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Make a compost tumbler

SAFETY FIRST: Ask an adult to help with tools you haven't used before.

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



  • 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


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.


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.


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.


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.

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10 Comments on Make a compost tumbler

  1. Believe it or not these arre easy to make I could probably make this without instructions

  2. Works really well
    Kinda smelly once the compost starts breaking down.
    I used a large trash can instead of the food barrel and reinforced the side braces with more wood.
    Great weekend project, it took me about 3 hrs.

  3. Ozzy Osbourne // May 26, 2009 at 6:32 pm // Reply

    it looks like a cannon! 🙂

  4. well simple project i think i will try it

  5. Amherst Eagle Adam // May 15, 2009 at 12:42 pm // Reply

    I am moving to a new place, and I really wanted to start my own compost, but I didn’t want to buy a $200+ compost tumbler. I quick Google search, and my third hit was for Boys’ Life. Being a Scout myself, I had to click it. Needless to say, I am WICKED excited to build this. It’s been far too long since I’ve built anything with my hands (I’m a bit embarrassed to say that the last time might have been my Eagle Project in ’04). Thanks a bunch for these instructions Boys’ Life!

    And to all those Scouts climbing the Path to Eagle, keep it up! It will be something that you treasure your whole life, something no one can take away.

  6. joe king // May 5, 2009 at 3:09 pm // Reply

    cool, i like it

  7. Hampton Eagle // April 28, 2009 at 7:30 am // Reply

    Wow–very simple design. I bought a barrel and have been stumped on how to build a cheap but strong frame with stuff I have already. This is a good design–easy, strong, looks good, and I have all the stuff! Thanks Boys Life!

  8. anyone else have some more tips? So you spin it, and the compost comes out of the holes? love to build it

  9. Lazy, you can introduce worms to it yourself, though. 🙂

    Stevey, you can throw some things onto your garden, but only those things which break down very quickly on their own and will not attract vermin. For instance, coffee grounds can be sprinkled around acid-loving plants like roses and the plants love it. The main reason for composting first is, the bacteria break everything down into a better form for the garden. The compost warms up in the pile or container, and that sets off a chain reaction resulting in the materials being broken into finer parts more easily introduced to the soil.

  10. Nice drawings David, but where are the pictures of a real one. Didn’t you build one!!!!

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