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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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20 Comments on Make a compost tumbler

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

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. This is also great for earthworms 🙂

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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

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


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