Introduction: Easy Efficient Burn Barrel
We've all seen variations on burn barrels. I'm sharing this one because it has worked well for me and a reader asked me to provide more information. It's one of the cheapest, long-lasting, efficient, and easy to clean barrels I've constructed.
You already know the basics - a metal 55 gallon drum to put stuff in and burn. The problem is, they pile up ash, if the ash gets wet it holds moisture and rots away the bottom. I decided to try a different setup that not only eliminates the ash build up, but also provides excellent air flow for a good hot burn. I get barely any smoke and can easily control the burn rate, all for the price of the barrel, a bag of quickcrete and a couple of blocks.
Step 1: Step One, Make the Base
I laid down a square of old pavers I had for a foundation, but you could use a gravel base, block base, or even pour a little square base out of quikcrete. All work equally as well.
The idea is for the base to be about 8 to 12 inches wider than the diameter of your barrel. With the barrel sitting in the center of the base you should have a nice width between the barrel and the grass.
Once you have this base, set two 7 x 15 partition blocks on their sides with the holes of the blocks running from the outside to the inside - these holes will provide some draft and the blocks will suspend the barrel above the base.
Once they are in place and you have checked to see that your barrel sits easily on top of them - roughly centering its out edge in the middle of each block - cement them in place. I did NOT use mortar, I used concrete. I smoothed the concrete out between them at a thickness that did NOT cover the block holes. I also trowled it so that there was a bit of a crown in the middle and then pulled a trough parallel with the blocks to allow for more air flow and for ash to roll out of.
Step 2: Step 2 Ready the Barrel
Cut out the top and place that end down. I cut clear to the rim so there is no lip for water to collect and rust. Cut the bottom clear around except for a few inches for a hinge - put that end up. I have found the heat keeps it from stress cracking, BUT if it does break, I just set the top ajar a bit to control the rate of burn. If I am burning paper I place a piece of stretched metal grate as a spark arrester - no need with wood.
I used self starting auto body screws to attach the handle, threads up - head in the barrel. Seems to avoid rust and burnout better that way. The handle is just 1" flat stock. I happened to have a spring to make a grip, but wrapping heavier wire does the same thing - dissipate heat and make it to where you can grip the handle with a glove and not get burned. (You can use the handle on your next barrel when this one finally burns out)
Step 3: Step 3 - Burn Your Stuff
Light from the bottom and air will draw the flames up. I generally use shredder paper as kindling, but anything that will stay combusted will start heavier items above quickly due to draft. Lid controls draft/burn, and air flows well through the trough and holes in block. If, and it happens rarely, you get too much ash for good airflow, simply push a stick into the trough and it picks right back up.
Note: If you want a really hot fire - a leaf blower at the trough really gets it cooking!
Step 4: Step 4 - Empty the Ash
When burn is compete, simply roll the barrel aside and sweep the ashes into a dust pan and spread them on your lawn or put them in your compost pile.
IF you clean it after every use, ash will never build up, and never collect water, and your barrel with last a year and a half or so. You can even give it a good hosing down occasionally if you are the "clean" type.
It's not perfect or fancy, but it works well and is easy to maintain. What I photographed is about six months old and as you can see the barrel is in great shape! No rot at all. You can get it as hot as you like with a bellows or leaf blower, but the draw with no help is pretty amazing compared to a "normal" burn barrel - even ones with holes poked in them. Variations are easy, you could easily add a cooking base that you drag coals out onto - for example. My neighbors can rarely tell if I am burning because it is so efficient. Mostly wood shop scraps or cardboard delivery boxes go into it, but it gets hot enough to burn most anything...
Good luck - questions are welcome.