How to make a compost tumbler

Last year, I made a composter using this plan from Boys’ Life Magazine. I modified the wooden frame somewhat, in order to use more wood screws and brackets — not bolts, nuts and washers — because that’s what I had to work with.

Before I recommended the design to others, I wanted to see how well it would hold up over a winter, and after proper use. It’s a year later, and I can tell you it’s held up just fine, so feel free to build your own if interested.

There are a few things to know that might help as you put your composter together:

  • Make the legs as wide as possible. There is a lot of torque generated by the tumbler as you rotate it to mix the compost. If the legs are too short, your composter is liable to tumble over.
  • Don’t drill the holes for the center axis (the pipe) at the middle of the barrel. Do it more toward the bottom of the barrel. This is because you can’t load the barrel completely with compost — it’ll become impossible to turn it, and the weight may also tear its sides, as you’re using them for support. You’ll likely load it a quarter-full or half-way full, and this means its center of gravity will be lower than the middle of the barrel. If the axis of rotation is at its middle, but the center of gravity is lower, you’ll be struggling to rotate it as you bring its bottom up. So make the axis lower, and it should make it easier for you to tumble it.
  • The pipe running through the barrel may be a nice and simple way to get the barrel to rotate, but it makes it difficult to unload the compost with a shovel. It doesn’t all come out by simply turning it upside down, so be prepared to reach in there with a scoop or something smaller than a shovel and dig out the compost. It’s not going to be pretty, I’ll tell you that right now.
  • Be prepared to drill more aeration holes into the side of the barrel than you think are necessary. Drill as many holes as you think are needed at first, but if your compost starts to smell bad even though you’re tumbling it, that means it’s not getting enough air, so drill more holes.

I think that’s it. Happy composting!

In case the original article from Boys’ Life Magazine ever goes offline, you can also download it in PDF format here: Make a compost tumbler — Boys’ Life magazine.

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