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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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17 Comments on Make a compost tumbler

  1. Looks pretty simple! Gonna try it!

  2. cool 🙁 🙂 🙁 🙂

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

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


    • 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…

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

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

  6. cool gonna try

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

  8. what dos this thing do

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

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

    It’s Easy TO Make. I love it.:)

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