How to Make Your Own Compost Tumbler

Barrel composters require an exact balance of green and woody scraps (see References 1, page 4).

Barrel composters require an exact balance of green and woody scraps (see References 1, page 4).

Compost is a gardener's treasure, but producing a batch takes time. If you want to create compost more quickly, build a barrel-style tumbler. But, beware hyperbole that says a tumbler will yield finished, usable compost in two weeks --- Brook Elliott of Mother Earth News reports that it's more like 10 weeks from start to finish (see References 1, page 1). Still, compost barrel tumblers are a rodent-resistant, easy-to-use option for busy gardeners (see References 1, page 4). Once you procure a barrel, you can construct a compost tumbler in an afternoon.

Build a Frame

Lay one 2-by-6-inch board flat on your work surface. Measure across its width about 1 inch from each end, marking the 3-inch center point. Repeat with another board; these will form the vertical supports.

Lay one of the vertical support boards lengthwise, on its 2-inch side. Place the 2-by-4-inch board on its 4-inch side, with one end meeting the end of the first board to form an "L" shape.

Set blocks or bricks under the 2-by-4-inch board so it meets the center marking of the vertical support board. Hammer two nails through the support board and into the 2-by-4-inch board to secure it.

Line up the second vertical support board at the other end of the 2-by-4-inch board, at the center mark of the support. Hammer in two nails to secure the boards; you should now have a "U"-shaped frame.

Measure the remaining 2-by-6-inch boards lengthwise, marking the 2-foot center point. These will form the horizontal supports.

Brace or have an assistant hold the "U"-shaped frame so the vertical supports point upward. Align one 2-by-6-inch horizontal support perpendicular to the base of one vertical support, making a "T" shape. Adjust it so the horizontal board's center mark is approximately centered across the width of the vertical board.

Drill four 3/8-inch holes at the place where the supports meet. The holes should pass through both boards in a square pattern (see References 2).

Insert four bolts into the four holes and attach nuts to the threaded ends of the bolts. Tighten the nuts with a wrench to securely fasten the boards.

Attach the remaining 2-by-6-inch horizontal support to the remaining vertical support as in Steps 6, 7 and 8. You should now have a frame that looks like two inverted "T"s connected by a 2-by-4-inch baseboard. This frame will be stable enough to support your compost barrel. (See References 2)

Drill a 7/8-inch hole 1 or 2 inches from the top of each vertical support, keeping the holes at the same level.

Mount the Barrel

Set the food barrel on its base, with the lid at the top. Measuring vertically, mark a point a few inches above the barrel's center. Make a similar mark on the other side of the barrel, directly across from the first mark.

Drill 7/8-inch holes at each of the points you marked in Step 1, for placing the conduit; drill 1/2-inch holes at regular intervals, every 6 inches or so around the entire barrel, to provide air for the compost (see References 2).

Place the barrel between the two vertical supports of the frame. Insert the conduit through the hole in one vertical support, through the 7/8-inch barrel holes, and then through the hole in the remaining support. Screw the pipe caps to each end of the conduit.

Test the tumbler by turning the barrel. Adjust if necessary by mounting the barrel at a different height.

Items you will need

  • 4 boards, 2 by 6 inches, 4 feet long
  • 1 board, 2 by 4 inches, 3 feet long
  • 6 galvanized nails, 5 inches long
  • Drill with 1/2-inch, 3/8-inch and 7/8-inch bits
  • 8 galvanized bolts, 3/8-inch, 4 1/2 inches long
  • 8 galvanized nuts, 3/8-inch
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Large food barrel, 40 to 50 gallons, with lid
  • 1 galvanized metal conduit, 3/4-inch diameter, at least 4 feet long, threaded at both ends
  • 2 galvanized pipe caps, 3/4-inch diameter


  • Food barrels are used in the restaurant business; you may be able to buy or to obtain a used one from a restaurant manager or food distributor.
  • If you need sturdier or more permanent supports, sink two fence posts in concrete as vertical supports.


  • Measure your barrel before buying lumber; for larger barrels, get longer boards.

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About the Author

An award-winning blogger, Jessica Blue has been promoting sustainability, natural health and a do-it-yourself attitude since graduating University of California, Berkeley in 2000. Her work, seen in a wide variety of publications, advocates an environmentally-responsible and healthy lifestyle.

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