Introduction: Compost Tumbler

Picture of Compost Tumbler

This is my first attempt at an instructable and my first attempt at making a compost tumbler. The research I've done on different compost bins leads me to believe this style works best.

Step 1: 55 Gal. Barrels / Drums

Picture of 55 Gal. Barrels / Drums

This seems to be the toughest step for DIY'ers trying to make a compost tumbler. Where can you find large plastic 55 gal. drums? My advice is to keep your eyes open when you're out and about. We've all seen them at some point, but never pay attention as to where or when. LOOK... you will find them. I planned on cutting the bottom off of one to make a door, but thought of a better idea so I could make two tumblers.

Step 2: Cutting the Door

Picture of Cutting the Door

For this step I used two templates to make a hole and a door. I cut the hole into the bottom of the barrel and filed off the edges. Make sure you use the bottom of the barrel, as you'll need to make use of the top later.

I found a large piece of scrap plastic to make a door. Again, I traced the template, cut, and filed the edges.

Step 3: Attach the Door

Picture of Attach the Door

Here I have attached the door using a door hinge and two barrel latches.

Step 4: Drilling Pivot Holes

Picture of Drilling Pivot Holes

This tumbler works by spinning the barrel end over end. I'm using 1.25" steel pipe to feed through the barrel. You'll need to drill the same size holes through the PVC pipe that will be used on the inside of the container. The PVC is attached to the screw cap holes in the top of the barrel and allow air to flow into your compost.

Step 5: Assembling the PVC

Picture of Assembling the PVC

You'll need to carefully assemble the PVC pieces. I slid the steel pipe through the holes to keep everything aligned. Drill plenty of small air holes into the PVC. I drilled holes about 1.5" apart and all around the pipes.

It's hard to see in the picture, but the PVC is screwed into the hole at the top of the barrel. I found a piece PVC that was threaded. All pieces are 2" PVC.

When completed, the top of the barrel will become the bottom of the tumbler. Air will flow in and through the PVC piping.

Step 6: The Stand

Picture of The Stand

This is the stand I made to hold the tumbler. It is made out of 4x4 lumber. Drill 1.25" holes on each side to accept the steel pipe. ALMOST DONE!!!

Step 7: Put It Together...

Picture of Put It Together...

That's it!!! Put the steel pipe through the wood posts, the barrel, and the PVC. Screw on a couple end caps and you've made THE BEST compost tumbler.


Farmboy830 (author)2015-04-27

I have made one of these and they work really well.

jmills616 (author)2010-08-09

Hey there, I've embarked on building my compost tumbler and found your design to be the best out of dozens I've reviewed over the past many months. My question has to do with how you connected the 2" PVC to the inside bung hole. I noticed the use of a threaded 2" PVC adapter. Are you screwing this thing "on the inside of the barrel" to attach the PVC Pipe to? Screwing these adapters on the outside (as I did for a rain barrel project) is hard enough - I'd have to crawl inside with a wrench. Not enough room for me. LOL. Thanks, John

bubbatronic (author)jmills6162012-11-10

I have a couple ideas. I am not sure if the bungs are standard parts, but mine appears to fit a 1 1/2" to 2" reducer if I can glue the reducer into the threaded port where the bung was. Jury's still out on that. But the center of my bungs has a3/4" threaded "knock out" that I was able to remove by cutting at the edge of the knockout with a sharp knife (watch the fingers) and then using a 3/4" galvanized nipple to punch out the plug. Think of how a tap & die set might work...
I am still cobbling all my recycled PVC/ABS parts to get this put together, but I hope to have it done this weekend for very little coin. I'll take photos as I go and see if I can post 'em.

elizabethpowell (author)2012-07-26

very clever. like the door design and how you took advantage of bung holes to allow air inside without having to drills holes all over the barrel essentially ruining the container.

stooker (author)2011-06-07

Has anyone tried adding a spigot to the bottom or side of the barrel to harvest "compost tea" out of? Or will that just compact with compost and not work?

resago (author)2010-08-13

here's a suggestion: attach the barrel to the rod with some flanges and then put a pulley on one end of the rod on the outside of the stand, you could then add an electric motor on a timer to turn the pile for you. You would have to use sleeves on the legs so the rod could turn easily. instead of a motor you could also attach the pulley to a geared down wind rotor.

jmills616 (author)2010-08-09

Hey there, I've embarked on building my compost tumbler and found your design to be the best out of dozens I've reviewed over the past many months. My question has to do with how you connected the 2" PVC to the inside bung hole. I noticed the use of a threaded 2" PVC adapter. Are you screwing this thing "on the inside of the barrel" to attach the PVC Pipe to? Screwing these adapters on the outside (as I did for a rain barrel project) is hard enough - I'd have to crawl inside with a wrench. Not enough room for me. LOL. Thanks, John

Honus (author)2009-05-05

I built this for my wife this weekend- works great (my 5yr old loves to spin it.) Thanks for the great instructable!

newbloom (author)Honus2010-04-30

How has this worked for you?
how long does it take to make a batch

Honus (author)newbloom2010-04-30

So far so good! I don't know what the batch time really is- I let my wife handle that stuff.

goofy gal (author)2010-02-13

I will be making my tumbler soon and bought my supplies today.  I was concerned about the plastic bending at the site where the metal pole went through.  I looked around Lowes hardware for a while and ended up buying some floor flanges to anchor to the sides.  It looks like it will work pretty well.  I'm really excited to try this!

bearcat22 (author)2009-09-24

Step 4 could be explained more clearly. The sentences are confusing. Two "plug" type pieces are shown in the photo, with no information at all given about where they were obtained.

natalierose61 (author)2009-07-29

Why go to all the trouble with the PVC pipe to get air? Every other barrel design just drills a bunch of holes all over the barrel. Is there an advantage to doing it your way?

pxbaroni (author)2009-07-16

use a lot of your ideas on mine...Thank you for sharing with us. Great machine.

laiab (author)2009-07-08

The carwash in my area had plenty and gave them away for free. They use biodegradable soap, and even provided the department of environment forms to prove it.

lohlmohd (author)2009-06-21

GREAT CONCEPT! I was struggling with buying one, so this was perfect for me. I made a few modifications, mostly due to the first barrel I used. The second one has a full lid with the compression ring, better in my opinion. I used a 2" "H" inside the barrel, so there are two air inlets instead of one. I also used 3/4" fittings on each side of the barrel to act as "bearings" for the axle. Thanks for the idea!

bobber128 (author)2009-06-11

What type of connectors did you use for the frame? I would assume galvanized carriage bolts, maybe 6" long? How many did you use?

rootchick (author)2008-10-06

The shape of it reminds me of R2-D2...paint that puppy to create your very own composting droid!

j0hnk377y (author)rootchick2009-06-04

My son's are painting mine to look like R2D2. Funny you mentioned it.

jwiney (author)2008-11-05

Just a question is there a reason other than to support the PVC that you went to the effort of matching up the pivot rod through the pvc pipes. Wouldn't it be easier to turn ninety degrees and avoid the pvc, or would they then be to flimsy?

j0hnk377y (author)jwiney2009-06-04

The 2" PVC is not a tight fit to the barrel opening so having the PVC go through the pipe gives it stability when it's turned. So not only does it add air to the compost, but the pipe going through the PVC keeps it stable. Gett the holes to line up is best achieved by constructing the unit tot he point of the connection to the barrel at the top. Then just adjust the small PVC pipe from the barrel to line the holes up. It was easier than I though it would be.

gardenern (author)jwiney2009-05-28

This design looks great. I now have everything to make this and am curious about the question about the PVC turned at a 90 degree angle to the pivot rod. Did you try this? Would you do it again? Thanks so much for this idea.

teddyd (author)2009-05-11

Does anyone have the measurements for the stand? I'm thining that the ground support posts are 3 ft. the center beam is 2 ft. and the upright beams are 3 ft. as well. so...2, 10 ft. sections of 4x4 should do it.

j0hnk377y (author)teddyd2009-06-04

Here's what I did: Used 4x4 treated, base is 32", sides are 22" (but it depends on barrel size, you need to make sure it rotates and doesn't hit the cross wood at the base), the cross wood (bottom between the sides) is 24", I used a 36" 1" galvanized pipe from Home Depot. The barrels have a seam, so it's easy to cut the middle hole for the pipe to go through and keep it lined up.

singerguy74 (author)2009-04-09

I was wondering how happy you've been with the design and if there were any changes you would make if you did it over again? I'm considering doing one much like this with a couple alterations. 1. What if I just cut the top off the barrel and add a hinge to make the whole top flip open? I think that might make it easier to load/dump plus I don't have any scrap plastic to make a door out of. 2. Instead of the PVC venting system I might just drill a series of holes like many of the tumblers on Instructables have. 3. Have you had any issues with the plastic stretching/ripping where the pipe runs through? I know some people recommend adding extra bracing.

dsTexasLady (author)2009-03-19

Why does everyone make a special rotary device? Why can't I just roll in on the ground?

niceday8888 (author)dsTexasLady2009-04-09

Yes, you can roll it on the ground. I saw an instruction by a barrel company from Canada, but it take you more effort to roll it around on the ground. I am unable to find the site again, sorry. Basically, you get a food grade plastic barrel with a screw type of lid, drill holes on the side of the barrel and roll it on the ground so it is mixed and the compost, "compost tea/liquid" will come out from the holes. It should be quiet easy, I am actually going to try to get one and try if it work this summer.

niceday8888 (author)niceday88882009-04-09

Sorry, there is a error, I mean roll it on the ground so it mix the compost, and the compost tea/liquid come out form the holes. not the compost. :)

Van_Franklin (author)2009-03-08

Look up craigslist for your area you will be surprised at how easy it is to find them for 20 dollars or less. My suggestion though is to find a food grade one rather than a chemical one use one.

tyler2215 (author)Van_Franklin2009-04-02

I went to a koi fish store (in Anaheim, CA) They had a lot of used, but cleaned 55 gallons drums. 15 to 20 bucks each.

glass artist (author)2009-02-18

I am wondering if you use a garbage bin, does the lid come off when you turn the composter?

Dave G (author)2009-02-06

Nice work. I did my own compost tumbler this summer and am loving it. I posted pics on how I did it at if you're interested.

Bobblob (author)2009-01-30

Nice looking composter and Instruckable.

I made one a very years back with an easy to find 32 gallon lockable plastic trash barrel Your stand is much studier than the one I made from 1" X 2" strapping but my composter was smaller as well

I documented it with a few pictures on another composter Instruckable HERE

bike folder (author)2009-01-07

This is great I just put a little 4' x 9' raised box garden in my yard last spring. It worked well. I'm ready to compost, thanks! This would be a good one for Mother Earth News! Lets spread the word.

Jacquet (author)2008-10-25

He said O2 (oxygen), not H2o (water). Basic chem not a strong point I see ....

fritsie123 (author)2008-10-06

I don't quite get the meaning of the pvc pipe inside. Is it to let air in or out? Is it really important, 'cause i think the air can come in throught the gap in the lid anyway. How often do I have to tumble the drum? I'm not really up to speed with composting, as you can tell... :-)

andrewtmeyer (author)fritsie1232008-10-07

The PVC is connected to the hole in the top. It allows air to flow in and out of the tumbler. You need O2 to make compost. Look up aerobic vs. anaerobic. If you don't get O2 into the tumbler you'll have a smelly garbage tumbler. There is no gap in the lid. The lid is sealed onto this kind of drum. I do have some air holes on the outside of the tumbler but the PVC allows air to flow into the compost.

fritsie123 (author)andrewtmeyer2008-10-19

Ok, I understand it now, thanks!

dchall8 (author)2008-10-07

I'm confused about that pipe and the water statements. You keep saying that the pipes provide air and that you need H2O to make compost. Both of those statements are true but how does the "H2O" statement relate to the pipe? Do you also add water through the pipe? You're going to have smelly compost any time your ratio of protein (so-called "greens") to carbohydrate (browns) is out of balance. You'll know it when you smell it. When you smell ammonia or gas (like methane), stop tumbling and add several inches of dry leaves to the top. The leaves will capture the odor and keep those gasses in your pile. The pile needs those gasses that are leaking out. I've been making compost in a pile on the ground for 15 years. I used to turn it religiously (ever Sunday, Christmas, and Easter, ;-) ), but now I never turn it. Keeping it moist is much more critical than fluffing it up, so this tumbler should work to that end.

wamcvey (author)dchall82008-10-16

To be clear for others:

greens = materials high in nitrogen, not protein
browns = materials high in carbon, not carbohydrates

dchall8 (author)wamcvey2008-10-16

You need to learn more about plants. Your clarification is both misleading and slightly mistaken. My wording is much more correct. Check with your local nutritionist and he/she will explain that plants are full of carbohydrates and protein. Simple nitrogen and carbon have zero nutritional value. Thus you cannot say plants are high in nitrogen or carbon without understanding what you are talking about.

Protein compounds (blocks of amino acids) have nitrogen in them. Plants that are considered "green" in the composting community are those with protein content from 5% up to 30%. Much of the remaining content of these same plants is complex carbohydrates. Thus a plant material may have much more carbon (carbohydrates) than protein and still be considered green.

Carbohydrate molecules do not have nitrogen in them but they do have carbon - hence the name CARBOhydrates. All plants are high in carbohydrates (and thus, carbon). It is the plants with little to no protein which are considered "brown" in the community.

Realizing that greens are the plants with protein makes it much easier to understand why brown coffee grounds are "greens" and why green tree leaves are "browns." So...

greens = materials (including grains, grasses, meat, hair, feathers, blood, etc.) which are high in protein
browns = materials (usually plant materials) which are extremely low in protein

andrewtmeyer (author)dchall82008-10-07

Whoops! I was reading another comment that mentioned H2O, while I was thinking about O2. The PVC pipe has nothing to do with water. The intention of the pipe is to add a little O2 to the compost mix. From my understanding, if you keep a good mix of greens and browns, the mix will stay hydrated. I'm new to composting... this is a design that I saw for sale and reviews said it worked great. Instead of paying $300-$400, I decided to make one for $35.

dchall8 (author)andrewtmeyer2008-10-07

Just being inside a tumbler it should stay much more moist than mine out in the open. I have a misting head that I use to keep mine just damp but not wet.

Culturedropout (author)2008-10-14

Good Instructable. FWIW, you can often get free (or cheap) 55 gallon plastic barrels from dairies. You can also get them from companies that do metal plating, but those are more likely to have contained things you wouldn't want in your compost.

tburley1 (author)2008-10-10

THANK YOU for posting this! Great idea, and will save me a bundle!

andrewtmeyer (author)tburley12008-10-11

You are welcome! I'd love to see some pics from those who have made one. Any mods you have made or ideas to make it better?

Gadomuda (author)2008-10-06

Very clean looking design i like it. I just moved into a building with a lawn and i would like to know. what can go into one of these to make compost. Leaves and grass clippings right? how often should i tumble and how much stuff should i put in there?

andrewtmeyer (author)Gadomuda2008-10-07

Leaves and grass clippings can certainly go into the compost tumbler. You can do an easy search to find acceptable items to put into the tumbler as well. I would do one complete revolution a day. The first flip, 180*, breaks up the compost. The second flip, another 180*, breaks it up again and puts it back to the bottom. This will get more air into the mix. Compost needs O2.

SWV1787 (author)2008-10-06

I like this it is similar to a design that I have been toying with for awhile. the PCV is a nice touch and a good way to add H2O when needed too.

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