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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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12 Comments on Make a compost tumbler

  1. How would you put a crank handle on it?

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

  3. 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

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

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

  5. 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… 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.

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

  7. 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…?

  8. 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.

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