In this post I’d like to show you how to build a tumbling composter using an old plastic drum or barrel.  Compost is the foundation of a great garden and a tumbling composter can help you make plenty of it!

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How to build a cheap tumbling composter to make lots of compost in your garden. Click to see how to make it or pin it ans save for later

Post updated 24 November 2017.

In my garden, I now almost exclusively use tumbling composters with the exception of the leaf mold bins and a Geobin composter which handles a huge amount of compostable waste for fall garden cleanups and chicken coop cleaning after winter deep litter has been used.  I used to have a large open compost bin and heap until recently, then I moved to the tumbling composters.

I use the aluminum, well insulated Jora Compost Tumbler JK 125 and the best selling tumbling composter on Amazon Yimby Tumbler Composter which is much smaller.

Advantages of a Tumbling Composter

As an organic gardener, compost is very important to me and the fertility of the soil and the nutrients of the produce that we will subsequently harvest.

I love tumbling composters and they offer a few advantages over the traditional open compost bins including:

  • rodent free – if you have trouble with voles, mice. rats or other critters setting up shop in your compost, try a tumbling composter.
  • easy mixing – by rolling the composter you are introducing air and mixing up the ingredients.
  • dog free – I can finally keep my dogs from eating the compost!
  • smaller footprint – tumbling composters take up less space than a traditional composter making them ideal for smaller urban gardens.
  • less flies
  • less smell
  • less work

urban homesteading

How to Build a Tumbling Composter

To make the composter you will need:

– 2×4’s cut to the appropriate height (we wanted to fit a wheelbarrow underneath to collect the compost once ready)

– 2 sawhorse brackets

– 1 drum (we used a 55 gallon drum)

– 1 pipe long enough to go through the drum with overhang at each side

– metal sheeting to make interior baffles to aid mixing (optional)

– hinges

– latches

– screws/nuts/bolts

– saw

– drill

To build:

Drill plenty of air holes around the barrel or just place airholes on the ends of the barrels.  Don’t make them too big or you will lose the compost as the barrel turns.

Cut a large hole at each end of the barrel so the supporting pipe will slot through.

Learn how to turn a plastic drum into a tumbling composter for your backyard garden. Click to find out how to grow or pin it to save this post for later
Cut a door in the long side to the size you want.  Think about what will be easiest for you to remove the finished compost.  Attach hinges and latches to close the door and keep it secure when turning.


Cut the 2×4 to the height that works for you.  We wanted to be high enough to fit a wheelbarrow underneath.  Slot the wood into the sawhorse brackets and screw to secure.

With some help, lift the barrel with the pole through into the top sawhorse bracket and open up to close.  The barrel should move freely.

Take care when filling the barrel and turning it when it contains material, it will get heavy. Take all precautions to operate the tumbling composter in a safe manner including appropriate positioning and securing of the system.

One Up Your Tumbling Composter

Some things which can help your basic tumbling composter even better:

  • add drawer handles to aid with turning.
  • a baffle inside will help agitate the compost more during turning, making it mix better and add in more air.
  • Small holes close together on each end can provide better air flow through the composter.
  • add compost leachate/compost tea catchment.
  • add clip to hold door open for filling or emptying.

Tumbling Composter Tips

Using a tumbling composter is similar to traditional composting; you need a good mixture of dry brown materials like leaves or shredded paper and fresh, green materials.

Chop or shred materials to increase the surface area and speed up composting.

The material in the tumbling composter should be moist like a wrung out sponge.  Check the moisture level as you add material.

Turn the composter a few times every day.

Homesteading Resource Library

To find out more about composting take a look at some other posts below:

Why you’ve been composting wrong all along.

Composting is a super frugal gold mine here’s how to get started.

Gardener’s gold: making compost.

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How to build a tumbling composter from a plastic drum. Click to find out how to make it or pin it and save it for later.

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