MacGyver Style Indestructible Maple Sugar Evaporator From Filing Cabinet




About: I'm just a regular guy trying to do extraordinary things. In addition I produce a weekly podcast, write and garden. I love to look at piles of crap and make that crap into something useful, useful crap.

For the past few years I've been making my own maple syrup, using techniques found here on Instructables, but I've been doing it the old fashioned way over an open fire. It has worked great for years, but this year I have tapped too many trees and therefore had a problem to solve.
How can I boil more efficiently.
So I took a look at my Mother-in-laws commercial evaporator, then went into my office to contemplate a solution, I should also say my budget for this build was exactly Zero (as usual)
I thought to myself "What would MacGyver Do?"
After Staring at paperclips and duct tape for far too long my eyes came to rest on my filing cabinet, and my hoarder genius mind went to work.

Step 1: Gather Your Equipment

Here is what you need
 One old metal filing cabinet
A circular saw or jigsaw
Drill and bits
A couple of old hinges
An old chimney pipe
Boiling pan
A couple of hinges and hasps
Saws all
Sledge Hammer

Step 2: Start Cutting

I am not going to go into safety issues, but please use all your equipment responsibly.
Almost all the pictures in this instructable were taken by my five year old.

Lay your boiling pan on the top of your cabinet and mark the width and length (you could measure and draw but I am lazy)

Do not center the pan, you want to leave room to add the chimney

Take your circular saw and reverse the blade (this is a great trick for cutting metal and it's dangerous!)
Cut the opening out

A better tool for this is a jig saw, but I don't have any blades and I was working on a zero budget.

Step 3: Make Doors

I thought this would be super easy, I was super wrong.

Do not attempt to knock the doors off the drawers with a sledge hammer, you will only be able to dent and mess it up.

Using your circular saw, or a saws all cut the doors off the drawers.

Attach them to the filing cabinet using your hinges. I scavenged my hinges from the dump and could only find two, but if you are smart you will put two hinges on each door. Reinsert the bottom drawer, this will be your fire box.

Now attach a hasp to hold each doors closed.

Step 4: Add a Chimney and Drill Some Air Holes

For this I used an old waterheater chimney pipe. I had my daughter draw draw the circle around the base of the pipe, then I drilled a bunch of holes in the circle and made some X cuts across the circle and smashed it in with a sledge hammer.

Then I crammed the chimney in, and it was done! I didn't need any hardware to attach it's crammed in...

While I had the drill handy I drilled holes in the bottom of the cabinet and on the sides, just a dozen on each side.


Yup this is the fun part! Make a fire to melt off any weird plastics and the paint. Just make a super hot fire and let it burn for a long time.
Super simple and loads of fun!
At this point DO NOT USE MAPLE SAP!
Just make a fire

Step 6: Now You're Done, Make Some Syrup!

Tap your trees
Collect 40 gallons of sap
Boil it down to 1 gallon
(temperature of 219 degrees)
I usually finish it on the stove so I don't overheat it.
Filter it,
Bottle it, sell it, hoard it!
Feed your kids, make sugar have fun and let me know how it goes!

This beast of an evaporator will last for a long time, feel free to improve the design, paint it with high temperature paint or recycle it and build a new one every year.

This indistructable MacGyver evaporator is being entered in both contests, maybe I'll win, vote for me and make some comments!
Either way get outside and make some syrup!

Jury Rig It! Contest

Runner Up in the
Jury Rig It! Contest



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    23 Discussions


    1 year ago

    Hi, Thanks for this great idea. Can you please tell me how long it took you to boil the 40 gal of sap down? Thanks again.


    2 years ago

    are you still using this? You inspired me to make one!

    1 reply
    Fish NerdGmcedar

    Reply 2 years ago

    I do still use it, it works great, please share photos once you make yours


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Great setup! Do you find that as the sap reduces it burns on the sides of the pan since your pans are inset? I do mine with the same pans on a stacked brick oven, and one year I set the pans down inside like you have them. I found that initially it worked great, but with less in the pan it started to burn on the sides real bad.


    5 years ago

    Great idea! I like how it's portable to a degree so it could be stored away off season! Where did you get the boiling pan and how much?

    1 reply
    Fish Nerdjamob

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    The pan is a steam table pan, i got it at a used restaraunt store, I think it was ten bucks...thanks

    Fish Nerd

    5 years ago on Introduction

    Glad you like it! I think making syrup is an important part of our culture, keep it going...


    5 years ago on Introduction

    My grandparents had a cabane à sucre and a sugar bush in southern Québec. They used to gather the sap in buckets attached to maple trees in the early spring with horses and sleigh and boil it down to syrup. I remember having sugar on snow in August many years as my grandmother would save snow in large flat pans and freeze it just for that purpose.

    Great 'ible! I have to pass this on to my family.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Fantastic idea. Will make one of these. any suggestions about how to pour the finished syrup out of the pan without slopping all over the place?

    1 reply

    5 years ago on Step 6

    What a great idea. I just finished up a week working with my uncle using a commercial evaporator. I am in the process of looking for an evaporator to start myself... I had been looking at designs using old barrels, but this is way better. I am going to try using a 4 high cabinet, but lay it on its back, that way I should be able to run at least 2 pans. thanks for the idea to get me thinking down this road.

    1 reply
    Fish Nerdluckyz2

    Reply 5 years ago on Step 6

    I've considered that too, but I never find the bigge cabinets, I now have two of these so I can run them side by side... Thanks for the comment! And please vot for me!


    5 years ago on Step 6

    I love the simplicity and portability of this! We've been hobby sugaring for 4 years using propane and it gets very expensive. The size of your evaporator is nice for storage in the off season and bonus points for re-purposing the file cabinet. Thanks for the 'ible!

    2 replies
    Fish Nerdparkerpe

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! We are happy with it, I will probably line it with tile or some sort of file brick to enhance the efficiency, but it works great and we get some great syrup.
    I love to re purpose stuff like this. Please vote for this in the McGyver contest and the Indestructible Contest.


    5 years ago on Step 5

    could you just remove the guts of the top drawer and bold the front on with some angle stock. leave the bottom drawer as is and have it be able to slide out to refuel?

    we did a smoker like that once with a 3 drawer file cabinet. fire on the bottom drawer. open space then punched holes in the top drawer bottom and added a chimney.
    it actually made a really good turkey.

    vincent7520Fish Nerd

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Who do you think I am ???
    Why of course I voted !!!...
    I did it a soon as a read your Inst'.
    I was well raised : I know how to brush my feet on the rug before coming in and when an how to say thank you !!!... ;D