Photo by Kristina Mercedes Urquhart
Composting is a natural way to reduce landfill waste, recycle nutrients and create rich soil. This do-it-yourself, compact and affordable tumbler design is a perfect solution for urban farmers that are short on space but big on sustainability.
Whether buying new or repurposing, it’s important that your tumbler container is made of food-grade materials. This will ensure that your soil isn’t contaminated with toxins, chemicals or residue from the tumbler’s prior contents. This article uses a 7-gallon, food-grade storage bucket (available at most hardware-supply stores or online) but can easily be modified to suit any container size or shape.
Now, put on some gloves and safety glasses, and let’s get ready to tumble!
- safety glasses
- tape measure
- power drill
- 1 3/8-inch hole saw bit (Note: 1¼-inch will work, but fittings will be very snug.)
- 2 3/8-inch hole saw bit (Note: 2¼-inch will work, but fittings will be very snug.)
- 3/16-inch drill bit
- 3/8-inch drill bit
- screwdriver or adapter for drill
- adjustable wrench
- handsaw or hacksaw (optional)
- 1 round, 7-gallon, food-grade plastic bucket
- 1 screw-on lid (sometimes sold separately)
- two 2-inch PVC flush-cleanout plugs
- two 2-inch PVC female-threaded adapters
- one 14-inch section of 2-inch PVC pipe
- one 28-inch section of 1-inch PVC pipe
- one 8-inch section of 1-inch PVC pipe
- two 1-inch PVC female-threaded adapters
- two 1-inch PVC threaded plugs
- one 2-inch PVC threaded plug
- two 1-inch PVC slip caps
- four 2-by-4-by-24-inch pieces of lumber
- two 3/8-by-4-inch hex bolts
- two flat washers
- two 3/8-inch hex nuts
- eight 3-inch wood screws
- two 2-by-4-by-20-inch pieces of lumber
Compost Tumbler Instructions
In this first step, you’ll create two sets of holes on opposite sides of the bucket. One set will be in the center of the bucket; the other set will be a quarter from the bottom.
First, remove the lid, and place it out of the way for now.
For the first set of holes, measure and mark the vertical midpoint of your bucket. Using a 1 3/8-inch hole saw bit, drill holes on opposite sides of the bucket; the holes should mirror each other.
Rotate the bucket a quarter of a turn, and drill another set of 1 3/8-inch holes on opposite sides, a quarter of the way from the base. This will give you a total of four holes on four sides of the bucket.
Using a 2 3/8-inch saw bit, drill a hole into the bottom of the bucket.
Insert one 2-inch PVC flush-cleanout plug into the hole on the bottom of the bucket from the outside. Turn the bucket right-side up, and insert a 2-inch PVC female-threaded adapter inside the bottom of the bucket; secure by screwing onto the threads. Using the 3/16-inch drill bit, add drainage holes to the plug.
Place the 14-inch section of 2-inch PVC pipe on the female-threaded adapter in the bucket, and with a pencil, carefully mark where the bucket’s four 1 3/8-inch holes align.
Remove the 14-inch section of pipe, and use the guides to drill four 1 3/8-inch holes in the pipe, exactly matching the holes on the sides of the bucket.
Using a 3/16-inch drill bit, drill ventilation holes at 1/2-inch intervals along the two 1-inch and one 2-inch PVC pipe sections.
Place the 1-inch PVC female adapters and 1-inch PVC threaded plugs on each end of the 8-inch section of 1-inch pipe, and drill ventilation holes in the plugs.
Add a 2-inch female adapter to the top of the 14-inch section of 2-inch pipe. Screw in the 2-inch PVC threaded plug. Drill ventilation holes in the plug.
Remove the 1-inch female adapters and plugs from the 8-inch section of 1-inch PVC pipe. Thread the pipe through the lower holes in the 2-inch pipe, creating a T-shaped fixture. Once in place, return the 1-inch female adapters to both ends.
Place the T-shaped PVC pipe fixture into the bucket, aligning the openings of the 1-inch PVC pipe section with the lower set of 1 3/8-inch holes in the bucket.
Secure both ends of the pipe section to the bucket from the outside with the 1-inch threaded plugs.
Thread the 24-inch section of 1-inch pipe through the upper holes in the bucket and through the holes in the 2-inch pipe. Secure the 1-inch PVC slip caps to the ends. Drill ventilation holes in the caps.
Carefully sweep away all extraneous PVC dust from each piece, and secure the lid back on the bucket. Your tumbler is now assembled!
Take two pieces of the 2-by-4-by-24-inch lumber, and drill a 3/8-inch hole in the center of each piece, 8-inches from each end.
Thread the 3/8-by-4-inch hex bolt through both holes, arranging both pieces to create two intersecting diagonal legs. Add a washer, and tighten the hex nut, just enough so that the two pieces of lumber stay connected. (You will fully tighten it later.)
Repeat steps 1 and 2 for the additional two pieces of 2-by-4-by-24-inch lumber, making matching sets of legs for the frame.
Flatten the two sets of legs on a work surface. Using the wood screws, connect the two sets of legs by securing one 2-by-4-by-20-inch piece of lumber to the front and one 2-by-4-by-20-inch piece of lumber to the back. This will create a stable frame for your tumbler to sit on.
Open the frame so that the legs are high enough to hang your tumbler where the legs intersect. Test by making sure it can tumble 360 degrees without hitting the frame. Tighten the hex nuts fully to lock the legs in place, using a wrench if necessary.
Construction is now complete. Open the lid, add some compost material, secure the lid and start tumbling!
About the Authors: Kristina Mercedes Urquhart and Ian Urquhart tumble their compost in North Carolina.