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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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15 Comments on Make a compost tumbler

  1. You can compost newspaper if you shred it.

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

    can newspapers be composted?

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

    Great Machine

  4. 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.

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

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

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