Homemade Barrel Composter


Compost is a well-known, naturally occurring, soil supplement that is great for gardens, as well as lawns. While the natural process of compost development from green and brown organic matter takes months--or even years--a homemade composter is capable of doing the work in less than a month. Of all the options available to the gardener for composting, a homemade barrel composter is the most efficient means by which to do so--with the least expense.

Step 1

Purchase a 55-gallon plastic barrel. Farm and tractor supply stores, as well as county feed stores, often sell plastic or metal barrels during certain times of the year. Black barrels are the best option as they retain more heat than lighter colored versions--lighter colored barrels will work if black is not available.

Step 2

Construct a 2x4 frame with treated lumber for supporting the barrel composter. Assemble the ends similar to saw-horse legs by forming them into an A shape. Cut two of the treated 2x4’s in half using a 45-degree angle cut. The two pieces will from one end of the composter frame. Attach the 45-degree angles together and fasten with woods screws. Cut and install a third board into the A frame for additional support. Construct the opposite end of the barrel composter frame in the same fashion.

Step 3

Measure and cut two 54-inch long 2x4's for attaching the two A frames together. Place the boards approximately mid-way between the top of each frame and the bottom--on either side of the A legs. Fasten each end to the frame with wood screws. The result resembles a picnic table, with the exception of the two pointed end sections.

Step 4

Install a 48-inch 2x4 across the feet of each of the A frames. Center each board on each leg next to the ground for additional stability and support for the barrel.

Step 5

Cut a 1 1/4-inch hole into each end of the barrel. The hole placement must be center of the barrel top, and the barrel bottom when standing on end. Likewise, use the same saw and cut a hole into the top of each A frame. The holes will support the 1-inch galvanized pipe and resemble a large paper-towel holder once assembled.

Step 6

While supporting the barrel on its side between the two “A” frames, run a 6-foot length of the 1” galvanized pipe through one end of the frame, through the barrel, and out through the other frame. The barrel will now rotate freely on the galvanized pipe supported by the frame.

Step 7

Mark a 24-inch by 18-inch square into the round side of the barrel with a magic marker. This will serve as the door for loading and unloading compost material from the barrel composter. Drill a 1/2-inch hole into each of the four corners of the drawn door. Cut the square out with a jig-saw. Leave two small un-cut sections intact at the top of the door to hold it in place until the hinge installation is complete.

Step 8

Install two hinges--equally spaced--along the top of the cut-out door using screws and a drill driver Do not cover the tabs--they will be cut loose later. Screw the door latch into the opposite side of the door for securing it shut while the barrel composter is in use. With the door hinges and latch in place, cut the two tabs loose with the scroll saw and function test the door.

Step 9

Place four gate handles--or gate pulls--around the circumference of the barrel using screws and the drill driver. Space them out equally to assist in rolling the composter during the composting process.

Step 10

Drill six 1/2 holes into each end of the barrel to allow air into the barrel. Space the holes apart equally between the edge of the drum, and the center pivot point. The homemade barrel composter is now ready for service.

Things You'll Need

  • 8 2x4 treated lumber
  • Small door hinges
  • One-inch galvanized pipe - six feet long
  • Electric drill
  • Scroll saw
  • Wood screws
  • Galvanized screws
  • 4 Gate handles


  • Mother Earth News: Three Composters
  • University of Florida: Construction of Home Compost Units

Who Can Help

  • "Composting: Nature's Recyclers", Robin Michal Koontz, 2007
Keywords: homemade organic composter, homemade barrel composter, composting garden material

About this Author

Damon Hildebrand is a retired U.S. Navy veteran. He has more than 15 years within the oil and gas industry in both technical and managerial positions. Hildebrand has been a technical writer and communicator for the last four years. He is a certified specialists in lubrication and tribology, as well as a certified maintenance and reliability professional.