How to Make a Compost Tumbler

Compost tumblers are awesome. They create a compact, easy-to-turn space for your discarded food scraps and yard waste that will produce rich compost.

Commercial systems can range anywhere under $1,000, which is outrageous. Smaller home versions can be found used at a discount or even free (check out Craigslist). This is an easy project to do oneself. So let’s get our tools, roll our sleeves up and summon that DIY spirit- and make a compost tumbler. There are a couple options we can choose from.

Simple Design

A simple compost tumbler is a 50-gallon drum (plastic being easier to work with), that you cut a door into (to load and unload it), drill some ventilation holes into and then you simply roll it around your yard, as needed.

All you need for this design are clasps and hinges.

Mark off an area for a door (one foot by two works well). Use a reciprocating saw to cut a door into the side of your drum. Attach the hinges to the door and latches to the barrel and door and then reinstall the door, affixing the free ends of the hinges to the barrel. Drill 3/8” holes along the body of tour drum to allow airflow. Done.

This video is a helpful resource on building a compost tumbler for your home.

The downside with this design is that unloading it will be a pain, possibly deterring the lazy from finishing the job. You will more than likely end up scooping out compost with a shovel, or getting it all over the place, if you try to empty it by rolling it around. You door will take a pounding as well, so if it’s simply held together with some hardware-store cabinet hinges and latches, it might break pretty quickly after it’s installed. But this is the simplest method, after all. Let’s look at something a bit more complicated, but a lot better.

Tumbler With Base Designs

This video shows a different technique.

A tumbler with a base incorporates the 50-gallon drum, but sets it up on a strong, sturdy base. A length of strong pipe is secured through the body of the drum so that, by either turning the barrel by hand, or cranking a crank-handle, the drum turns your compost.

You’re going to need some lumber for your base. This simple model suspend the barrel between two posts, with a metal rod holding the weight. All you need is two 4”4”x8′ pieces of lumber, a 3/4” sturdy metal pole, a level, a bag of concrete mix, a post-hole digger and the hardware mentioned above, for the last design.

You’re going to dig two two-foot-deep holes, a little more than the length of the barrel apart. Set the posts in and make sure they’re level and mix up half the bag of concrete and fill the holes with it. Cut the two posts so that they’re equally tall and the tops are level with one another. Give the concrete 24 hours to dry completely. You’ll do the exact same thing to make a door for your barrel as mentioned above. The difference being that you’ll have to drill two holes at your barrel’s heads to accommodate the metal pole, which you’ll place through the holes and will suspend the barrel from your posts. You can either cut notches into your posts, for the pole to sit in, or affix them to your posts with tie-downs. -MIKE KLEPFER

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