Convenient Composter




About: I am a R&D Prototype engineer at Weatherford Labs. I also recieved my real estate license earlier this year and have already completed 3 very different and successful deals! I consider my self a "Jack of ma...

We all know that compost is good for the garden; we also know that it is a pain to maintain and can smell pretty nasty if not done properly. I have done a little investigation into composting methods and contraptions and I present here my take on the subject. One of the main requirements that I wanted from my compost was that I wanted to be able to get a small and somewhat "clean" amount of compost out whenever I needed it. It also needed to be clean and not take up much room and generally be easy to maintain. My answer to all of this was to keep in an easily spin-able trashcan that had an integrated sifter so that I could easily gather the plant-ready compost without dodging dead fruits and vegetables.


Step 1: Gather the Stuff

I would have really liked to reuse a trash can but i couldn't find one after looking (passively) for about a month. I finally figured that 3-4 hours of driving around town looking for a used and available trash can would have been more expensive (in gas) and worse on the environment then just baying a new one from the big orange box (home depot).

3-4 small wheels (with stationary axis)
Assorted lumber
hardware cloth (wire mesh)
the "duct tape" of the fastener world: drywall screws
paint (optional)
finishing nail (yes, just one)

Jig saw
Drill with user-defined bits and 1/4" bit
Dikes (wire cutters) or tin snips
Hammer...for the one nail

Step 2: Build the Spinner

I started with the harder step because I happen to have the room in the garage when i started this project:

Build the stand that will spin the can (much easier than kicking it down the stairs or chasing it down the street!)

First build something that looks like a 3-wheel creeper. (4 wheels would really be better but I was trying to minimize my budget)

Next add a small lip on one side of this "creeper" so that it now looks like a hand truck with the wheels on the wrong side.

Step 3: Support the Spinner

Now take that "hand truck" assembly and add a hinge and another board to it so that it will sit like an artist's easel. Drill a hole through the board that the wheels are attached to and thread a rope through it with a figure eight knot in the end of it. Once this rope is in place tie additional figure eight knots so that the angle of the spinner can be adjusted. The hinged board will need a hole large enough that these additional knots will slide freely. Attached to that hole should be a slot so that the rope will fit but not the knots. This will act like a cleat to hold the angle of this "easel" assembly.

While creating this i also noticed that this would be a good concept to implement on an actual artist's easel or on an adjustable hight saw horse.

Step 4: What-a-Can!

Now: the part you have all been waiting for: Building the actual compost canister. Your center cylinder can be any size you like. I had some 2X8 laying around so i used a diameter of roughly 7.5 inches. Cut a circle out of some wood to which you will attach the hardware cloth.

Great little trick i learned: if you don't have a compass around just drive a finishing nail into the center of your future circle, then slide some chain on it, i then used another pencil or nail to scribe the circle that will be cut.

Step 5: There Is a Little Cylinder in All of Us...

Find the center of the cylinder from the bottom and place a finishing nail there. (If you used the chain method from the last step then just reuse the nail hole that was used to scribe the circle) This will help to line it up with the center of the can. This is a good time to whip out the machine gun...oops...did i leave that little tool out of the materials list? I guess a drill will do...drill all those drain / vent holes in the trash can. Find the center of the bottom of the can, drill a hole there and a few more radially outward from the center. These will secure the inner cylinder (the sifter / screen). Now put the sifter cylinder in the trash can; insert the pin (a.k.a. finishing nail) that is at the bottom of the cylinder into the hole that is in the bottom of the trash can. Find a minion...I mean helper... to hold the inner cylinder while you shoot screws through the bottom of the trashcan into the wood of the inner cylinder. You might even be able to stand the cylinder and trash can up on a block of wood or something so that you can do this without help.

Step 6: Secure the Sifter

Now that the cylinder is in position it needs to be reinforced. I used the ever useful ceiling wire to do this (Instructable yet to come: The many uses of ceiling wire). Just drill some strategic holes in the can (i did four holes each about 90 degrees from each other) then run the ceiling wire through the holes in the can, through some of the hardware wire of the inner cylinder, then back out of the can. Bend both ends of the wire so that it will not slide out. When i was finished it was kind of reminiscent of a baseball stitch looking into the can.


OK, now that we have done all this work you don't want to have to pick out any huge chucks of rotten food out of your superior compost soil so at a top to the inner cylinder. I just cut some extra hardware cloth to cover the top. This way if someone unfamiliar with the mechanics of this machine go to through some scraps into it they won't accidentally through it in this "cleaner" part of the can.

Step 8: Pile on the Junk!

Now you are ready to throw all the junk you want in there! You have any easy way to spin the can which you can leave with the can for convenience of you can hide it in the shed/garage so that this just looks like a trash can. Some tips for keeping the smell down: DON'T FORGET YOUR BROWN WASTE!!!!!! Usually the pile will not smell or attract flies as long as there is a good coat of brown yard waist on top (leaves dried grass etc...) To make sure this happens I like to leave a container of loose brown waist next to the compost that way whenever i add a substantial amount of green waste (kitchen scraps) or if it does start to attract flies and stink then I have some brown waster right there to cover it up. One thought i had was too make something like a shade tent out of hardware cloth that i can just through grass clippings on and cover that with some more hardware cloth so that it doesn't blow away. That way the grass will dry out much faster to be used as brown waste. (If not dried it counts as green waste, a healthy compost pile should be about 1/2 green and 1/2 brown waste.)

Toss the lid on top, let sit for a while or spin to your heart's content!

Step 9: Update:

So, it has been about 2 months since i have built this and it has not at all lived up to it's expectations. I was lazy in finding some good brown waste to mix in with my kitchen scraps so it started to get a little stinky (as is to be expected). Last week i finally got around to raking up some dried grass clippings to toss in there so it has been doing a little better.

The trash can doesn't roll on the stand nearly as well as i hoped it would. It is just as easy to just roll the can around the yard. Never the less this has been a good exercise and the first dedicated compost container I have built. Hopefully you all will benefit from this as a concept prototype. I think integrating the inner wire mesh into a system like this would be stellar! That way you could have one active compost while one matures and it would still be easy to collect the compost soil. Generally I would not recommend this composer to you but I do hope that you have at least gathered some good tips and ideas from my instructable.



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    16 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I build one like this, but the center screen sift did/will not work as intended as a sift. The compost is often wet and lumpy, and will not fall through the screen, and into the screen. Those that fall through will end up falling though the screen the 2nd time and back into the outer drum. :-)


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I love drywall screws! Self tapping yeah!

    I have a giant robotic trash can without wheels. I do kitchen scraps (no protein), horse manure, wasted hay, and my latest find - the bags of grass picked up in my mom's neighborhood! What a find, I get 3-4 bags every other week. So it makes the best compost - I just dump it over and shovel into a wheel barrow.

    I wished mine turned!

    Good job!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    has anyone considered doing something like in this picture to a composter?

    They're using this barrel as a cement mixer, but I could see the design working for a composter as well and with the incline if you left enough clearance at the back/bottom you could fit a tap to collect the tea for use as well.


    I've seen those in stores. They use a similar screen but the bottom is solid so it does not fall thought and in this case the composting is done around the out side.


    9 years ago on Step 9

    oK ;
    what you have accidentally built is a great school worm compost system,
    put dirt in the outer ring(forget the rotating aspect) about a foot deep then some store bought compost with NO vermiculite or perlite, wet it down good and throw in some worms put dry leaves on top a good foot or two almost filling the can
     then throw food scraps in the middle section at will..cover with straw at first.
       You need a four board system at the top that will hold a GLASS pyrite
    cooking bowl or pot lid over the center portion. the sun shining in heats and
    dries the food on top in center preventing much fly action the worms eat the food at night,takes about a year to fill up with kid lunch stuff you plant strawbetrries in the outer ring and watch um grow! flowers are nice too!
        Nico   p.s. use the easel for an ease. works even better with a wooden Wine Barrel


    9 years ago on Step 9

    I ve used screen sives in the past and they work great . . 

    i think you just need an additional 2 wheels  maybe some off an old bed frame,   plastic furniture (plastic file cabinets, other easy break stuff) or chair wheels.   and add them to the bottom board where the can sits on . .. 

    two on bottom,  2 on sides,   1 up top.   this will take the wieght off the can and send it around. ..

    id still like to see someone do this to a dryer, , ,   like a speed composted. .  .  maybe solar powered , self turns 3-5 revolutions every hour ona sunny day.

    you might add some worms to your bin, eventually they'll get to fall thru the screenning.

    you could also add some protien powder to give them a growth spurt  !!

    if they get to big,  start a circus.  sell tickets.   see hawaii !


    10 years ago on Step 9

    the wire mesh gives me a idea on other compost bins I looked up I will try your plan with others to see what I come up with


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Nice idea, man. : ) I think there are two main reasons why it didn't spin as easily as you thought it would: first, that the can is not perfectly round. The bumps on the walls surely get in the way. The other reason is (I think) that the bottom of the can is grinding against the bottom piece of wood. What you could do (again, IMO) is put another, smaller wheel on the bottom, for the can to rest on, or a roller, I guess it's called - a ball inside a small container that allows it to roll freely. : )

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome, thanks for the constructive feed back! I had thought about the fact that the can does not appear perfectly round but in fact the wheels are located low enough on the can that they are not disrupted by the fluted features. However you are spot-on with the bottom of the can “grinding” on the wood. (It really isn’t that intense…more of a rubbing but I love your over dramatization ;-) I have been meaning to try adding a wheel down there or a ball caster (I think that was the term you were looking for). That would defiantly help because when you try to roll it you can feel that the axis of rotation is trying to go through that point of contact with the wood. It is about time for me to empty it and use all the compost that is in there so very soon I hope to revisit it and post about then next revision.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Great. Good job. I have been looking for the right design. I'm sure that I can mod this to the materials that I have. Thank you. p.s. There sure are quite a number of english professors or elementary teachers on this site. There must be, with all of the grammatical criticisms.

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    p.s. There sure are quite a number of english professors or elementary teachers on this site. There must be, with all of the grammatical criticisms.

    I was thinking this very same thing.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Um, Step 7 it should be "throw" not "through" Other than that this is a great idea! Nicely don!


    10 years ago on Step 9

    I think you meant to spell "throw" or "threw," not "through out." It was sort of confusing at first. But awesome idea with the mesh; did that part work well at separating gross stuff from usable soil?