Compost Tumbler on a Stand





Introduction: Compost Tumbler on a Stand

Create an effective and sturdy compost tumbler in 1 - 2 hours, with little out of pocket cost. These tumblers were built using materials I had lying around the house, and from items obtained through Freecycle. The only out of pocket expense was for the conduit/pipe brackets (less than $5 for the three tumblers I've made so far). Composting with these tumblers has proven to be extremely easy, and quite a bit quicker than our old "pile" method.

Step 1: Get a Barrel

A barrel with a large, securable top is the key. We found 4 of these 50 gallon barrels through a post on Freecycle. They originally contained grains, and came from a brewery. These barrels are light enough to transport easily, but sturdy enough to take a beating. The large opening makes it easier to put organic material in the barrel, and the screw top lid easily contains everything as the composter is tumbled. A word to the wise: leaving the barrel upside down in the winter is not advised. We found one of the lids frozen shut when left in this position!

Step 2: Gather Materials and Tools

- the barrel
- 2 x 4 lumber: approximately 24' per barrel stand. I used scraps from a construction project
- 3/4" galvanized conduit or similar, non corroding pipe. Approximately 3' per composter
- 2 heavy duty conduit/pipe brackets to attach the conduit to the stand.
- galvanized/decking screws

- drill (an electric/corded drill works best for this job)
- 3/8" and 1" drill bits (spade bits like Speedbore are best for this job)
- saw (if you've got access to a miter saw you'll be much happier)
- phillips screwdriver

Step 3: Cut Lumber and Assemble the Stand

Build 2 triangular side stands for each compost tumbler. Dimensions may vary, based on the size of your barrel. The object is to create a stable platform for the barrel, while also allowing enough space for the barrel to spin freely. All pieces were cut from framing grade 2 x 4 pieces I had lying around, which then needed to be painted for protection from the elements (we were unwilling to use pressure treated wood for this project)

Measurements for this type of barrel:

- base/feet 56" (x2)
- uprights 32" (x2)
- angled supports 40" (x4)
- cross brace 32" (x1)

The cross brace is critical if you do not have a way to attach the stands to a cement pad or otherwise affix the assembly to the ground. I found it easiest to cut and assemble all the pieces at the same time, then paint them all at once. While the stands dried, I went on to the next step.

Step 4: Drill Holes in the Barrel

Air circulation is very important for proper composting. I used a 3/8 spade bit to make a large number of holes in the barrel. Although it's not crucial, I tried to space these holes out in staggered levels to ensure maximum cross ventilation. Experience has taught me to also drill a number of holes on or very near the bottom (and top), to allow for drainage. This step will not be necessary if your tumbler will be protected from rain. Without the drainage holes, I made a messy (and smelly) soup.

Experience has also taught me that 3/8" holes are a good size. Larger holes may allow for more air flow, but they also allow material to fall out and make a nice pile under the barrel. Larger holes allowed the local wildlife to sample the melon rinds and other tasty bits we put in the composter.

Spade bits are extremely efficient at this task, and the higher speed of a corded drill was helpful.

Step 5: Fit the Conduit/pipe

Here's where you'll need the 1" spade bit. Although the conduit is 3/4", this is an interior measurement. The hole in the barrel needs to be large enough to let the conduit to fit easily. This will allow the barrel to spin freely once everything is in place.

Make a 1" hole at the mid point of the barrel. Using line of sight, make a hole at midpoint on the opposite side of the barrel. Extreme precision is not critical here, but come reasonably close. It's more important to have the holes at the same height than perfectly opposite, otherwise the barrel will lean and slide over time.

Cut the galvanized conduit to length. The conduit should be at least 1' longer than the width of the barrel. In this case, the conduit was cut to 32". Slide the conduit through the barrel and make sure the barrel can balance while suspended by the conduit.

Step 6: Attach the Conduit to the Stands

Connect the 2 triangular bases with a cross piece (in this case, 32" long) using 3" galvanized or decking screws. Place this assembly on level ground.

You'll want another person to help you with the next part. First, mark the uprights to indicate where the conduit brackets will attach (in this case, 29" above the ground). Have your helper hold the barrel aloft and align the conduit and brackets with the mark on the upright. Using a short (1") galvanized or stainless tell screw, begin affixing the conduit brackets and conduit, but do not tighten at this point.

Slide and adjust the conduit until it is equidistant between the uprights (make sure there is at least 2" of space between the uprights and both sides of the barrel). Once properly aligned, finish tightening the screws and completely secure the conduit.

Add a mix of green (fresh) and brown (dried leaves, etc.) organic materials to the barrel, filling no more than half way at first. Give the tumbler a spin every few days, and begin adding more material as time goes on. We've found it necessary to have more than one tumbler, and staggered their "start" dates so we have a steady supply of fresh compost. To extract compost, simply place a tarp under the barrel, open the lid, and dump! We tried making these composters taller, so we could put our wheelbarrow under them and save this last step. Unfortunately, the lid was so high it was difficult to add more material to the barrel.

Please comment! This is an assignment in Pedagogy II at Marlboro College Graduate Center's Teaching with Technology Master's Program as part of a unit on what makes instructional technology attractive to online users.



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    21 Discussions

    This is great. My compost barrel came with a stand such as this. However after a few years the barrel is still in great condition but the wooden stand is starting to break down from the elements. Anyone have any ideas on how to replace the stand with something that won't decay over time?

    One way to eliminate the bee problem, without hurting the bees is to drill smaller holes... You might need more of them... But if they are smaller it will keep more insects out.

    Thanks for the DIY how to!
    I will attempt this before purchasing a compost tumbler.

    Just a thought, maybe the ground beneath the tumbler could be dug out large enough for your wheelbarrow to fit underneath for loads to be emptied.

    1 reply

    or make the stand high enough as in this version ...

    never did this before - hope the URL makes it through the post : )

    I'm curious how this composter works through the winter. I live in North Dakota and didn't think it would work to try composting outside (in the winter) because the cold would halt the decomposition. If the decomposition produces enough heat to keep it going through the winter I would be interested to hear that. Otherwise I am curious if anyone has tried any kind of artificial heating to continue the process through winter.

    1 reply

    Try putting your outdoor compost under an exhaust vent from a gas appliance such as a water heater, furnace, or dryer.

    Our house makes compost slurry by putting peelings, eggshells, coffee grounds and filters into the blender with a little water. We keep our compost bucket of slop warm by sitting it under the gas appliance exhaust vent at the side of the house. Come spring and there's a nice big container of compost sitting outside the house near the garden area!

    You may want to use flexible vent hose to guide the hot gasses to a place under a barrel tumbling composter.  Good luck!

    I actually have a store-bought tumbler similar to yours. Wish I'd seen yours first! But I have a question for you: mine is prone to bee nests in the summer, thus rendering it unusable unless we kill all the bees. They seem to really love those holes in the sides! Do you have any hints for that? I really like your model and will be working at getting another barrel. Thank goodness there's no welding! That keeps me from doing a number of projects. Nice work.

    1 reply

    How about using nylon window screen and goop (the adhesive used for tennis shoe repair)? Cut the screen into little patches a little larger than the holes and stick the patches on with goop or auto trim adhesive. The screen still allows air circulation and keeps out bees and flies. If the goop can hold tennis shoe soles together it should hold these little bits of screen.

    The only recomendation I could make, would be to add a few large nails such as 20 penny spikes through some of the side holes. That helps the compost to "tumble" rather than "slide" as you turn the barrel. Also drilling a hole through the board for the conduit might be a little stronger than the brackets. How much weight do your composters typically hold?

    hi please excuse my spelling English its not my first language, I have read many Instructables on composting I'm very interested on this subject, i have found your instructable very clear and easy to understand these is very helpful for me because it will be my first time building some thing like these tank you very much

    Hmmm, there are a few small breweries in my city, I wonder if they'd give me barrels like this for free, or at low cost? I should investigate...

    3 replies

    Go on Craiglist in your town for them get a food rated one not a chemical one. If you look you will find them for really good prices

    Well I'd assume that barrels used for raw materials in making beer would be food-grade...

    Sorry jeff-o I was not actually commenting on your comment alone. But for other readers as well =)

    nice work- very clear. i could benefit from rigging one of these up. i'm familiar with the "smelly soup" you mentioned...

    Great idea and well done Instructable. This is similar to one I made a few years ago but with no bee or worse, wasp issues. According to the info on my pictures it was made in 2002 which was well before I was aware of this place but thought to add my own small effort to the Instructable Brain Trust on this topic. The parts. I used a cheap but “lockable” 32 gallon trash container. The frame was made of 1" x 2” wood strapping ( cheap and not very sturdy but it did work), PVC pipe, a cast iron pipe flange in the bottom to hold the PVC and 3/8” dia bolts for the pivot point with washers and nuts as shown. The trash container had thin walls so I used wood on both sides of it to strengthen the pivot point. I was careful to get the location of the pivot point on both sides (distance from the top of the trash container to the pivot point) to match accurately to minimize any wobble as it was rotated . I drilled many holes in the PVC pipe as shown and also many holes close together at the bottom of the trash container where the pipe flange was mounted. In effect I made my own “screen” there at the bottom, hence no wasp or bee issues. All the aeration was accomplished through that screened hole and up the drilled PVC pipe. The ends of the PVC “T” were open as well. I used dirt as a starter and put grass, weeds and household waste in it like coffee grounds, eggshells etc. This was made at my wife's request, once she left it untended for a while and the contents were about liquidfied. It worked well, Sadly it didn't make the move with us..gave it away.


    try eBay for the barrel. i found some used olive barrels that look almost exactly like the one pictured. its a food grade barrel about 47 gallons in size


    Ah, bees.... Yeah, they can be a bit of an issue. So, too, with flies. We had a number of minor issues with this problem, and given the potential for sudden hive collapse syndrome (or whatever it's being called now) we're unwilling to harm bees in any way. We thought of hot gluing small pieces of window screening in place, but given the large number of holes it was impractical. We tried simply laying sheets of screening inside and stapling it to the sides of the barrel, with limited success.

    For us, the problem sort of solved itself. The bees were attracted to fresher fruit and other sweet bits added to the pile, so if we quickly rotated the tumbler and buried the fruit, the bees went away. Or we used a different barrel until the bees moved on. I suppose some fiberglass screening could be stapled around the circumference of the barrel (on the outside), using smaller, stainless steel staples. Sounds a bit awkward, though. Anyone else have an idea?

    Very nicely organized instructable, and well in keeping with this year's designated "theme"! One small suggestion; you uploaded all of your photos in one step (great idea), but that means all of them are attached to the Intro (not so great). You might want to remove all the pics from the Intro except the one showing the completed project.