How To Make A Compost Tumbler (Very Inexpensively): A Photo Tutorial
As I venture into this foreign world of organic gardening, I keep reading about how great compost is. Compost this and compost that. Suddenly, I want to make compost! This has actually been on my “List of Things To Do” for a long time, so I am happy to finally be marking it off.
I’d like to show you how I, along with my mother-in-law and my husband, made a compost tumbler for free. That’s right! I did not spend any money on it! We used things that were left over from other projects or stuff we found laying around my mother in law’s farm to make this. I realize that most of you do not have a farm with lots of ancient equipment and supplies to raid, but this project can be done very inexpensively, especially considering how much it costs to buy a tumbling compost bin.
How To Build A Compost Tumbler
I knew I wanted a compost barrel and I knew didn’t want to buy a new one. (Because I can’t afford it!) I started searching online and discovered a couple of very helpful blog posts that gave me the idea for this project. You can find those two posts here and here.
Supplies you will need:
A barrel – We found this for free from a local car wash. When I called to ask them if I could have a barrel, they were delighted and told me to take as many as I wanted to and to tell my friends. Its a 30 some gallon barrel, but a 55 gallon barrel would be fine too.
Some saw horses or some wood (2x4s) — I’m purposefully being vague here about how much wood and about measurements because you (most likely) will not use exactly the same items I did, so you’ll have to figure out all of that on your own. Sorry.
A pipe to go through the center of the barrel
Two hinges and a latch
Some screws or bolts
Some black paint to paint the barrel with
Old pillow block bearings from an ancient hay baler – This one is completely optional. You can definitely do the project without it.
You’ll need access to some power tools too—a jigsaw, a drill, and a circular saw. Although if you know the length of the boards you need, you could have the nice folks at your local hardware store cut them to size for you for free.(A little disclaimer: I am not a photographer, nor do I know how to adjust all of these images in Photoshop. I’ll just apologize in advance for some of the poor lighting. We started this project in the evening and were racing against the dark to get it done. We didn’t get it done, so we finished it the next day. You’ll notice that in the following pics.)
The door of the barrel
Draw a door on the barrel. The only thing we had out at the time was a yellow highlighter, so you’ll have to look real hard to see the door we sketched out, but its there. The door is roughly one foot square.
Cut out the door.
Wash out your barrel if it isn’t new. I used some Simple Green and water with a scrub brush. Make sure to rinse it out really well. You don’t want any crazy chemical residue if you can help it.
Attach the hinges. These are old hinges from a cabinet door.
The screws we used were sharp on the end and my husband was worrying about me impaling my arms, so he used these plastic furniture leg/floor protector cover things to put over the screws. (Yes, that is the technical name for them.) He’s so smart.
Attach the latch. We made ours out of a carabiner and two eyelet screws. It’s what we already had and it works as a latch, but I think a normal latch would be better. I was just trying not to spend any money.
The ends of the barrel
We didn’t want the weight of the compost to break or warp the plastic on the ends of the barrel. Therefore we attached some 2×4 pieces to the each end and then drilled a hole through both the wood and the barrel.
Cutting the wood to size on the back of the truck.
Here is it before attaching it.
My mother-in-law attaching it. (Not sure if she’d be pleased I put this picture of her up here, but she was integral to the process, so I’m doing it anyway.)
After both ends of the barrel have the wood attached to it, you need to drill a hole through both the plastic and the wood for the pipe to go through. We had a huge drill bit and used that. If you don’t have access to that, before you attach the boards to each end, you could cut a hole through the plastic of the barrel and through the wood with your jigsaw. After that, line up the holes and then attach the boards.
The Drill Bit
Drilling the Hole
Here is how it should look after you are done.
The Saw Horses (Or whatever you decide to use)
The old saw horses we used are made of big metal pipe. These were also just extra and hanging out around the farm. I’m guessing you don’t have these, so I want to point you again to these links – here and here. Neither of these people used the same materials we did for this part of the project. You will need to look around, see what you already have on hand, decide whether you want to be able to move this thing to another location or not, and then figure out how to build it from there. Sorry I can’t be much help on the specifics with this part!
Here is my husband attaching the pillow block bearings to the saw horses.
Testing it for strength
Putting it All Together
Now, take the metal pole and put it through the barrel. Then put it into the holes of the bearings. (Or whatever you decided to use to h0ld up your barrel.)
The Finishing Touches
Now you get to learn from my mistakes on this next part. This is the point where I should have painted it black. You want it to heat up so all the stuff inside breaks down into the rich compost you are looking for. However, I got excited and went ahead and starting putting all my kitchen scraps in there before I did either of the next two steps. Listen and learn, people. :)
After you’ve painted your barrel black, then take a drill with a small bit on it and drill holes all over the barrel. You need lots of air flow to the compost.
Finally, clear out any little plastic threads that are in the barrel from drilling the holes and you are finished! Start adding grass clippings, leaves, leftover kitchen organic waste, and even coffee grounds. I’m still trying to figure out the proper ratios for the compost, so I’m not going to offer any advice on that yet. You’ll have to research it yourself or wait for me to feel confident enough to write a post about it. :)
Here is the finished product (until I can paint it black) out by my garden plot.
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments!