Yet Another Compost Tumbler




About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

A compost tumbler is the stomach of the compost digestion system. It aerates and mixes the compost so the the bacteria reach the new stuff quickly. This one is a barrel that pivots on a horizontal axle. Every time you throw in new compost, turn the thing over.
I built one because the rich food waste that was going into the Pentagon composter was causing smell and fly problems. Hopefully the tumbler will solve that.

There are several instructables showing good ways to make a tumbler. There isn't a bad way to make one. I threw this one together in about an hour.

Step 1: Mark the Axle Pivot Holes

Wrap a piece of string around the middle of the barrel.
Mark the barrel and the cut the string so it just reaches around.
Fold the string in half and mark the midpoint.
Wrap it around the barrel again and mark the other side of the barrel where the string midpoint falls.
You now have two spots marked that are directly opposite each other.
Now measure down from the edge to each spot and make sure they are centered vertically as well as circumferentially.

Step 2: Drill the Pivot Holes

I used a 1" wood bit and a brace to drill the holes. It worked well. I drilled my holes an inch or so toward the top of the barrel. I did that so the barrel would sit right side up when it was empty.
The top will be a bit heavier than the bottom due to the door hinges etc. at the top.

Step 3: Cut the Top Off

I used a sawzall to do a plunge cut and cut the top of the barrel off. I left the lip of the barrel intact.
Save the part you cut off. That's going to be a lid.

Step 4: Lid Hinge Rod

The barrel top had a bit of a lip. I drilled holes for a steel hinge rod in the lip of the lid and the rim of the barrel. I though I'd need another to latch the lid shut, but I'd done a sloppy job cutting the top, and it stayed wedged closed with no additional hardware. It's also pretty easy to open. That was easy!

Step 5: Make the Pillars

If you have a convenient tree to hang your tumbler from, you can skip this step.
A couple of posts pounded into the ground will also work to support your tumbler's axle.

I had some pieces of welded square frame sitting around that were perfect, so I used them. I welded the U-shaped piece to the rectangular frame. I used the solar-powered golf cart welder with a spoolgun to do the welding. I used .030" fluxcore wire at 24 volts, the wirefeed was run on 18 volts.
I did 4 tack welds and was done. That was quick!

Step 6: Drill Axle Holes in the Pillars

If you're lazy a Vee notch at the top of the pillar is fine. Or a couple of nails pounded on either side of the axle atop a wooden post. Or of course suspending the whole thing by a rope from a tree branch.

I had the right size hole saw so I used that. I used plenty of oil so the cutter didn't clog or overheat.

Step 7: Install Axle Retaining Pins

Optional. I drilled holes in the axles, inserted nails, and bent the nails to keep them from falling out.
This will keep the axle from wiggling out of the supports.
This is the usual way I retain the wheels on a land yacht.

Step 8: Perforations!

Invite your frustrated friends to go nuts at the barrel with icepicks and drills.
I'll probably have to drill bigger holes than this to get proper airflow.

Step 9: Happy Composting!

That's it! You have a tumbler!
Keep your compost damp, turn the tumbler whenever you add stuff or need some entertainment. When the barrel is full dump it into the Pentagon Composter or put it on your garden.
Happy composting!



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    15 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction

    This one is a pretty easy yet fully functional version though. Yes there are plenty of other good workable versions out there but having options involving a wider variety of materials is always a good thing.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I was considering buying one of these but I think this would be fun to make. How has it held up over the years? Is it worth building?


    9 years ago on Step 4

    You can also buy these blue barrels with a removable lid held in place by a steel band.

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I know those.They are used to hold a chemical named Ferrodor at the apartment pool here.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    They say 'ibles with "Yet Another" in the title are poor... And they get very frequently?


    9 years ago on Introduction

    You could get one with a twist cap and use that.

    A good name

    9 years ago on Introduction

    I don't like tumblers. You have to stop and let the stuff break down eventually, because with you moving it around so much, all the good soil that's already broken down will be soil, but with little chunks of stuff in it.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I made compost cubes once out of EMT pipe and chicken wire. They worked pretty well. Now I have a bit too much to put into containers so I sort of have my own landfill. It takes maybe two years for a really big pile of leaves to break down. I'll have to do an instructable about how I sift the mulch someday.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Tim, I have a few questions about your composter. I am interested in making one similar, but I want to make sure it will last. How well has it been holding up? I am curious if the pivot points on your axle are going to warp the holes that you cut in your barrel. Do you think it needs support around the holes? Also, I hear that some of the compost tumblers that rotate vertically just flip the material inside, instead of really turning it well. Have you had this experience? Thanks. Stu


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Tim, what I love about your instructables are the other posts you've done and how you show how you are using them. That's awesome. It shows that you build stuff and use it, not just to toss it aside. Good job.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    My compost doesn't tumble and it works fine. I guess moving parts makes things sexy, but a shovel, a hand in the compost guts, and ecstasy. Get dirty.:)