Design tips for your first homemade compost tumbler

homemade compost tumbler

Compost Tumblers are great!

They help you make composting a more efficient and cleaner process, especially if you have limited outdoor space in an urban area.

From my experience, I found homemade tumblers work fine.

homemade composter

The first tumbler I made was a food grade 200 liters black polypropylene barrel with no fixed base. To tumble it, I simply roll it on the ground back and forth a few times a week.

To transform the plastic barrel into a composter, I made some very simple and easy adjustments, as drainage and breathing holes.

That composter was made 13 years ago, and it is still working, but the final result depends much more on the ingredients and management you apply to it, than on the composter itself.

composter bin

From that first experience, I have the following observations:

  • It still demands a lot of work to tumble and turn it over. It is fun in the beginning, but in the long run it discourages you to do it. As a result you end up turning it only a few times a month, which makes the composting process longer.
  • homemade composter tumblerSome free space in the yard is still needed to tumble and roll it back and forth which, in my case was a bit limiting when I used to live in a house with only a 3 by 5 meters free space in my back yard.
  • In the rolling over activity, sometimes the cap would fall out, spreading unfinished compost on the ground and making an unpleasant big mess out of it.
  • All the screws I used got rusted. Even though galvanized, they didn’t resist the corrosion promoted by the compost juices.
  • You have to be very attentive to the final composition of the mixture inside the composter. If it gets too wet and heavy, it won’t turn over and mix inside the composter, but slide on the sides as you try to roll it over.

Sincerely, in an evaluation I would give that first composter 2 out of 5 stars. It is better than having no composter, though.

homemade compost bin

My second homemade tumbler was quite an evolution compared to the first experience.

It was made 8 years ago from a similar food grade 200 liters black polypropylene barrel, and it ended up looking like Star Wars R2D2!

However, this time I fixed it to a base made from hard wood and galvanized screws.

After all these years,it still works satisfactory. Here are some things I learned from its construction and usage:

homemade composter tumbler

  • In terms of the organic wastes produced by a small family of three, which is my case, a total volume of 200 liters (approximately 53 American gallons) is a bit too big. With this, it takes too long to fill it up and to produce the final compost. Nowadays I prefer a double chamber smaller composter. It produces faster compost with less effort.
  • The size and construction still makes tumbling it over an activity that demands some effort. Next time I would choose to make it smaller, say with a 100 liters barrel, and to build it in a horizontal position, rather than vertical, which will make it much easier to tumble over.
  • Although that tumbler is still in its place and working fine, next time I would pick rust
  • homemade compost tumblerresistant materials to put it together. The rusting metal bar and screws give it not the nicest look and will someday need to be replaced.By the time I made these tumblers I had no idea they would last so long. So next time I
    would invest in some stainless steel materials.
  • Turning the compost in this tumbler is easier and more efficient than with the first one I made, but the lack of internal fins still make it difficult to crumble and aerate the composting mixture.

Overall design tips:

  • Size matters. I found it is better to make two or more smaller composters and leave them exposed to the Sun in order to promote the adequate cooking temperature (up to 65ºC or 150ºF in the first week), than to invest in large composters.
  • Use rust resistant materials. No further explaining needed.
  • Don’t forget to place internal fins in the tumbler, so in the tumbling process your compostwill crumble and get aeratedmore efficiently.
  • Composters made to turn or tumble over a fixed base are easier to use than those made to roll around the yard. Although they are more complex to assemble in the beginning, I found this initial effort to be worth the results.
  • No matter what model you choose to make or purchase, it is very important to use the right combination of ingredients in your composter.
    Never let it get too wet and heavy. Try to observe the golden rule of using three parts of brown material to one part of green material when using a tumbler, and you’ll be fine.
    More on this in this previous article: How to make fast good quality compost using a tumbler.

Yimby composter tumbler review

Making your own compost tumblers and putting it to good use is an important experience that makes you learn a lot about composting.

But if you don’t want or don’t have time to go through all this and if you still wish to produce good quality compost

then I suggest you check this review article we made, on a well designed and affordable compost tumbler that might be just what you need to treat your organic kitchen and yard wastes.

No matter if you choose to purchase it or to make your own…

just put up that tumbler and Let’s Spin that Bin!

— Top Compost Bins Logo