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Make a compost tumbler

Here’s how to tumble your way to rich compost for your garden and plants.

compost-550

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

  • Sturdy plastic 55-gallon (or so) food barrel
  • Drill
  • Saw
  • Hammer
  • Adjustable wrench
  • 8 3⁄8-by-3 1⁄2-inch carriage bolts
  • 8 3⁄8-inch nuts
  • 8 3⁄8-inch washers
  • 16d galvanized nails
  • 2 bungee cords (If barrel has a locking lid, you won’t need the bungees.)
  • 5 2-by-6-inch boards (Lengths will be determined by the size of the container.)
  • 3⁄4-inch galvanized pipe, threaded both ends (You can get a standard-size pre-cut threaded pipe. The length will be determined by diameter of the barrel.)
  • 2 3⁄4-inch galvanized pipe caps

WHAT YOU’LL DO

Prepare the Barrel

1. Wash out the barrel and drill two 7⁄8-inch holes halfway between the top and bottom. These holes are for the 3⁄4-inch galvanized pipe.

2. Drill 1⁄2-inch holes evenly spaced around the barrel.

compost2

Build a Sturdy Frame

3. Cut the 2-by-6-inch boards and assemble the frame as shown, using the hardware listed. The feet should be almost as long as the legs are high.

compost-24. Drill 7⁄8-inch holes at the top of the legs and pass the 3⁄4-inch steel pipe through the hole in one leg, into the barrel and out through the leg on the other side. Screw on the pipe caps.

5. If the lid needs to be held in place, drill small holes around the lid to hook bungee cords.

COMPOSTING BASICS

Layer yard waste into the tumbler. Alternate green materials like grass clippings with brown ones like hay or fallen leaves. Put in some garden soil and kitchen waste such as veggie scraps, fruit peels, cereal, bread, crushed egg shells, tea bags, and coffee grounds and filters. Never use meat, poultry, fish, dairy or pet waste. That stuff can attract unwanted critters.

Bacteria breaks down the materials in your tumbler and turns it into rich organic compost. The decomposing material will become hot as the bacteria does its work. The material in your tumbler should be about as moist as a damp sponge. Spin your tumbler one or two times a week to mix the contents and keep it aerated.

HOW TO FIND A BARREL

Food barrels are used for things like juice or pickles. Try checking with large restaurants or food distributors. Also, there are companies that sell used food barrels.

112 Comments on Make a compost tumbler

  1. Would a barrel that had liquid soap be ok do you think or no

  2. me myself and i // May 26, 2013 at 3:42 pm // Reply

    I also make compost piles, that way the flies can spread the rot

  3. fatface kazoo // May 26, 2013 at 3:40 pm // Reply

    awesome so going to make one !!!!!!!!

  4. Hi … I am high on using eco-friendly products… Hence do not want to use plastic. Can u recommend any eco-friendly tumbler???

    • Anonymous – If you are using plastic for the tumbler, you are saving it from being put in a landfield…..so I would think that would be more eco friendly. Just saying :)

    • and you can find recycled plastic containers, so its like a double win!

    • If you try using anything made of earthen materials and not manmade like plastic you risk the container braking down.

  5. never use paper with ink on it!!!!

  6. I live in North Scottsdale Az…. temps in summer are or can be extreme… what are your recommendations in placement for spring and summer months…?

  7. Dad The Great // December 6, 2012 at 5:53 pm // Reply

    Build it high enough to get a wheelbarrow under it, otherwise I love mine. Its very productive. I also used plastic paint and painted it black.

  8. You can compost newspaper if you shred it.

  9. green fingers // October 21, 2012 at 10:21 am // Reply

    can newspapers be composted?

  10. Hobo John // July 9, 2012 at 3:10 pm // Reply

    Great Machine

  11. I heard composting “kills” bacteria!

    • it will kill beneficial bacteria if the temperature rises above 160 degrees. Use a compost thermometer if you’re worried about it, you can find one at any nursery.

  12. my dad and I built a composter and it works great!

  13. Compost Wantabee // April 5, 2012 at 5:06 pm // Reply

    How long does it take for the compost to breakdown and is there a way to separate the newly added scraps, etc from the already broken down compost that is use-able?

    • Tumblers are best used by filling around 3/4 full at the one time.
      I keep my new scraps/weeds etc in a normal plastic compost bin till ready to refill the tumbler composter.
      I also use a seperate plastic drum to store grass clippings and other green materials
      until the tumbler is free.

  14. The compost tumbler that boys life put on pintrest works great.I made one this
    weekend i had all the material except for the pipe and the two end caps that cost me 11.89 + tax not bad. Great idea.
    Thanks Degreaser

  15. I live in the mountains. I would really like to build a compost tumbler but I am wondering if I have to put so many aeration holes in the tumbler. I don’t want the bears, lions, variuos creatures to smell it. Any advice? Thank you.

    • If you don’t want critters in your compost, don’t compost cooked food,{such as meats, anything with butter on it, ect}, only compost raw vegetable scraps, paper, yard waste, coffee grounds, eggshells.. .. you get the picture.

  16. I dont think there is anyway that a bungee cord is going to keep the lid on when its upside down cause those cords stretch

    • Farmer Wannabe // September 8, 2012 at 11:33 am // Reply

      The barrel I got from my local co-op has a screw-on lid. I’ve seen other that use a metal strap that clamps on.

  17. Thank you for creating the composter. I will make one for my composting need.
    have a great life

  18. Looks pretty simple! Gonna try it!

  19. cool :( :) :( :)

  20. i just built mine today using these plans. its pretty awesome.

  21. How often do you turn it? Daily? How long for chicken, horse or goat compost is ready? Any Recipes for it?

    Thanks

    • The tutorial states that you should turn it 1-2 times per week. I’m not sure what you mean by “chicken, horse or goat compost”, but again, it clearly stated that you should NOT PUT ANIMAL WASTE into the compost. Hope this helps and is not too late!

      • Actually, it doesn’t say not to use animal waste. It specifies “pet” waste/ This is because dog and cat waste can contain pathogens harmful to humans. Composting cow, goat, sheep, horse, chicken, etc actually improves the output.

      • zoonoticvet // March 27, 2012 at 9:16 pm //

        Actually all animals (goats, dogs, cats, cow, horses, etc) can potentially carry parasites that can be harmful to humans; especially if proper deworming protocols are not used.

      • Bookwyrm // March 28, 2012 at 9:12 am //

        S/He means poop.

      • Manure, use only that of grain/vegan/insect eating animals such as cows, horses, goats, chickens etc…

  22. sandcastle // April 29, 2011 at 6:24 am // Reply

    do you drill holes in the top of the barrel also?

  23. cool gonna try

  24. i just made 1 how many vent holes do i need if any?

  25. what dos this thing do

  26. what is the little half moon looking cut out near the lid of the tumbler?

  27. handy manny // May 3, 2010 at 3:28 pm // Reply

    It’s Easy TO Make. I love it.:)

  28. would a regular trash can with a lid (w/locking handles) work for this project?

  29. i cant find a drainpipe or barrel. help!

  30. For a great place to find a cheap barrel, find a car wash owner. They usually get their soap in large barrels. I purchased several from my local car wash owner.

  31. Can the tumbler be made from a metal drum or is the plastic necessary? I have a metal drum so I was going to use that one, but not sure if it will get too hot?
    This is very cool and I cannot wait to get started.
    Thanks!

  32. This is also great for earthworms :)

  33. nice project, easy to make gonna do it over the weekend

  34. how do you fill/empty it?

    • You tip it forward to load it and tip it as far down as you can to dump into a wheel barrow, etc. As to the smell, good compost should never smell check what you are putting into the compost. perhaps too much water??

      • Opie Wan Kenopi // May 2, 2010 at 1:30 pm //

        You should avoid meat and dairy products this is a large source of compost odor.

  35. Johnny Boy // July 26, 2009 at 12:39 pm // Reply

    In step four drill 7/8″ holes is incorrect. The nominal size of 3/4″ galvanized pipe is 3/4″. The outside diameter is1.05″ as found on any pipe size conversion table. I built this compost tumbler and had to go back to the hardware store for another hole saw, size 1 1/8 “. I also added a drain valve at the bottom edge to drain valuable compost tea.

    • The drain valve is a must. The compost tea that you produce will be just as beneficial as the compost itself. Use it as a foliar spray to improve sun and nutrient absorbtion in the leaves as well as an organic pest deterrent. Also, with the use of the 3/4 galv. conduit you may want to use some sort of bushing or grommet to avoid damaging or splitting the plastic drum.

    • Yes, I figured this out the hard way. I drilled the size indicated, then to fix it, I used a Dremel to enlarge the hole. It’s hard to fix by getting a bigger drill bit, because it tends to flop around a lot if there’s no anchor in the middle. Definitely start with a hole bigger than 1 inch. It’s okay if it’s too big, actually. Make sure the bungees are on securely before you flip it! I had some unfinished compost dump out…yuck.

  36. My mom has been wanting a compost tumbler for a while and we havent had the money to buy a brand new, so im hoping thid will work

  37. TumblerMaker // July 8, 2009 at 4:29 am // Reply

    Kewl…

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