DIY – How to Make a Compost Tumbler

How to Make a Compost Tumbler

My friend Heather recently made a compost tumbler from scratch and I wanted to share this easy peasy tutorial with you. Here are the directions, photos and even a video of the tumbler in action.


Composting.Is.Awesome. Nature takes useless bits of food, grass, dead leaves and other natural pieces of organic material and turns it into a garden superfood. And it’s free. And we all looooove free.

However, the wildlife in my yard kept stealing my free snipits before they could even begin to turn into the garden boosting superfood I wanted so badly to add to my garden. What I needed was a contained compost bin. What my DIYer personality didn’t want was to buy one from a big box store. So I made one.

There are a million different versions of compost bins you could make, but the main ingredients to make a successful compost bin are air, the combination of ingredients, and turning your pile. After looking at my needs and some ideas online, I decided I’d like a container {to keep the critters away}. I knew it would have to be turned since I can’t get in there with a pitch fork to turn it, so I had to take that into consideration. But with household scraps and chicken manure, I’d have the correct ingredients just waiting for me to build one sweet compost bin.


  • 50 gallon food-grade plastic barrel
  • drill
  • skill saw
  • permanent marker
  • (2) small hinges
  • (2) latches
  • (3) ½”x4’ PVC pipes
  • (4) small/med rolling casters
  • scrap wood (remember to hit that 70% pile at the back of HD!) or a pallet
  • deck screws

How many compost barrels do I need? How long will one barrel last?

Good questions, but there are lots of variables. The two 50 gallon food-grade containers I use will hold a little more than a year of household scraps for a family of four {assuming you don’t give any scraps to the chickens}. Now that we have chickens, one barrel would have been plenty. My suggestion? Start with one barrel and make another if you need it.

Where can I get a 50-gallon barrel?

Before you spend money on a barrel, check out these options:

The DPW in your town or surrounding towns
Companies that transport liquid in barrels, ie. syrup, molasses, etc.
Pepsi or similar soda distributor or local bottler
Cheese factory
City water plant
Feed stores
Recycling companies

If you find a place that has some, ask for a few. If you can’t use it now, odds are you know someone who can.

Composting How To

What do I put in my composting barrel?

I stick to the vegetable/fruit/plant material/tea bag/coffee/bread/pasta combo. Despite my best efforts, I’m still training the HH that no meats or cheeses can go in the compost bucket. It’s a work in progress.

We collect our kitchen scraps in a small kitchen composter  {I have this one}. I’ve had it for over a year and LOVE it. And, get this, it totally doesn’t even smell. At all. Then I have the kids take it out to the big compost barrel once or twice a week {depending on how much the chickens get}. Remember to add some brown {chicken coop gold or leaves} to your green kitchen scraps!

Where should I put the composter in my yard?

Remember how sometimes we learn things the hard way? Yeah… DO NOT keep your compost bin anywhere near the garden as it turns into a slug magnet. The first year the compost bin turned my garden into slugopalooza. It will be a general bug magnet anyway {my chickens run toward it every time I let them out to see what lovely treats they can find}, but that’s okay; it’s part of the breaking down process. The composting process is an ongoing process so you should be prepared for the stuff in the barrel to drip. I wouldn’t suggest putting it on your deck {unless you make a drip tray of some sort}. Also, keeping it in the shade is a good idea, as it will not dry out as fast.

diy compost tumbler instructionsHow do I build the composter?

Believe it or not, it’s pretty simple.

Door: Grab a shovel to measure the door so you know you can shovel the coop droppings into it without spilling {I wish I had made mine a bit wider}. To cut the door, use your drill and a fairly big drill bit to make a hole in each corner. This will make it easier to get the skill saw started. Next, follow the lines you made with your marker with the skill saw to cut your door – this part is pretty fun! Then get your hinges and your marker, and mark out where the hinge screws will go. Then attach them. Follow this same process to line up and attach the latch.

DIY - How to Make a Compost TumblerVentilation: Grab your handy dandy drill again {isn’t a good drill worth it’s weight in gold?}. You’ll want to use a drill bit that will leave holes bigger than a pea but smaller than a dime. The goal here is to allow air flow and drainage but prevent food and your precious garden-super-food from falling out when you turn the barrel. Experiment with a small bit and work your way up to an appropriate size. Once you get the size you think will work best, make holes all over the barrel. My OCD would only allow neatly spaced holes in tidy little rows – but it’s your project so, heck, get creative!

Tumblers: Just like the wings on the inside of the clothes dryer toss the clothes, you’ll need tumblers to break up and toss the ingredients in barrel. Three ½” PVC pipes will fit perfectly. Grab your drill again and using a ½ inch drill bit, make three holes in each end. Then thread the PVC through from one end to the other.

DIY - How to Make a Compost TumblerStand: The stand is not fancy – just a stand to attach the coasters so the barrel can be rolled on it. You could even use a pallet. To figure out where the coasters go, grab the nearest teenager and have them hold the barrel while you place the coasters, marking them with your marker. Do one end and then the other. You’ll notice they aren’t symmetrical because of the barrel shape.

TAAA-DAAAH! You did it!

diy compost tumbler

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  1. Em says

    Fantastic. Thank you for sharing this. I have to confess, though, the best compost I found was in my gutters the first time I cleaned them out. ;(

  2. Mike C says

    I made mine today. Need to drill holes in it and put my PVC in but all together I will have $7 invested in it.
    Thanks for the idea!
    Drum free from work
    Pallet free from next to work
    casters 4 for $5 and door hinges $2 from Habitat for Humanity ReStore
    Latch and screws from laying around.
    PVC free from work.
    Can’t beat that!

  3. Michelle says

    I love your design and can’t wait to make one!! It looks like there is something keeping the PVC piping in place – did you seal them in place some how?
    Thank you for sharing your great ideas!

  4. Ben G says

    Great idea. I looked at several, but really like this design. Just finished it today and started adding materials.

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