Make Your Own Elderberry Taps
by Khoke and Ida Livingston of Davis City, IA
A few years ago we switched from tapping our maple trees with metal taps to wooden taps we make. There comes with it a feeling of independence and self-provision. Most of the elderberry canes we cut come from a thicket in the very woods we tap the maples. There are more canes every year, availing themselves in case we need replacements for taps that broke.
Elderberry canes are hollow with a pithy center. The pith can be punched or drilled out. When choosing your canes, look for 2nd and 3rd year growth. This gives you a nice thick woody wall with a small pithy center. A small (but not too small) hollow center allows you to drill a smaller hole, and thus reducing scarring for the tree. A first year growth has a large pithy center and a thin woody wall making a brittle tap. Too old of a cane is simply too large.
It is not uncommon for elderberry plants to have a number of dead canes. Be sure to only select canes with live wood. Don’t worry about the plants, elderberries are very tenacious and will grow more canes to replace the ones you cut.
Once you have selected your canes, shave off the bark and cut them into 4-5 inch lengths. Then you can punch or drill out the pithy centers. Now you have little hollow wooden tubes. Carve one end down to a funnel shape to fit the 1/2” hole you will drill. This must be smooth to create a tight fit, so Khoke uses a rasp in order to smooth down the uneven slices from his carving knife. Once this is smooth he takes his knife and cuts the tip at an angle if he didn’t do this when he cut it to length. The angle point should be at the top of the hole drilled in the tree when you go to hammer the tap in (gently). Once the tap is in, pound a nail in just above it. This nail is to hang your bucket from. Don’t hang a bucket from an elderberry tap as you would from a metal tap.
Technically you can make wooden taps from other wood. You would either have to use a dowel or cut a hardwood branch or sapling and drill out the center. These would likely last longer than an elderberry cane tap. We have an abundance of elderberries but you may not. The same guidelines would apply to make taps from a hardwood. Find a small tree, 3/4 – 1” in diameter, strip the bark and cut it to length. Then drill (3/8 – 7/16” bit) out the center and taper the end as described to make an elderberry tap.