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Compost Tumbler Plans Fully Illustrated and Easy to Build

Use these step-by-step compost tumbler plans to build one of the most simplistic, yet productive tumblers around.

Before you run out and buy a commercial tumbler, we highly recommend you give this DIY compost tumbler a try. All together, the materials should cost you no more than $25 (including bin), and you can build it in a couple hours.

Although this design seems simplistic, it is actually very productive. That’s why we made three of them; now we can have fresh compost on hand at all times. Another great thing about these compost tumbler plans is that you can use the finished tumbler all year round, even in Northern climates, like Canada. All you have to do is bring the tumbler into your garage and continue to roll it as often as needed.

A Tumblers Gotta Have GUTS!

Most compost tumbler plans that use a garbage can for their container lack one critical component – guts!

What do we mean?

When we refer to guts, we actually mean the internal parts of a compost tumbler. Ordinary garbage can tumblers work well; however, we found that the compost tumbler shown below (guts included), can produce compost faster, and of a much better consistency than an ordinary garbage can tumbler.

These compost tumbler plans create a more efficient tumbler; the metal structure on the inside of the can helps to properly mix all of the composting ingredients. When using an ordinary garbage can as a tumbler, the ingredients don’t mix thoroughly. Oftentimes, they just keep sliding down the sides of the can as it is rolled around.

Use the compost tumbler plans shown here, if you would like to build an ordinary compost tumbler using a garbage can (not the one shown below).

What You’ll Need

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

  • Cylindrical metal or plastic garbage can*, including a tight-fitting lid
  • 2 48″ lengths of 1/2″ metal/aluminum pipe
  • 1 36″ length of 1/4″ steel threaded rod (zinc plated)
  • 4 2″ long 1/4″ bolts
  • 8 1/4″ nuts
  • 1/4″ metal drill bit
  • 7/8″ drill bit
  • Drill
  • Hacksaw
  • Measuring tape
  • Ear and eye protection
  • 2 elastic tie-downs (bungee cord) – the same length as the can’s diameter (optional)

*If using a plastic garbage can, we suggest you use one that is made of the rigid-type of plastic versus the soft-type of plastic.

Note – The volume of the garbage can in these photos is 20-gallons. You’ll notice that we have left the pipes sticking out past the top of the garbage can lid. This has allowed us to use these metal parts in garbage cans of various sizes. When possible, we recommend you use a 30-gallon garbage can or bigger.

Coming Soon

We are currently using these compost tumbler plans to create a pdf document for easy downloading and printing. If you are interested in obtaining a copy, please write to us, or bookmark this page and visit us again soon.


Step 1
    Using your drill and 7/8″ drill bit, punch two holes in the lid, and two holes in the bottom of the garbage can (note the larger holes in the image to the right). These holes will eventually hold the metal pipes in place, so it is important to make sure they are positioned properly. Make sure these holes
    are opposite one another (180 degrees apart).

    We recommend drilling your holes approximately 4″ in from the outer edge of the lid. When drilling the holes into the bottom of the garbage can, try to place them 2″ in from the edge, and within a recessed area; this will ensure the tumbler can still stand upright when the guts are in place.

Step 2

    Using your 1/4″ bit, drill approximately 15-20 evenly spaced holes in the bottom, top, and sides of your garbage can. These will act as aeration holes and allow oxygen to flow into your compost tumbler.

Step 3

    Step 3 in these compost tumbler plans requires that you use your 1/4″ metal bit, and drill one hole in one end of each 1/2″ metal pipe. Try to drill these holes as close to the end as possible. If you look closely at the image below, you can see these holes in the end of the metal pipes. The closer they are to the end, the more likely your tumbler will stand on its own when it is upright (especially if the holes from step one are located in recessed areas).

Step 4
    The goal of this step is to drill holes in the two lengths of 1/2″ pipe, into which you will place the 1/4″ threaded rod. Eventually, the 1/2″ pipe will be standing almost vertically within your garbage can (see above photo), and the 1/4″ threaded rod will be threaded through, so it is perpendicular to the 1/2″ pipes. Refer to above image and photo on the right for clarification on this specific step of the compost tumbler plans.

    Since you want the 1/4″ rod roughly in the middle of your homemade compost tumbler, you’ll have to do some measuring.

    Start by measuring the total height of your garbage can (Dimension A). Divide Dimension A by two to get a rough estimate of where your holes should be drilled (Dimension B). Next, lay the two lengths of 1/2″ pipe beside one another on the ground. Be sure the tops and bottoms of these pipes line up. Use the marker to indicate Dimension B, which is where each of the two holes should be drilled. Proceed to drill these holes. Make sure to wear eye and ear protection.

    For instance, the garbage can in the images is approximately 32″ (Dimension A) in height. So we drilled our 1/4″ holes at 16″ (Dimension B) up from the bottom end of the 1/2″ pipe.

Step 5

    This is one of the most misunderstood steps in this set of compost tumbler plans, so you may want to read it several times.

    Next, you will insert the 1/4″ threaded rod through the holes you drilled in step 3. However, before you do this, you need to use the hacksaw to cut the rod to the appropriate length. Measure a distance equal to Dimension B (determined in step 4) up from the bottom of your garbage can. Now determine the diameter of your garbage can at this point. Cut your 1/4″ threaded rod approximately 1″ shorter than this measured distance (see reasoning below).

    For instance, when we measured the diameter of our garbage can 16″ up from the bottom, it was approximately 15″. So we cut our 1/4″ threaded rod to 14″ (this left us a little buffer room between the two sides of the can).

    Next, screw one 1/4″ nut approximately 4″ onto each side of your threaded rod. Then thread the rod through the appropriate holes in the 1/2″ pipe. Finish this step in the compost tumbler plans by screwing on one more 1/4″ nut onto each side of the threaded rod. Refer to above image for clarification.

Step 6

    Now it’s time to put the guts into your tumbler.

    Place the metal structure into the garbage can. Make sure the two 1/2″ pipes fit into their appropriate holes in the bottom of your can. Now turn your can on its side, so you can secure the 1/2″ pipes. Working on the outside of the can, place
    one 2″ bolt through each of the holes in the ends of the 1/2″ pipes. Complete this process by twisting a 1/4″ nut onto each of these bolts. See image on right for clarification.

Step 7

    Place the lid on top of the garbage can by threading the 1/2″ pipes through their appropriate holes.

    In order to secure the lid and “guts” in place, you need to determine where you will place the final set of bolts. As you can see from the pictures, we drilled our holes, and placed our bolts within an inch of the lid. Keeping your bolts as close to your lid as possible, will help to keep the lid in place when you are rolling your homemade tumbler around your yard.

    Once you have determined where you will place these bolts, you can drill two more 1/4″ holes. For ease of drilling, you will probably want to temporarily disassemble your tumbler, so the 1/2″ pipes can be placed flat on the ground.

    Note – It is at this point that you may also want to cut your 1/2″ pipes down to an appropriate size. As we mentioned above, we did not cut our pipes because we like the flexibility of being able to use them on various sized tumblers.

    After these holes have been drilled, you can reassemble your tumbler (except for the top bolts and lid).

Step 8

    Now it’s time for the moment you’ve been waiting for…

    It’s time to fill up your newly made compost tumbler with composting ingredients. Set your tumbler 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. newspaper), then a layer of nitrogen material (e.g. alfalfa), followed by a layer of cured compost or garden soil. Repeat this process until the tumbler is three-quarters full. We recommend that you moisten the carbon materials before adding them to your tumbler.

    To further speed up the breakdown of your ingredients, you may want to run them through a compost shredder.

    Note – When adding your first layer of ingredients, be sure to hold your tumbler’s internal metal structure (its guts) in the middle of your tumbler. If you forget to do this, you’ll have a very hard time fitting the lid on later.

Step 9

    Put the lid on your tumbler and secure with two bolts. If needed, place the bungee cords in a crisscross pattern over the top of it. Secure the ends of the cords underneath the handles of the tumbler, or drill holes if necessary.

    Now, the best part of these compost tumbler plans…

    Tip your homemade tumbler on its side and roll it around your yard. This will ensure all of the ingredients are well mixed.

Step 10

    To make the best possible compost, you must roll your tumbler daily, ensuring that it makes three complete revolutions. Repeat this daily turning for two weeks.

    During this time, you should notice that the walls of the tumbler feel warm to touch. This means your compost microbes are thriving. However, you should still open the can every three to four days and check the moisture levels. Use the “hand-squeeze test” to determine the ideal moisture levels of your ingredients.

Step 11

    Eventually the heat will dissipate, at which point you should continue with your daily turning ritual for one more week. After this additional week, your compost inside your tumbler should be similar in temperature to the surrounding air temperature.

    The next step is to allow your compost to cure. You can complete the curing process in one of two ways: inside your 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 cure for at least two weeks before using it.

    Finally, the last step in these compost tumbler plans is to…

    ENJOY all of the incredible benefits that this homemade fertilizer will bring to your gardening experiences. Maybe you’d even like to try it in your compost tea?

Coming Soon

We are currently compiling these compost tumbler plans into a pdf file for easy downloading and printing. If interested in obtaining a copy, please write to us, or bookmark this page and visit us again soon.