Whenever somebody finds out that I am tapping trees or making maple syrup, their first comment somehow involves the incredible amount of work it takes. More knowledgeable people will mention that it takes an incredible amount of sap to make just a small amount of syrup. I smile and nod. What they are saying is true. It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. After these people make their reference to the work it takes, they ask me about it, and I am happy to share.
I usually confirm their statement by telling them exactly how much sap it takes to make maple syrup, but I also qualify it by telling them that it depends on what type of maple tree you tap. Sugar maples tend to produce 1 gallon of syrup from closer to 30 gallons of sap. Red, black, and silver maples tend to be slightly over the 40 gallon estimate.
What it really comes down to, I tell them, is the system you have in place. If you have a convenient pattern for collecting the sap everyday and the setup to boil it down, you are most of the way there. It should be boiled outside (though you can finish it inside), so you have to come up with and pay for a heat source that can run for the better part of a day. Since we have a wood furnace, we burn wood and just convert our chicken barbecue pit into a sap boiling pit.
You should plan on trying to boil down the sap once a week (usually Saturday for us by default), but you can get away with a little longer if you need to. The season varies depending on the weather, but the average sap season is about a month long.
As for the boiling process, most of your work is already done. You have the heat source and the sap; you just have to put them together. It may take a while, but it is not a very intensive activity. Dad and Cathy sat by the fire this Saturday with their lawn chairs, acting like they were living the high life. There are two parts to the job: 1) keep the heat source going, and 2) keep adding sap as it boils down. Within the bounds of keeping an eye on things, you can do whatever else you want.
As it gets near the end (you usually start to feel the excitement when you get all of the sap boiled down enough to fit into one boiling pan), you can take it inside and finish it on the stove. You put it in containers and call it a day… because the process took the whole day. If you ask me, that is not a bad way to spend a day if you do it with the right people.