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Karen Stockton teaches how to make a compost tumbler in under $30


Compost tumblers convert food scraps into rich fertilizer in 10 wks, w/o hassle.

 Imagine how much your lawn and garden would benefit from free organic fertilizer.

If one has ever wanted to garden, but didn't know where to start, creating a homemade compost tumbler is the perfect way to give one the nutritious potting soil one needs!

Tumblers create rich, dark fertilizer in only 10 weeks from your kitchen scraps. This is weeks faster in comparison to a regular compost bin or rotting compost pile, due to added aeration and easy daily tumbling for bacterial decomposition.

Compost tumblers eliminate the strain normally placed on the back muscles from shoveling. It also contains the smell into one space, and when earthworms are added, the humus (or compost) is made even faster. The worms are hardy creatures that don't mind getting tumbled, and are just fine when the pile is also steaming.


  • Jigsaw
  • Drill w/ small and large drill bits, and screwdriver bit
  • Ruler
  • Tape measure
  • Sharpie marker
  • Philips head Screwdriver
  • Sharp kitchen knife

Optional: Epoxy glue, Spade bit

(Above photo: Jigsaw)

 (Above photo: drill bit, drill with rechargeable battery, sharpie marker and tape measure)

Materials to Purchase or find:

  • A rainwater barrel. The one in this photo was found at a local car wash beside the trash, with a tiny bit of detergent residue in the bottom, which was promptly poured into a pitcher and saved. Cost: free. Find one at your local car wash, mention that you noticed it next to the trash, ask if they're throwing it away and if so, "May I have it, please?"  Manners work wonders!

At Home Depot, one can find:

  •  Box of 3" wood screws - $7.49
  • 2 small hinges - $3
  • 1 large hinge - $3
  • 1 sliding bolt latch - $5
  • 8 pieces of 4 ft. long 2 X 4 treated lumber - $8
  • 1 PVC rod, 4 ft. long, 3/4" round - $.82 cents

Time needed for project: < 6 hours.

 Step 1: Take 4 of the 8 wood planks, and on each of these 4, measure 10 inches down from one end, and mark a screw sized circle in the center.




Step 2: Take 2 of these 4 marked planks aside. Place your marked circles face up, to the right, and lay the planks horizontally in front of you on the floor.

At the opposite ends of the marked circles, measure 5 inches at a 45 degree angle slanted up from the bottom left edge of the plank, up to the right, and mark all the way across the plank with the sharpie. On the other two planks, measure the same 45 degree angle going in the opposite direction: from bottom right, up to the left, and mark the line.





At the halfway mark along each of these 4 lines (at 2.5"), mark a black circle to indicate where a wood screw will go. These lines indicate the triangle edge that is going to be sawed off with a jigsaw, which will make a flat resting portion to bear the weight of the tumbler on top of a flat wooden plank. The wood screws here are going to be going up and in on the thin underbelly of the plank.

These 4 planks thus marked will make the standing, criss-crossed portions of our 2 A-frames! The other 4 boards are going to be divided up, so that 2 boards go underneath each A-frame as the flat board each A-frame stands on, and 2 more boards will connect the 2 A-frames together, to give structural support.

Step 3: Placing the plank being cut on top of a large book or another support (such as another couple of planks) that lifts the plank being cut off the floor, cut the drawn diagonal line on each plank (we're cutting off the triangular edge) with the jigsaw.


Step 4:  Using the drill and small drill bit, prepare the holes for the wood screws. Drill all the way through. Note: you do not have to use a drill bit first, and as an option, can just use the screwdriver bit and screw directly if you feel pressed for time, but it does mean you don't have to push so hard (which is good for your drill). The benefits of using the drill bit besides this are that, when it's time to put in the screw, the screw goes right in, and the tiny hole created generally focuses the screw at the angle you want it to, if drilled straight up and down.). It's up to you.



Step 5: Taking one wood screw, screw the first two black circles drawn 10 inches from the top, together, making sure that the cut bottom edges of the two planks you choose make that "tee-pee" shape, close-together.

Step 6: Take a flat, unmarked plank, and measure the halfway point (which is around ~2' across, assuming your planks are at exactly 4 ft. long to begin with.). Make a small mark to indicate the halfway point. The top of your A-frame should be directly above this mark when you screw this half-marked plank onto the A-frame.

Place the wide portion of this half-marked plank underneath the cut edges to where the edges both push flat against it. You may have to pull these boards wider or push them in further apart to adjust. When the cut edges are both flat, make sure the cut edges are equally distant from all 4 edges of the half-marked plank. Mark a circle on the half-marked plank where your screw is going to go in from the bottom, up through the top, and do this on both sides. Screw it in. For added stability, add an additional screw going up and in closely beside each of the screws on the sides, a few cms apart.

Congratulations! Your first A-frame should now stand up on its own without any outside support, like this:

Step 7: Make an identical second A-frame, following the same steps 5 and 6. You're halfway through!

Step 8: Taking the rainwater barrel, mark a rectangle door using a sharpie, of 11.5" X 16.5" (or whatever size you'd like, keeping in mind that you don't want it to be so large that too much weight from the inside could bust it open, and not too small that it would be difficult to obtain your compost.). I used the natural corners from this replaced sticker that came on the barrel as a reference point, marking 2 inches out, all the way around the perimeter.

Step 9: Taking a sharp kitchen knife, wedge a knife sized hole directly into each of the four corners, making an "L" shaped hole at each corner. This is so your jigsaw has a way to be inserted. 

Step 10: Place the jigsaw in one corner and cut along the line until you come to the end of the line. Pull the jigsaw out, turn it at the corner, and cut each line out on all 4 edges, until the door comes completely out.

Step 11:  Now for the fun part! You are ready to put the two small hinges on each side at the top of your door. First, place the hinge to where the top rounded cylindrical part of the hinge meets the very edge. Make sure your hinge will open the right way before screwing it on (again, it should open like a tee-pee, and not like a flower.). Mark each spot for the screws. Then, use your small drill bit to prepare the holes, and screw each one in with the screwdriver bit.  You may use a strong-holding 2 part epoxy glue on the back after the hinges are screwed on, for a better hold, if your hinges did not come with a nut for each screw. This is for when the weight of the compost hits the screws.

Step 12:  Do the same with a large hinge in the middle, between the two hinges.

Step 13: Screw on the main, big piece of sliding bolt latch on the bottom of the door, to where the bolt slides up and down. One variation for added structural stability: purchase 2 sliding latch bolts and place one near each bottom corner of the door. Then attach the opposite edge of the hinges (and the 2nd piece of the latch) to the rainwater barrel:

Step 14: Look! Your door opens! YAY!

Step 15:  Turning your barrel to its side and looking at one of its ends, measure the diameter of the circle, and mark the radius at the halfway point, in the exact center of the circle. Using your large drill bit, or a spade bit, make a hole anywhere between 3/4" and 1" round. Test the hole to see if your 3/4" PVC rod will fit. Do this to the other end as well. Note: a spade bit will make the hole in the plastic almost immediately in comparison to whittling with a large drill bit, and may be worth the extra added dollars (under $10) for a small set.

Stick the rod from one end through the hole on the other side of the barrel. There should be plenty of rod on both sides, enough to rest fully on and go past each A-frame.

Step 16: Using the large and small drill bits, drill multiple solitary holes around the edges of the barrel for aeration.

Step 17:

Your barrel can be easily picked up by one person, from lifting the rod at each end, and it's nice and light! Place the barrel-rod combo on top of and in-between each A-frame.

Step 18:

Shortly below the barrel, place a wooden plank horizontally connecting the two A-frames, supported up temporarily by something you find at that height, underneath the plank as you drill two screws into each side. You may have to saw off one of the sides with the jigsaw, if like me, you like the barrel to be as close to the A-frames on the inside as possible, while letting the tumbler easily turn.

If you'd like added structural stability, one variation would be to place an additional two cut boards at a triangle on each side, from the A-frame, to the horizontal support, so that the tumbler is not allowed to wobble from side to side at all. Personally, I have not founded that mine has needed this yet, and I have a full compost barrel now. :) I must also note that while I live in a windy area of Texas, I do not have children around that might feel tempted to push hard on the sides. It does rock slightly without the additional added support, yet it is still sturdy, so that choice is up to you.

Step 18:  You're ready to take your composter right outside your back door for composting!! Enjoy!

When placing food inside, and you're connecting the latch to close the door, be sure you also turn the knob of the bolt to the side to lock it (and tell your relatives to lock the bolt) each time you put food in. If you merely pull the latch down without locking, the latch will come undone, the door will easily open and your food will fall out.

If you're doing this on your, or someone else's living room floor...keep from sawing or screwing into the carpet! Clean up completely afterwards, and make sure you have all of the materials beforehand, so that it is not taking up space as an eyesore for more than six hours!

Before making one in your own living room, make sure your door is wide enough for the widest portion of your tumbler to go through! If not, you will have to unscrew the supports of the tumbler, one on each side, so that the A-frames can fit through, and then screw the sides of the horizontal support bar back on outside.  If the doors are not wide enough, you may want to do this in your garage or outside in the driveway instead. Another option is to start in the living room where the temperature is nice and controlled, and move it outside, once your 2 A-frames are made.

Do not make your tumbler with a dark colored rainwater barrel, contrary to popular belief that your compost needs to be "cooked". It does not need to absorb extra heat from the sun, because the heat will actually kill the microbes and organisms necessary that you need for good decomposition.

Instead, rely on the airholes and the tumbling action itself, consider cutting or shredding your pieces into smaller scraps, and try vermicomposting if you'd like to receive your compost faster. Don't forget your  "brown" items (dried leaves, old newspapers, branches, wood chips, etc.) to place in with the "green" (food, lawn clippings, fresh leaves, etc.). Utilize your yard clippings, and do not bag and throw this valuable resource away! The landfills simply make money from it, and charge you for it, when you could be spreading fertilizer to the places your yard needs. A good rule of thumb for the green/brown ratio: go half and half. The worms also love eating the newspaper.

Although it does save labor, the tumbler does not eliminate the need for labor. If one does not tumble the compost daily, the compost will become a wet, slimey sludge. Remember to give it a tumble after you place in the throw-away scraps from the meal you just cooked. You will be amazed at how fast the food adds up! Paired with recycling your glass, plastic, tin and cardboard, the amount of waste actually placed in the landfill is almost entirely eliminated. Less organic material in the landfills creates less methane (a green house gas which is twenty to thirty times more potent than carbon dioxide, coming from landfills and other sources) that has often escaped into the atmosphere despite the best efforts to keep it contained under the landfill tarps.

Don't worry about the worms falling out through the air holes. They want to stay where it's dark, warm and nutritious.


  • Erica 5 years ago

    Looks Awesome!!! Very crafty! ^_^ I will defiantly pass it along to my inlaws and some other friends.

  • Dirtman 5 years ago

    Nobody seems to agree on the size of the holes or the placement of them. Most say to have them on the opposite side of the door, and this one mentions the sides, but not how many or if it's a certain pattern.
    What works the best?

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