Photo courtesy of Mike Shea

How to Build a Tumbling Composter

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit


One of the keys to composting is aeration. The bacteria need oxygen to carry out the aerobic respiration that creates rich compost. One way to aerate your compost is with a pitchfork or a compost turning tool. If you keep your compost in a tumbler, however, all you have to do is turn the container. Since most compost barrels can be expensive, you may be interested in building your own for much less money and an hour of your time.


  1. Buy a plastic drum, between 20 and 55 gallons (75-200 liters), and a 48 inch (1.25 meter) length of 2 inch (5 cm) schedule 80 PVC pipe, or a length of 1 1/2 to 2 inch (3.8-5 cm) galvanized steel pipe.

  2. Drill holes in the center of the top and bottom of your drum, large enough for the pipe you are going to use for an axle.

  3. Pass the pipe or post through the center holes.

  4. Build a wooden saw buck to support the compost barrel. Nail 2 sets of 2x4s (pieces of wood that are 1.5″ 3.5″ or 3889 mm in terms of height and width, respectively) in an x-frame, and nail two 2x4s across the feet at the bottom for support.

  5. Set the barrel with the pipe in the wooden 2x4 saw buck.

  6. Drill holes in the body of the barrel with a 1-inch (2.5 cm) drill for aeration.

  7. Rotate the barrel in the sawhorse frame using the pipe or post as an axle.

  8. Cut a hole in the side and add simple hinges and a hasp to create a door with the piece you cut from the side of your drum.

  9. Fill your drum composter with leaves or other compostable material, and allow your new "garden helper" to do its job. You will want to rotate the drum a few times every day or so, depending on the outdoor temperature. (See Tips below for ideas on how to add a handle.)

  10. Check the contents occasionally, and when they are broken down by the bacteria in the drum, remove them to use for soil amending, mulch, and other purposes around your lawn and garden.


In case you haven't got wood for the saw horse, or you're planning on making a big composter, and are afraid you won't be able to rotate it manually due to it's size, this is the video for you! Watch the video for an explanation on how to build a tumbling composter that you can just roll on the ground, and for a full explanation on how the composter works and what you need to do to operate it.

Watch the video for an explanation on how to build a tumbling composter that you can just roll on the ground, and for a full explanation on how the composter works and what you need to do to operate it.




If your barrel is a light color you might consider painting it a dark green, brown, or black. There are paints like Krylon that work particularly well on plastic. The dark color will absorb light and raise the temperature of your compost.

If the contents of the drum are very dry, moistening them will accelerate the composting process, but do not saturate them with water.

Composting (decomposing) occurs more quickly in warm weather.

If you would like to add a handle to help you turn the barrel, drill a 1" (2.5 cm) hole all the way through one end of the pipe. Slide a piece of rebar or other round steel tubing that is 1" (2.5 cm) in diameter through the holes. The rebar should be about 2' (60cm) long. Center it so that you now have two handles on the end of the pipe and can grasp them to turn the barrel. You can cover them with pipe insulation for an easier grip.

You could also build the tumbler on a diagonal axis (enough to create a slope) and put a plug in the bottom of the drum, which would allow you to add water that will help the decomposition and create a liquid fertilizer when drained from the drum.


Filling your composter with green (fresh cut) lawn trimmings or other material may cause it to generate too much heat, in which case it may begin to smolder, if the container is not rotated occasionally.

Things You'll Need

  • One 20-55 gallon (72-200 liter) plastic drum.

  • One 48 inch (1.25 meter)length of pipe with a 2 inch diameter (5 centimeter).

  • 2X4 treated lumber.

  • Nails

  • Circular saw.

  • Drill motor, hole saw, and drill bits.

  • Basic hand tools. (hammer, measuring tape, square)

  • Hinges




Need a simpler version of the project?
 Try this video:


This project requires no pipe in the middle, and no sawbuck frame.   And the video is slow paced, clearly clearly laid out, and very easy to follow.   You will need a large barrel, a drill, a jig saw (or a super sharp utility knife), a screw driver and wrench, plus: 

 3" barrel bolt (2)
3" hinges (2)
Machine screw (3 pack)
National #N151-555
National #N146-373
Dorman #5052





EK Gardening For Kids



Back to
Kids Can Change The World


Send Us Some Email!





Kids Can...
Change the World!

The Environment


Giving Service
 In Your Community


Ending World Hunger

Helping Animals

Working For
 World Peace


Ending Poverty


Use the Power of


Taking a Stand Against
Prejudice & Discrimination


Taking A Spiritual
 Approach To Life


Nurturing A Positive Attitude




Check out our  great  Earth's Kids  Kids Can Change the World action pages and
 learn how kids can learn more about nature and living in harmony with it in the Earth's Kids KIDS CLUB!


Don't miss Earth's Kids      Spring and Winter fun and learning pages.

Valentine's Day,  Easter and  Saint Patrick's Day

pages for science and craft activities, reading and more!

 Every day is  EARTH DAY!  Check out our great fun activities, art, & learning
about ways to help grown ups and kids help our Earth!

Wondering about the weather?  Don't miss the Earth's Kids special feature on  Climate Change & Global Warming!

Emergency Preparedness!  

Learn how to keep your children safe in the event of a natural disaster.

Tips to Teach Kids How to Wash Hands!

Copyright Earth's Kids 1999.  All rights reserved.