If you’ve done much gardening, you probably know that compost is known as “black gold.” That’s because it improves every type of soil. It gives sterile dirt microbial life. It improves sandy soil and let’s it hold more water. But it also breaks up heavy clay soil and makes it drain better.
One easy way to save money on garden supplies and preserve our environmental resources making your own compost. If you want to take it a step further, you can also build your own bin too! Many DIY compost bins can be created from typical household items, making them extremely affordable. Construction methods range from simple to complex and a variety of materials can be used such as wood, brick, straw, plastic, and wire. Stationary bins are easy DIY projects if you remember the basic elements needed for compost to thrive: moisture, oxygen, and warm temperature.
Here’s a roundup of our favorite plans for building a composter from across the web. From standard composters to compost tumblers, you’ll probably find something here that you can build for your own yard and garden. Know of a good set of plans on the web that we missed? Leave a comment so that we can add it to the page.
DIY Composters / Compost Bins
Wooden Pallet Planks and Wire Mesh
Wood and wire: it really is that simple. Judopuff describes in his video how to create easy and cheap 3’ by 3’ compost bins using only wood and wire (and some optional worms). Two wood pallets were donated: one entire pallet serves as a bottom support and the other is dissembled and the separated slats are nailed together to form a square, topless frame. Wire mesh surrounds the frame to provide full, yet breathable, side enclosures. A second piece of wire mesh is rolled into a cylinder and inserted upright in the compost pile to act as a “chimney” to allow air to reach the bottom (more than one can be used). Leftover wood can be used to make a compost sifter lined with tighter mesh wire.
Actually, it gets even simpler: a wire-mesh-only compost bin. Simply roll up a piece of wire mesh and support its shape with wooden stakes. Connects the ends with string, wire, or plastic twist-ties.
If you are fortunate enough to relieve a nursery or supermarket of multiple pallets, you can simply connect four of these into a box shape and use a fifth for the base. Fabulously Frugal made a small adjustment to this simple technique. They sawed the bottom one-third portion off of their front pallet and nailed that piece to the stationary bin. They then attached latches and hinges to the larger remaining portion and attached it to the bin to create a swing door used for both transferring and removing contents. The bottom one-third remains in place to contain the compost. If you anticipate a deeper compost pile, consider sawing your front pallet in half, as long as this provides easy access for compost removal.
For a bin that can be described as either crafty or elegant, try David Gleason’s DIY wood-slatted fully enclosed compost bin, which is both attractive and functional. He chose red cedar for his wood type, using both 1’ by 6’ and 2’ by 2’ balusters (consider using a recycled wooden fence). Additional hardware needed includes gate hinges and deck screws. His bin is constructed using a simple frame design and slats are spaced so that air can flow through the unit. Two separate containers allow for cyclical composting, but multiple chambers are optional. Ensure the single lid has adequate spacing between wood slats to capture a sufficient amount of water. The lid can be reinforced by another wooden slat to distribute the weight so that a single wooden plank does not buckle with continued use, and a cord or chain can optionally connect the lid and frame to make the lid easier to close.
Like the idea of a wooden enclosure but don’t want all the work? If you have old shutters lying around, simply nail them together in a cube. Plenty of built-in aeration exists, and a makeshift top handle can be made of almost anything: a piece of wood, an old cabinet handle, or even a shoestring.
Removable Front-Slatted with Metal Roof
If “too much moisture” is your composting nightmare, this website offers a DIY solution. The frame is made of recycled cedar wood and deck steps. The front of the bin utilizes slots in which to slide wooden planks; planks are spaced using exposed large-head screws. Slats can be removed individually, allowing for variable access to remove compost. The frame is covered in mesh to prevent compost material from slipping through slat openings, and holes can be drilled in the planks themselves for aeration. Finally, lightweight metal roofing is added to the frame and holes can be drilled as necessary to allow moisture to penetrate. These DIYers built their bin on a concrete slab, likely to preserve the wood’s lifespan by elevating it off of continuously saturated ground; if climate conditions permit, we suggest building the unit directly on the ground to allow worms access to your compost. A great solution for rainy climates.
A compost bin made of decorative brick creates a more permanent structure that can enhance the look of your property. However, it is also costly and requires more physical effort and time if you DIY. Like a compost bin made of wood, a brick compost bin can be built to your size specifications if you have a local vendor cut or split the brick for you. If you are getting resistance at home about building a compost bin due to unfavorable appearances, a decorative brick bin might be appropriate for you. In order to achieve a professional-looking brick compost bin, follow Allan Block’s method, which involves digging a trench for a base and installing a foundation pad of crushed rock. Bricks are stacked to the desired height, providing a clean, rich, and symmetrical structural appearance. An optional mesh frame can be attached to protect the top and front openings of your bin from critters. Definitely one of the more expensive-looking stationary compost bins out there.
If you like the idea of a permanent compost bin but the hassle and cost of decorative brick is too much, cinderblocks work as well. One advantage to cinderblock is that they can be acquired for little to no money, and contain holes to encourage oxygen airflow throughout your bin. Cinderblocks should be stacked with the holes facing sideways (not up and down), conducive to side-to-side aeration. Gravel can be placed on the ground first to provide a more stable foundation if you have no plans to change locations in the future. This particular site provides excellence guidance on how to build a cinderblock compost bin, including an optional wood-slatted front. Washers serve as spacers so slats can be slid in and out for easy compost removal. For safety reasons, it is best to use mortar to secure the bricks, however this, too, is optional depending on conditions. If you prefer a cinderblock front, consider adding a mesh top with handles like this DIYer did.
Perhaps not the sturdiest solution, this is without a doubt the cheapest and easiest DIY compost bin. A local grocery store or produce market will have large cardboard boxes readily available (this DIYer used a watermelon cardboard box). The box’s lid can be closed to prevent excess rainfall from entering. Bricks can be used to line the bottom of the box to hold its shape. If you are willing to spend $5, you can even line the outside of the box with chicken coop wire. Note, however, that this box will eventually compost itself. This is a short-term (one year or less) or in-a-bind solution that will stand-up better in dry climates.
Another temporary solution: straw bales. This particular DIYer made an interesting compost bin out of bales that were undoubtedly on-hand. The bin is shaped just like a brick unit, with a tapered front for easy product removal. A plastic cover can help speed up composting. The bales themselves will break down as well, so expect a lifespan of one year or less.
If you find a plastic bread or milk crate in the parking lot of an abandoned supermarket, they can be turned into compost bins that allow plenty of air to enter. If a single milk crate is too small, connect several together with wire, plastic twist-ties, or string to create a multiple chamber compost bin. Line the crate with cloth, mesh, or landscape fabric to contain the compost. Crates can be stacked for cyclical composting.
Our list would not be complete without featuring one of the more popular DIY compost bin methods: the garbage can. We like P. Allen Smith’s easy construction method and detailed instructions. Purchase the most inexpensive garbage, dark-colored can you can find in your preferred size. If yard critters are a problem, consider a metal can. Holes are drilled on all sides of the garbage can and the lid itself for airflow. Make sure the garbage can you purchase has a lid: a locking lid is ideal as this will enable you to easily put the can on the ground and roll it around to mix up your compost material. Alternatively, tie-down Bungee cords can be used to secure non-locking lids for a stationary bin in which you turn the contents yourself. When possible, elevate the garbage can on cinderblocks or another structure to allow air to reach the underside. If your garbage can has wheels, this will help you move the bin to areas of your yard that are in need of compost. This DIY method will also work using a food-grade barrel with a screw-top lid.
Kitchen Compost Bin
We discovered some specialty DIY compost bins, including indoor and outdoor bins and DIY worm composters. A kitchen compost bin is typically used to store scraps until they are ready to be transferred to an outdoor compost bin. These types of bins can be bought $10, but they can also be made for free with items sitting around your house. Any lidded plastic container that held non-toxic material will suffice. Use scissors, a hole-puncher, utility knife, or drill to create aeration holes in the lid. You can store this small bin out of sight in a cabinet or decorate it and keep in on your countertop. Be sure to empty it regularly to reduce odors and fruit fly attraction.
Plastic Storage Container
If your composting needs are minimal or you do not have a yard in which to build a bin, this DIY method is similar to the kitchen compost bin featured above and uses simple household items. However, this solution serves as an actual compost bin, not just temporary storage. A plastic tub can be purchased for $5-$10, depending on size. Better yet, if you own one that is cracked, this is a perfect recycling solution. Using a drill (or borrowing one), simply drill holes into all four sides of the bin for aeration. This unit is appropriate for apartment use, as the bin can be placed either under a cabinet or on a balcony. Depending on the size of your bin, it should be simple enough to lift and shake to mix your compost.
Plastic Storage Container Worm Compost Bin
Adding worms to your compost pile can speed up composting: this is called vermicomposting. Steve Stanek’s innovative DIY design features simple and cheap supplies. Two lidded plastic bins are required (he uses 18-gallon totes). Holes are drilled on all sides of one bin to allow for drainage and aeration. Only one lid is required, in which a square is cut out and the opening lined with window screening, mesh, or cloth. This cutting method is preferred to simply drilling holes in the lid because worms can be controlled with light: although they do not have eyes, they do have sensitive photo-receptive cells on their bodies, which make them instinctively bury themselves in the compost pile to keep away from light. The bin containing the holes gets the lid and should be placed inside the other bin, first seated on some spacers to encourage airflow and prevent the bins from sticking together. Complementary to his video, step-by-step instructions can be found here.
DIY Compost Bin Guidelines
Still uncertain? Did we confuse you even more? Need a crash course in compost bin types and materials? Check out this excellent one-page primer created by www.which.com, a U.K. consumer education company founded in 1957.
If you prefer the functionality of a compost tumbler but do not want to spend hundreds of dollars on a manufactured model, check out these DIY methods:
This DIY compost tumbler requires cutting skills and equipment. A wooden frame holds a 55-gallon food-grade drum horizontally, which was acquired for about $13 from a local soda distributor. A hole saw was used to cut holes into barrel’s top and bottom to enable a PVC pipe to be threaded through horizontally, which acts as the barrel’s spinning axis. The exposed PVC pipe ends are screwed into the barrel’s wooden holder to prevent movement and to assist hand turning. Aeration holes were drilled into the barrel and a cut-out door is secured with hinges and locking latches. Structural additions include wooden support beams and counterweights to preserve the plastic barrel’s shape and integrity. There is adequate room underneath the wooden frame to fit a bucket or tray for easy compost removal.
Pickle Barrel Compost Tumbler
Here’s an alternative way to make a compost tumbler using a food-grade barrel. This video shows its barrel perched vertically with a PVC pipe threaded horizontally through the middle. One advantage to this method is that no door needs to be created, since the top can be unscrewed and the barrel tilted downward to empty the compost. One potential downside could be difficulty in turning the barrel since weight is likely to be distributed at one end at any given time. The wooden base is also created differently, which is an important distinction—this bottom-heavy barrel will need more support to keep it from tossing its frame over when spinning. One interesting difference is that this method features an internal aeration method; no holes are drilled on the outside of the barrel, which can prevent leakage and control odors. Instead, holes are drilled in a PVC pipe running vertically within the barrel and air enters the pipe through a bottom-mounted flange. Free construction plans are available here.
Wheeled Caster Tumbler
For an altogether different DIY method, support a drum, food barrel, or trash can on a wood frame with four casters and you have a spinning tumbler. Cut an entry/exit hole into the vessel if none already exists; a simple latching mechanism and hinges will hold the contents inside. This DIYer used bricks to support a simple wooden frame and painted the bright blue barrel a more neutral tan color. If there is enough clearance, we suggest installing hand holds for spinning. Alternatively, a stationary crank or knob can be attached to the outer end.