One of the questions I get the most is “where do I get sugaring supplies?”
The truth is that we have cobbled together a collection of old galvanized buckets and antique spiles from local hardware stores, flea markets and by word-of-mouth for our hobby. Hardly a satisfying response for the budding sugar maker, I’m afraid. Besides which these sources, especially hardware stores, tend to have supplies only seasonally.
Depending on where you live, Craigslist may be a good choice. We have certainly gone there for bigger items like sap storage tanks with success. But again, supplies are likely to be seasonal.
Some of us are lucky enough to live within driving distance of brick-and-mortar maple sugaring supply businesses and have the time and inclination to go there. But, then again, many of us live in the boonies and just don’t.
So what’s a backyard sugar maker to do? Let’s start with the basics. You already have a drill and a 5/16 or 7/16 bit. Right? You have trees. Yes! You need buckets and spiles, sap storage containers, maybe a thermometer and/or hydrometer, filters and maybe some bottles. OK.
I’ve culled through a number of online resources and here’s what I’ve come up with, in no particular order:
www.sugarbushsupplies.com – This site gets the awards for having abundant useful information and for its range of choices. It has a wide variety of taps at decent prices, and a few different bucket choices as well as sap storage solutions. It has a lot of thermometers, hydrometers and filters to choose from and there’s good information and pictures so you can make a good choice on all three. (For example, the catalog explains that a double layer of filtering, including a filter and pre-filter is recommended for gravity filtering.) They even carry reasonably-priced hobby filter packs and kits! How nice! Finally, if you are in the market for bottles, whatever bottle you’re hoping for is probably in this selection. You must place your order by phone, but I would not skip looking through the catalog, if only for education. The PDF Catalog can be found here.
www.bascommaple.com – The used buckets and lids (at very good prices) are the best thing about this site, which is otherwise a bit overwhelming in its vastness, at least for this beginner. The spile selection and pricing are decent. The storage tanks are abundant but expensive, save for one reasonably-priced plastic 55 gallon drum. The hydrometer/thermometer section (labeled, confusingly, only “thermometer”) and the filter section, which are also ample, come with no guidance; the syrup container selection, which speaks for itself, of course, is vast. The site suggests that shipping and handling fees are added after you pay and notes that there is a 10% restocking fee. All in all, though, worth a look if you know just what you are looking for, are looking for used buckets or are looking for things in bulk or case quantities.
www.leaderevaporator.com – This website is hard to navigate; best to hunt for what you are looking for by using the search function and paying attention to the navigation headings. I bet the catalog is a great read, but, unfortunately, it was in a format that I wasn’t able to download. The best thing about the site are the downloadable instruction manuals (which I was able to download). Very educational if you’re looking to take your research to the next level. Leader carries a good variety of buckets and alternative collection containers and a couple of hydrometers and hydrometer cups, but no thermometers that I could find. Its line of spiles is more limited, but does include the aesthetically-pleasing, old-fashioned cast ones that carry the company name. Very romantic. Storage tanks are available in several sizes and not outrageously expensive; the site notes that you must call to arrange shipping, though. The filter selection is modest; the bottling selection, adequate. You have to register as a customer to purchase.
wwww.cdlusa.net – This is a giant, professional site geared toward giant, professional sugar makers. But there are some gems, including overall lowest prices on the basics. CDL boasts the best prices on new buckets (listed beside snowshoes in “miscellaneous!”) and on spiles (listed under “fittings and tubing”). It does not appear that CDL has a consistent supply of metal buckets, but has a variety of plastic ones, including, excitingly, a gray plastic bucket, the likes of which I’ve never seen, and which may many-a-marital-argument solve. CDL’s prices on its vast array of hydrometers and thermometers (both filed under “measuring tools,” “brix” and “temperature,” respectively) are also the lowest. Hydrometer cups are listed separately with other draw-off items. Storage tanks are there, but their prices aren’t. Yikes. Syrup containers abound and at the lowest prices around. If you prefer it to surfing, leaf through the giant catalog. You have to register as a customer to place an order online.
tapmytrees.com – This site looks like it affords the best online purchasing experience out there for a beginning back-yarder. It is an easy website to navigate where the buckets and spiles are nicely packaged and displayed with other items – like hydrometers and filters – that you might be in the market for. Shipping is free, but you do pay for all this convenience, as the prices are higher, the selection is very limited, and some things that you will need (sap storage containers, pre-filters) are simply not available. Still, if you want to get started with the least possible amount of thought, or are giving a gift to an aspiring beginner, this is a good enough place to pull the trigger; you can see the whole inventory here.
mapletrader.com – Ah, the eBay of maple sugaring supplies! If you are down with used goods, here is where you will get your best prices. There are lots of old galvanized buckets and lids and old cast-style spiles- fewer hydrometers, thermometers and sap storage containers, but it’s the kind of site you have to troll for best results. Obviously not a great place to get filters and bottling supplies. But if you are willing to piece it together, totally worth a look! Go to the classifieds here, search for what you are in the market for and you’ll see what I mean!