Little Creek Maple Farm

Our adventures around the homestead.

Sugaring 2014 – Impromptu Blower

Partially Fronzen Sap into Filter

Even with yesterday’s 50F degree day we still had some buckets with a little bit of ice skin on the top of the sap.  I am too stingy to discard this ice for fear that I am throwing out even the tiniest bit of maple sap, despite what I have read about this ice containing virtually no sugar at all.  After filtering out the maple sap I got my oldest to stack some of the fire wood I split into our garden dump wagon.  The wagon helped to keep it off the ground.  I have confirmed that wrist sized pieces really do work best, and I use a mix of hardwood and softwood off cuts from the wood shop.

Firewood for the Evaporator

After reading a lot of posts about adding blowers to evaporators to increase your boil, last year and this year on the Mapletrader Forum, I figured I would see if a little Air Under Fire, AUF would actually work.  I read about people adding fans in front of their ash door and last summer I picked up this Lasko fan for the house.  The height seemed right and it was adjustable, so I could set it on the ground and aim the air straight into the ash pan of my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator.  Now Bill Mason does have an add-on option for a blower that you can to most of his evaporators and hindsight being 20/20, I should have ordered one set up for my particular evaporator, but I was unaware of the benefit until I saw it first hand yesterday.

Portable Blower for Mason Evaporator

So below is my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator, boiling outside with the temperature around 40F and a slight wind from the West.  This was my normal set-up the pan boiled and I had steam and I want so say I was probably in the 5-6 gallon range on evaporation rates but I did not see the billowy steam that you would see at larger sugarhouses.  I had written my lack of steam off to just boiling outside.

WF Mason 2x3 Hobby Evaporator No blower

Below is a photo of my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator with the Lasko fan set at it’s lowest speed and aimed into the ash pan of my evaporator.  I propped the ash pan door open with a small board.  As you can see the amount of thick steam coming off the pan was noticeably different than the photo above.  I was shocked!  Now because I was melting a lot of ice during this boil I did not have a good way to measure the evaporation rate, but the thicker plume of steam coming off my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator made me feel awesome.

WF Mason 2x3 Hobby Evaporator With Blower Fan

When the wind blew strong enough to disperse the quick column of steam you can get a feel for the rapid boil that was in my stainless steel syrup pan.

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Even as I was melting frozen sap, the column of steam I was seeing was intense.  At the end of the day I boiled of many buckets worth of liquid sap and frozen sap that I swear would have taken me two 4-hour boils and I was wrapping up shutting things down in under 4-hours because I ran out of sap.  Hopefully during the next run, I will be able to time and watch the evaporation rate using the blower with a little more accuracy than I have so far, but this will definitely improve things for me as long as I have the sap to run my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator with the blower fan.  Two words of caution to anyone planning on doing this.  First shut off or point the fan away from the ash door when you are ready to reload more wood.  If you keep the fan on you will below coals out the wood door when you load.  Second you have to be mindful of a few hot coals blowing out the ash door as you turn the blower on/off or point it in the ash door.  This was not a big concern for me as I boil outside on pavement that is typically wet with snow melt.

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March 16, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sugaring 2014 – First Boil

2x3 WF Mason Evaporator

Luckily for me, I had last Friday off to prep the evaporator for our first maple sap boil last weekend.  There were 2 major project on deck that needed to be completed.  First was to modify my poly 35 gallon leg tank to make it a little more user friendly.  For anyone familiar with these tanks they give you a small 4-5””” diameter hole at the top of the tank (sorry no before photo) which makes it nearly impossible for you to clean the inside of the tank and makes it a major chore to install the bulkhead style fitting on the outlet of the leg tank.  I read on the internet last year about how people were modifying these tanks to accept a 5-gallon bucket, and basically cutting a big hole on top.  Unfortunately I did not have the gumption to cut this tank last year.  After the pain that was to clean I figured I would go for it this year.  The first thing I did was to cut the bottom 3” off of one of my food grade buckets with a saber saw equipped with a fine cutting wood blade.  The saw made quick work of the bucket, and because the 5-gallons buckets are tapered I knew I could trace the outline of the bucket on top of the tank to give me the hole size for the top of the 35-gallon tank.

This was not as easy as I thought, because I did a flat cut on the bucket when I should have used more of a radius to follow the curve of the tank.  This is hard to explain in words and I have a lack of photos but anyone that does this modification will understand.  After I roughly traced the outline on the tank, I drilled a starter hole the size of the saber saw blade and made my initial cut.  I found myself having to go back and widen by initial cut at the two sides in order to fit the bucket into the tank.  I made a couple small cuts and would check the fit until it was snug.  Once you can fit the bucket in the tank you just push the bucket further down into the tank to tighten the fit.

Modified 35 gallon leg tank for maple syrupIMG_8975

As you can see form the photos below you end up with a pretty tight fit.

Modified 35 gallon leg tank for maple syrup with bucketModified 35 gallon leg tank for maple syrup with bucket

With my sap storage tank ready to go.  It was time to focus on the stack for my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator.  I unwrapped the tarp off the steel section of my evaporator and installed a new 6” diameter, 24” long base section on top last years elbow.  For anyone who has not used lock seem stove pipe it is a paint in the butt.  First make sure you wear gloves when working with stove pipe. Its easy to get cut if your are not careful.  I did read a trick last year that I figured I would pass along.  If you push the two seams together while pushing them down you change the circular shape of the pipe into more of a heart shape that makes it easier to start the lock seam of the stove pipe.

WF Mason 2x3 evaporator stack

Next I cheated and slapped last years section of stove pipe on the newer section.  As you can see there is a noticeable difference in just one year of the stove pipe being exposed to the weather.  I have a total of 6’ of stove pipe on this outdoor rig.  The rule of thumb I read was 2’ of pipe in height for every 1’ of pan length so in my case my WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator has a 3’ long pan so 6’ seems to work fine creating plenty of draft.  In the background you can see my Garden Bean Trellis serving double duty as support for the smoke stack.  I basically have two 6’ section of lightweight conduit attached to the trellis at what end and attached to the smoke stack with some wire.  Pretty basic, but serves the purpose until we get a sugar shack.

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All that remains is to set the pans and fill with sap.  Saturday we boiled during the day for 4-hours or so.  We had about 40 or so gallons of maple sap previously frozen solid by the polar vortex that we were able to slightly thaw overnight in the house by Saturday morning.

WF Mason Rapid Boil

We stoked the fire got a rapid boil going and then slowly added large block of maple ice.

WF Mason Evaporator boiling ice

Thawing that much ice forced me to keep a good eye on our stack temp and the sap in the pans so I could maintain a rapid boil.

Inferno magentic stack gage

Sunday I started late thanks to daylight savings time and got in my first night boil.

Night boiling on a 2x3 evaporator

There is something special about boiling at night.  Its hard to describe but there seems to be more steam rising in the moonlight and the wood in the firebox seems to glow just a little bit brighter and feel a little bit warmer.

WF Mason 2x3 Evaporator Fire Box

I was not quite sure how well we did where everything was frozen, and we had some additional sap run last weekend but I be we went through between 50 or so gallons of sap over 4 hours each day so we probably had an evaporation rate of 6 gallons per hour despite melting ice.  It was a good weekend that left us with about 4 gallons of sweet.

March 13, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2014 – The Polar Vortex

Frozen Sap

Well the photo above kind of sums up this past week of sugaring!  Nothing has ran since last Sunday February 23rd, 2014.  We have been in the freezing tundra of New Hampshire or caught in some kind of polar vortex.  Despite the last couple years of unpredictable warm-ups, it is looking like this year will be more of a typical winter and sugaring season.  So, I sit here wondering yet again for the 3rd season in a row if we may have tapped our trees to early?  Only time will tell, but the reality is tapping last weekend made so much sense, given the warm weather and timing.  It’s always easier to put the taps in on the weekend then during the week. We will just have to wait and see, but the freeze up provided for some pretty good photos as we walked the sugar bush this afternoon.

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The 10 day, puts any worthwhile sugaring another week away with the first glimpse of sugaring weather occurring on Friday March 7th!  It will probably take at least a couple days to thaw us out too!

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The sap is frozen like water in the lines and in the buckets.  I would estimate 15 or so gallons frozen in the buckets with more in the tubing.

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All of the tees are iced up solid from each drop line…

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To each end line ring where the tubing terminates into a 5 gallon bucket.

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And a drip frozen in time, just before it hits the pool of frozen sap in the bottom of the bucket.  Truly wild!

March 1, 2014 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sugaring 2013 – Evaporation Rates

I have found myself with a curious quandary regarding evaporation rates.  One that could easily be solved if I took the time to carefully measure and record the amount of sap I boil off in a set period of time.  While it sounds straightforward enough, my current liquid measuring tools are a 5 gallon bucket, that is not graduated, and a watch that I am seldom wearing when boiling…

Basically I have observed two different amounts of steam being generated by my new WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Sized Evaporator.

The first scenario has the ash door open and I am experiencing a rapid boil in the pan, but limited visible steam off the top off the pan.  As seen in the video below.

Little Creek Maple Farm March 3, 2013

The second scenario involves a much more substantial amount of steam when I open the fire box door to load more wood.  As seen in the next video below.

Little Creek Maple Farm March 3, 2013

The puzzle, which scenario would you expect to have a greater evaporation rate???

March 4, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2013 – Test Boil, Part 4

Well, after boiling for 6 hours on the evaporator, I reduced approximately 32-35 gallons of crystal clear sap with a sugar content of about 1.5% to approximately 5 gallons of sweet sap concentrate.  I have no idea what the concentrate has for a sugar content, but I am going to guess its upwards of 10%.  Although not visually appealing, it has enough sugar to keep it from freezing when I left it covered outside with temps in the teens.  It also tastes much sweeter than the clear sap that comes out of the trees.  There are some ice crystals starting to form on the top of the “Sweet”, but it is all liquid.

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The night I boiled this down was also the night the weather turned cold, with temperatures for at least a week staying below freezing.  With no more sap to add to the evaporator I needed to take the 5 gallons of sweet out of my syrup pan and bring it inside to finish it.  This would be our first batch of syrup for the 2013 season.  There is no magic here, just lots of boiling and lots of steam.  Luckily for us, our house was pretty dry and could use all the added moisture we dumped into it after taking 5 gallons of sweet down to syrup.  In the future with sap consistently running we should be able to draw off almost syrup right from the evaporator, resulting in less time boiling/finishing inside the house.

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So, everything about syrup making is time consuming.  I had a bout 5 hours on our cook-top watching the above pot boil.  That is until I dumped the last of the “Sweet” concentrate into the pan and it reduces enough to give you “tiny bubbles” seen below…

These tinier bubbles let you know you are getting close to syrup.  From here on out I am basically manning the stove waiting for the temperatures to reach syrup level.  The liquid in the pans is reading about 215F at this point and needs to hit 219F +/- before I start checking the sugar content to make sure I have the right sugar concentration.

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As the temperatures start to rise, I have to reduce the heat of the burner to prevent this, hot sticky mess from boiling over and ruining the pot, the stove, and my wife’s idea that sugaring is way cool and that her husband is not crazy…

When the liquid hits 220F on my thermometer I pour the first scoop into my test cup so I can check the density of the syrup with my hydrometer.  I am looking for the hydrometer to read over the hot test line in red at 59 on the Brix Scale.  I had to do this twice before I got a reading over 59.  It’s important to make sure you have at least one hydrometer, so you can check to make sure your syrup is of the proper density.  You cannot judge syrup by the temperature reading on your thermometer alone.  My thermometer’s were reading 220F when I started checking and technically you are suppose to technically have syrup at 219F +/- when adjusted for elevation.  So buy a hydrometer your first year, and hope someone gives you a second one the following year.  It’s always good to have two so you can check one versus the other if you get any wild readings.

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Once the syrup was of proper density I filtered and bottled the syrup into glass, we ended up with a little more than (9) 8 ounce bottles of a tasty Grade A, Medium Amber Syrup.  Not bad for our first run of the 2013 season.  Especially when you remember last year it took us forever to make over a 1/2 gallon of syrup and we thought we were superstars making it a pint at a time!

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February 25, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Sugaring 2013 – Test Boil, Part 3

Well with plenty of sap on hand, and the evaporator set up it was time to see what this baby can do!  I did a quick one hour boil with water to flush all the pans out before I was ready to get started with the maple sap.  I probably had between 32-35 gallons of sap on hand, so it was time to get a move on.

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I enlisted my trusty wood/sap hauler to keep me fully stocked with a mix of hard and soft wood from our wood pile.  I ended up re-splitting a lot of the wood into the sizes you see below.  I had read that wrist size pieces of hardwood work best for the hot and fast fire you are suppose to have when boiling sap.

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Reloading with some more wood after getting some initial coals going, it seems like I was loading every 7-10 minutes once things got going.

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The syrup pan started with a roaring boil, and as we got into the night you can see the syrup start to change from clear liquid in the left photo to a tan-ish color in the right photo.

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Our first video of the boiling process, I feel so professional!

A quick clip of the new evaporator in action.

February 24, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2013 – Test Boil, Part 2

Setting up the stainless steel pans was fairly straight forward.  The evaporator came with pan gaskets, fittings & valves, and my thermometer.  All I needed to do was pick-up some Teflon tape and I was ready to set the pans in place.

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I started with the pan gasket. This is basically a high temperature woven fiber gasket with what I am guessing was double sided tape on one side.  The gasket material was already cut to length by Bill Mason, so after a quick dry-fit, I simply peeled off the backing material and stuck the gasket to the top of the evaporator.

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With the pan gasket in place I placed the stainless steel syrup pan on top of the gasket material and turned my attention to the attaching the draw off valve and my new syrup thermometer.

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I put some Teflon tape on the draw off elbow, which I am assuming is stainless, and then install the brass ball valve in place.  I then place some Teflon tape on the threads of the thermometer and install it on the fitting provided by Bill Mason to the left of the draw off box.

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Below is the draw off valve and syrup thermometer installed in place.

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Below is the stem of the thermometer inserted into the last divided bay of the syrup pan.

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With all of the fittings installed on the syrup pan I switched over to the preheater pan that sits on top of the syrup pan.  No magic here, apply some Teflon tape to the stainless fitting welded to the bottom of edge of the stainless steel pan and attach the brass valve provided.  This valve will almost always be open a crack to allow fresh sap into the syrup pan, ideally at the same rate the syrup pan is evaporating sap.

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The evaporator set-up below, filled with water and ready for its first test boil with water!

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February 20, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2013 – Test Boil, Part 1

Last weekend I finally had enough sap to boil, so I had to get my act together and finish setting up the WF Mason 2×3 Hobby Evaporator.  I had previously bricked up the evaporator and calibrated my syrup pan thermometer, so now all that’s left was to install the smoke stack, set the pans in place and do a test boil.

I am boiling outside so I went with standard 6” black stove pipe that can be found at Lowe’s or any other home center.  I picked up a 6” 90-degree elbow for $9.48, (3) 2’-0” sections of 6” black stove pipe for $9.98 each, a rain cap for $10.28, and a 12-pack of self tapping stove pipe screws for $1.98.   For a total of $51.68 I had all the parts and pieces ready to go.

I started by slipping the elbow over the steel collar of the evaporator.  I needed to gently tap around the circumference of the collar on the evaporator several times in order to get it small enough to wedge the elbow on over the collar.  This was the second hardest part of the process.  The hardest part was snapping together the sections of 24” stove pipe along the seams.  I am not sure what gauge metal these where but this was a royal pain.  The basic process is to press both sides of the seam together making almost a heart while trying to get one end of the locking seam started.  This was a bear to do, but once you get the seam locked now you have to squish your now oval stove pipe back into a circular shape.  I am sure there is an easier way to do this but it was lost on me.

After assembling all of the stove pipe, I proceeded to slip on the first section onto the crimped end of the elbow.  I found it easier to force the elbow onto the collar of the evaporator a little bit more by articulating the 90-degree elbow to 180-degrees and inserting the first section of 24” stove pipe.  For whatever reason I was able to get more leverage when pushing in a straight line towards the evaporator and got the elbow a good 3/4” onto the collar.  I then swiveled the elbow back to 90 degrees to check the angle of the smoke stack.  Right away I could tell I was going to have an issue stabilizing the stack because of the stack’s weight and the swiveling of the elbow joints so I was on the search for a quick solution to stabilize the stack with materials I had on hand.

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I grabbed my bean trellis to use as a sturdy frame and found that two metal sections of my roof rake would be just the right size and length and had some nice predrilled holes at both ends to act as sturdy fire resistant angle braces to stabilize the stack.  With a plan in mind I dry fit the next two section of stove pipe and rain cap on the ground and then set them in place on top of the first section.

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I then attached the pipe to the bean trellis angling them back to the stack to brace the stack laterally as well as helping to pick up some of the weight of the stack itself which wants to fall back away from the evaporator.  I simply wired up the stack to the two pipe stabilizers and then screwed the stack together with stove pipe screws using 3 screws equally spaced around the circumference of the stove pipe at each section.

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Next it was time to set-up the pans…

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sugaring 2013 – Boarding & Bricking Part 3

So, I have to admit I was a little sore yesterday.  There was a lot of crouching and bending over the arch to insert and take away bricks and I sure felt some stiffness in the morning and the fact that the weather was still miserable out didn’t help motivate me.  The temperature was a mild 40F, but still felt cool and damp with a heavy fog and was just an overall dreary day.

After I completed my Sunday chores it was time to complicate the install of the step in the back of the arch a little bit.  Essentially, I built a raised platform on top of the arch board that was lining the bottom of the evaporator.  It may have been easier just to stack bricks to fill the space but that would be too easy.

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Once I more or less built the perimeter frame and leading edge I was ready to install a layer of arch board on top of the frame work of bricks.  I had some extra arch board and needed the extra 1” of height, so in it went.

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The finish line is nearing!  Only six more bricks to install and because I like symmetry I needed to cut each one to length.  I could have just put three full size bricks on the step and only cut the other three to length but than the design would not be balanced!  After all, what is three more cuts and what would I do if a visually unbalanced brick layout some how screwed up this years syrup making!  To be safe I chose symmetry and a few more cuts.

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As I placed the last brick, I was not quite finished.  I still needed to completely unbrick the arch so I could move it to the yard.  At first I thought I would be able to only take some of the bricks out, but then I tried to move this pig fully loaded and she was not going anywhere!  I guess 56 bricks is a significant amount of weight when you put into a big metal box and try to move it all at once!

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It took all of my inner strength not to fit these bricks super tight for no gaps, but from what I read I need to allow some space between the bricks so I can cement them in at a later date.  Now to take it all apart move it to the yard and level it up.

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Hopefully six weeks from now, when I go to disassemble the arch for summer storage this blog will help me remember how everything goes back together!

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Leveling her up before I re-brick her…

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Not too shabby.  I probably should have used metal washers to shim her up, but all I had on hand was wood shims.  Next year perhaps.  With the syrup pan level, I brought the pan back into the house and started re-bricking the arch.  I covered the arch up and I am ready to start thinking about the stack next.

January 14, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sugaring 2013 – Boarding & Bricking Part 2

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The last post left off with me completing the installation of the arch board in my new Mason Evaporator.  After mocking up some brick layout below it was time to cut!  As with the arch board I started from the front and bottom and worked my way to the top and back.  The fire brick or splits as mine are often referred to are 1-1/4” thick, 4-1/2” wide and 9” long.  They line the arch and protect the fibrous arch board from damage from loading wood.  They are like a light weight version of a brick but are made with specific materials to withstand the high temperatures of a wood stove or evaporator.

The tile saw – I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow a pretty decent tile saw that cut the bricks easily.  Like with any tool that I own, I took my time and went slow.  It’s important to go slowly and let the diamond blade due the work of cutting the brick.

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I pretty much cut bricks as I went.  Starting at the front with a couple angled cuts I was able to start the sides.  The sides are installed using running bond, and everything is dry fit and held in place with gravity, and other adjacent bricks.  I will be boiling outside (no sugar shack) so I need to move the evaporator inside after the season is over.  To do this I need to be able to lift the evaporator which means taking the bricks out at the end of the season.  This required me to think a little more about how to hold the bricks in place without using fire cement.  I spent a fair amount of time mocking up and laying out the bricks to accomplish this.

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A dwindling pile of fire bricks.

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Towards 4:00PM Saturday I had reached a good stopping point and had to catch up on some other chores around the house.  I had bricked the front, back, sides, and the lower portion of the floor of the evaporator where the wood fire will be by the ash grate.  Towards the back I am in the process of laying out the step which will help keep the flames and or hot exhaust gases up towards the bottom of my syrup pans, in theory of course.  I spent about 7-hours Saturday and probably have another couple hours Sunday to complete the bricking.

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This has been an intense process, but very fun.  Almost like building your own jig saw puzzle.  I am glad I am doing this now and not when the sap is flowing!

January 12, 2013 Posted by | Sugaring | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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