MAPLE TAPPING REVISED AND CORRECTED
Text by Étienne Gosselin, Agronomist, M. S.C.
Not only will your tapping guarantee the best results, but using the right tools, we leave less to chances. Keven Lefebvre, maple sugar producer and tapping expert, shares his knowledge.
Tapping: science or an art form? It’s not a typical question that Keven Lefebvre, specialised bit designer and distributer from Bolduc, asks himself. Tapping day in and day out, he freezes maple logs that he’ll test his bits that his spouse, Cindy Paquet, has drawn up and created according to his specifications. In their workshop, also doubling as their laboratory, they often rework these twisted bits of metal required to pierce the maple’s bark and sapwood. Their preferred tool of the trade? The micrometer.
Maples are never tapped with ordinary woodworking drill bits as they are designed for dry wood. Tapping bits distinguish themselves by their threading that quickly evacuates the wood chips created by the cut without having to continuously move back and forth, as it risks ripping the edge of the area. By a pronounced helix angle to accelerate the cut, and by a sharp point capable of drilling through the fibres of green wood, whether it’s frozen or not. The objective: to obtain the perfect circular hole with no fibres, avoiding vacuum leaks from spouts that may not fit perfectly
‘The metal for the bit is made of high quality metal so it does not burn the wood when you’re using a high powered drill’, explains Keven Lefebvre. The bit will have a 1000 to 1500 tapping ‘life’ and require a special sharpening that costs roughly five (5) dollars. The tip of the bit will be specially sharpened, with a tapered separation, that will ensure the best bite against the bark.
Retailing at about $23 each, the bits are available in six (6) sizes where the 19/64 inch and the 5/16 inch are the most popular. In sugar shacks, where harvests are done with buckets, the 7/16 inch is the most sought after size. Note that the current trend is to reduce the diameter of the bit so that that tap healing will be favored.
New product alert: Les Mèches Bolduc offers short tapping bits! As such, even if your bit is completely drilled in, it’ll never go deeper than two (2) inches – certainly an advantage as organic certification requirements state that they will check your tapping depth; they cannot be any deeper than 1 ½ and 2 inches, depending on the tree’s diameter.
THE CHALLENGE OF SIZING
Keven Lefebvre recommends that sugar shack owners keep at least five (5) bits available to them, as keeping them sharp is the biggest challenge they face.
Rule of thumb: remove the bit from the chuck and place it in a protective case during transportation. After your tapping, avoid hitting the bit against a hammer when placing it in the pocket of your apron.
A last piece of advice from Mr Lefebvre: clean your bit at least twice a day with a solution that is both a cleaner and a disinfectant, and is food graded ; this will reduce friction caused by sticky residues. To clean your bit, lay it flat on a soft cloth and rotate it as you apply the solution. ‘Pure isopropyl alcohol will dry out the metal and degrade the glossy finish’, explains the maple sugar producer, who continuously tests his bits and other maple sugar products. Every year in December, with the help of his father, they preform no less than 4 000 taps in their maple grove, the perfect secondary laboratory with open sky light, helping to perfect the science, or the art, of tapping!
1Les Mèches Bolduc, a Saint-Théophile (Chaudière Appalaches) based company, carries out 80% of their sales in Quebec, where they currently hold 90% of the market. The company offers a disinfectant/lubricant solution for bits, designed to clean and enrich the metal more effect than pure isopropyl alcohol. This product contains paraffin oils and lanolin, in addition to alcohol and water. Les Mèches Bolduc continuously test their products for at least one year before their launch in a commercial maple grove.