How to Build a DIY Compost Bin

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I have been wanting to build a compost bin out of recycled materials ever since I read Revolution in a Bottle by Tom Szaky. In this book, the founder of TerraCycle describes how he built a compost bin from a wine barrel that he saved from the landfill. I thought that this would be the ultimate waste reduction project. This winter, I contacted several local wineries and asked if they had any wine barrels that I could use. I quickly found out that wineries empty their barrels and reevaluate them for usefulness in the late spring and summer, so it was unlikely that I was going to find a wine barrel. I kept digging and I found out that one of my neighbors had several steel drums from a construction site that were going to be thrown out. I explained my project and he agreed to help me. Hooray!

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55 gallon steel drum

I have to be honest, I got really lucky when I was building this compost bin. My neighbor has a garage full of tools, including a MIG Welder. I had a lot of help and I understand that most educators will not be able to build a compost bin exactly like this. Do not worry, you can make a much simpler design with similar materials.

Materials:

  1. 55 Gallon Steel Drum (previously used at a construction site to hold a water-based sealant)
  2. 1 1/2 inch steel bars (found at a building demolition site)
  3. 4 square steel plates (from construction site)
  4. 4 large bolts (from construction site)
  5. 4 castor wheels (purchased at Home Depot)
  6. 2 metal hinges (purchased at Home Depot)
  7. 2 metal latches (purchased at Home Depot)

Steps:

Safety first! I didn’t exactly have the proper clothing to weld in, so I had to borrow some boots 🙂

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First, we cut a rectangular opening into the side of the drum so that we could easily add compostable materials. We welded the hinges on the top before cutting out the rectangle entirely so that we could ensure a perfect fit. You’ll notice that we removed the paint from the drum before welding so that we were welding metal on metal.

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Next, we finished cutting out the rectangular opening and welded latches on to the opposite sides of the opening to keep the bin closed when being turned. We also added a handle so that it would be easy to open.

We added some holes on either end of the drum so that air could easily get into the compost. Oxygen is an important component to composting.

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At this point, we could have easily been finished with the barrel. This can be rolled around in the yard when the compost needs to be turned. If you do not have access to many other materials, this will work fine. I decided to build a base for the barrel so that it sits out of reach of animals and can turn easily. In order to do this, we welded two pieces of the 1 1/2 steel pipe together to make an X.

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We added a bar across the center to support the two ends.

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We welded the caster wheels on to the base so that the drum can turn easily. We also welded the bolts to the edges of the steel bars so that water would not get into the pipes; if the water gets in and freezes, the pipe could burst.

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We added some steel plates onto the bottom of the base so that it would be level on the ground and not sink into the soil.

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Here I am with the finished product!

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The last thing that we did was spray paint the compost bin black. This prevents rust from forming and helps the compost to stay warm.

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I am really satisfied with the compost bin and I am excited to start using it! I even learned a new skill during the process 🙂 For more DIY compost bins check out some ideas here.

Good luck!

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