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Homemade Compost Tumbler Step-by-Step Instructions

Are you searching for an affordable way to build a homemade compost tumbler? If so, look no further.

 Below are a set of step-by-step instructions for a DIY compost tumbler. It may not be as pretty as those tumblers you see in ads, but it most definitely works!

When we first got into the composting business, we heard about people making homemade compost tumblers out of garbage cans.

Then we started to notice people rolling these make-shift tumblers around their yards. At that point, we’d be lying if we said we were believers in this method of composting. We used to think to ourselves…”there is no way that a tumbler made from a garbage can is able to produce decent compost.” Well…

We were WRONG! So wrong, that we started to experiment with the idea ourselves, and have now become big fans of the design.

On the following pages, you will find two sets of compost tumbler plans:

  1. How to Build a Very Simple Homemade Compost Tumbler
  2. How to Build a Simple yet More Productive Compost Tumbler

Try It Before You Buy It

If you’ve never used a compost tumbler, we HIGHLY recommend trying your hand at building one, before running out and buying one. Why? Because there is more to a tumbler than meets the eye.

Using a tumbler to make quality compost requires a daily commitment on your part. Each day, you must be willing to go outside and roll/turn/flip your tumbler several times.

This might not seem like a lot of work right now, but it will help you get used to the daily task of turning your tumbler. It’s at this point that many people realize tumblers aren’t their “thing” (They’d much rather use the static method for their composting needs). Once you develop this daily ritual, and find that you don’t mind it, you may then want to fork out the extra cash for a commercial model. At least at this point, you’ll have a greater appreciation for the commercial tumblers.

Very Simple Homemade Compost Tumbler

What You’ll Need

To build this compost tumbler, you’ll need the following materials:

  • Cylindrical metal or plastic garbage can*, including a tight-fitting lid
  • 2 elastic tie-downs (bungee cord) – the same length as the can’s diameter
  • Drill or hammer and large nail
  • 1/4″ to 1/2″ sized drill bit
  • Duct tape (optional)

*If using a plastic garbage can, we suggest trying to use the rigid-type versus the soft-type of plastic.


Step 1

    Using your drill, or hammer and nail, punch approximately 20 evenly spaced holes in the bottom, top, and sides of your garbage can.

Step 2

    Set the can in an upright position, and fill it with your composting ingredients. Add your ingredients in alternating layers. For instance, add a layer of high carbon material (e.g. straw), then a layer of nitrogen material (e.g. fresh grass clippings), followed by a layer of cured compost or garden soil. Repeat this process until the can is three-quarters full. It is recommended that you moisten the carbon materials before adding them to your can.

    To speed up the rate of decomposition, you can use a compost shredder to pre-digest all of your composting ingredients beforehand.

Step 3

    Put the lid on your can, and then place the bungee cords in a crisscross pattern over the top of it. Secure the ends of the cords underneath the handles of the can. If you can’t find a place to secure the ends of the cords, you may need to create your own holes. If this is the case, use your drill (or hammer and nail) to punch out four more holes in the appropriate locations to secure each end of the two bungee cords.

Easy Homemade Compost Tumbler
    Next, tip your new homemade compost tumbler on its side, and roll it around your yard. This will ensure all of the ingredients are well mixed.

    Note – If the lid does not seem secure at this point, please use duct tape to help lock it in place.

Step 4

    Now for the fun part.

    To achieve the highest quality
    compost, you must roll your tumbler daily, ensuring that it makes three complete revolutions. This daily turning must be repeated for two weeks straight.

    During this time, you will notice that the tumbler heats up quite a bit. This is great news, however, you should still open the can every three to four days and check the moisture levels of the ingredients inside. Be sure to use the “hand-squeeze test” to determine the ideal moisture levels.

Step 5

    Eventually the heating will dissipate. Continue with your daily turning ritual for one more week. At this point, your compost inside the tumbler should be at the same temperature as the air surrounding it.

    As with all compost, the next step is to allow it to cure. You can complete the curing process in one of two ways: inside your homemade compost tumbler or in a pile outside. We prefer to transfer it to a pile, and start our next batch. Whichever method you choose, be sure to let the compost sit for at least two weeks before using it.

    Depending on how you plan to use your compost, you may have to use a compost sifter to remove any larger clumps of material. We usually throw these larger clumps back into our next batch for further breakdown.

Want to build a more effective compost tumbler?

If you would like to learn how to build a much more productive version of this homemade compost tumbler, please use this set of compost tumbler plans.