Compost Screen




About: I've worked for Instructables off and on since 2006 building and documenting just about everything I enjoy doing. I am now the Creative Programs founder and manager for Autodesk and just finished building o...

This is an instructable for how to build a simple compost screen out of redwood and hardware cloth that can be used to sift foreign objects out of your compost or potting soil. It takes about 15 minutes to assemble and can weather the elements outside.

Step 1: Materials

The compost screen is built from:

  • 2"x2" redwood stock (I prefer to build with cedar for outdoor applications since it is more abundant than redwood, but not all places carry it in California)
  • hardware cloth (This is like chicken wire. You can get it in 1/4" or 1/2" mesh. I used the 1/2" mesh so it will sift quicker)
  • staples
  • screws

You will also need the following tools:

  • chop saw (I used a chop saw to cut my frame but you can also use a hand saw with a miter box)
  • drill with bit and driver
  • hammer
  • tape measure

Step 2: Cut the Wood

Use the chop saw or a miter box to cut four pieces of the redwood of equal lengths. I made my screen 22"x22" (It couldn't be much bigger since I started with an 8' long piece of wood). Make your cuts at 45 degrees so that all four pieces can fit together like a picture frame.

Step 3: Assemble the Wood Frame

Pre-drill the holes for one or two screws at each of the mitered joints and then screw the four pieces together to make a sturdy frame. Put some glue on the edges that are being joined for extra strength.

Step 4: Cut the Hardware Cloth

Using a wire cutter, or angle grinder if you don't want to cut each one, cut the hardware cloth to the length and width of your frame. Don't cut it so big that it extends beyond the edge of your frame, but don't cut it too short otherwise you wont be able to fasten it. The wood is about 2" thick so you have some leeway to work with. I cut my hardware cloth to about 21" square.

Step 5: Attach the Screen to the Frame

Using the staples and a hammer attach the hardwire cloth to the frame. I hammered 5 in staples per side to keep the hardware cloth nice and tight.

Step 6: Sift Some Compost

Sift the soil through the screen before you use it for potting plants. You will find all kinds of stuff that you might not want in your soil - rocks, root balls, foreign objects - maybe even gold!



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12 Discussions


4 years ago on Introduction

This is a really cool article that instructs the reader on how to build sifting screens. I remember seeing screens like these at certain warehouse stores. When looking at them, it looks like they could be easily built.


7 years ago on Step 6

I built one of these also, but I added an additional screen. The top screen has the 1/2 inch spacing and the lower screen has the 1/4 inch spacing. The screen frames were built similar to the author's screen above. I put about a 4 inch spacer between the screens. The first screen removes large items and the small screen removes the rest. I do have to tip it unfortunately, but it yields some very fine compost. Our community has a recycling center for twigs and grass. They will compost this, however the product is not very good until it is sifted. I was toying with idea of creating a rotating sifter. Same concept with using screens, however it would be in a tube form and tilted on about 15 or 20 degrees (or more, what ever ends up working). You would rotate the tube while someone else shovels in the dirt. As the tube rotates, the finer material falls through the screen as the larger stuff makes it's way to the other end of the tube and falls out. A bit more complicated as a stand would need to be made for the rotating tube, however I believe the throughput would be much greater. Depends on how much compost one needs to sift.

compost screen

8 years ago on Step 6

I've made screens like this for years but believe that I have an ergonomic improvement and a suggestion for an easier frame. In this design the compost is put into the frame the stuff that doesn't sift through is trapped inside by the frame edges. The user must then tip the sifter to get out the trapped large pieces (that will tire you after a short time). It is better to build a frame and put the hardware cloth over the top. The weight of the material on the hardware cloth will cause the cloth to bow slightly leaving enough of a rim around so that it stays on the sifter but when only large particles are left you can simply push the material off of the edge, no lifting required. I use the backside of a garden rake to work the material back and forth. Next, no need to make miter joints, simply use 2x4s and make butt joints. Nail through the short dimension. Then, as stated previously put the hardware cloth over the top. Now, if you think ahead you can make the frame fit over the top of either: a wheel barrow, a mulch trailer, or the frame of a raised bed. I have all three -- and now plan to move onto the ultimate compost screen as my next project. Here is the nicest design I've seen on the web: Basic construction here:


9 years ago on Step 2

 When I make these I use glued and screwed lap joints. They're easy to make, and about as strong as it gets. Lap joints might not be quite as pretty as miter joints but I'm not hanging mine on the wall either.

Maybe the next one I make I'll try making a mitered lap joint. A bit tricky to execute, but it'd be the best of both worlds. Then again, my lap joints don't really kill me in this application.


9 years ago on Introduction

I've had similar and while it works it is time consuming and labor intensive. While watching a number of documentaries featuring archeological digs I kept on seeing a similar sifting design repeatedly where a sifter is suspended. So I made one and it works great. Next to a power tumbler this is the way to go.

I throw a wheelbarrow under mine, then 3-4 shovels of material on top, a few shakes, tip, and repeat. 5 easy minutes and I have a full load of black gold! The wires do the work.


10 years ago on Step 6

We've been wondering about building something similar to help turn our heavily compacted former farmyard into something that plants can actually grow in. As you can imagine, we have quite a large volume to sift for stones, glass, random rusty nails, & slate slivers (mmmm, all lovely & sharp), not to mention sifting the additional organic matter we plan to add. Our (not yet constructed) idea was to suspend the sifter on thin rope from a frame or tree so it swings freely and all our effort could go into shaking the sift rather than holding it up.

1 reply

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

 If you built something workable, I'd like to hear.   I've seen sifting screens in tv documentaries re: archaeology, and interest is keen.  Share what you have learned, please.



9 years ago on Introduction

Great Instructable! I built one of these today so I can remove all of the rocks out of my garden plot.

Norm Pro

10 years ago on Introduction

Built it ! Everything worked great !!! When lifted the bucket with dirt in it the handles pulled off !! Doh !!


11 years ago on Introduction

Great instructable. I plan on modifying it a bit. I'll be using a smaller mesh (probably about 1/16 when I go diamond hunting at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas.


12 years ago on Introduction

Very well done, useful instructable and great pix. Good job.