the firebrick
The final step we did once everything was back in the woods next to our holding tank. We needed as much heat as possible directed up towards the trays holding the sap, so we lined the inside of the drum with firebricks. All things considered, the evaporator worked very well.