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Turn a barrel into a rotating composter

Proper aeration is essential when it comes to efficient composting. While this can be done by hand (i.e. with a pitchfork), it can also be done through a simple rotating tumbler, when all you have to do is turn the container! To create your own backyard composting barrel, follow the easy steps outlined below. Then let your new ‘garden helper’ get to work in forming rich compost—within just a few weeks.

Lumber Required:

  • 2x4's (to length/height of barrel support)
  • 3/4" wood (to sizes of large/small bearings)

Materials List:

  • 45-55 gallon drum
  • Two hinges (and screw set)
  • One hasp set
  • 1/2" steel rod (safely 1’ beyond length of barrel)
  • Stove bolts (8) 
  • Rust-retardant paint
  • Galvanized nails

Tools Needed:

  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Hammer
  • Jigsaw
  • Wood glue
  • Paintbrush
  • Drill
  • Table (or circular) saw

Construction Steps:

  • Step 1: First, obtain a clean 45 to 55-gallon drum that has not held toxic chemicals. (A few good options are a 'food grade' barrel, plastic drum or paint barrel.)
  • Step 2: Prepare the barrel: if necessary, paint your barrel inside and out with rust-retardant paint. 
  • Step 3: In the centre of each end of your barrel, drill a 1/2" hole for your axle—preferably a 1/2" steel rod.
  • Step 4: Make your bearings: using 3/4" wood, cut two large squares (or circles) of equal size—5" x 5" (or 5" diameter) is a safe size. Then cut two small squares (or circles) of equal size—2.5" x 2.5" (or 2.5" diameter) is fine. With wood glue, attach each larger piece to a smaller piece.
  • Step 5. When the glue is dry, drill 1/2" holes in each of your bearing pieces. Insert the steel rod through the entire barrel and place your bearing pieces over the ends of the rod (with the large piece flush to the barrel). Attach both to the ends of the barrel with four stove bolts for each bearing piece.
  • Step 6: In the side of your barrel, mark the lines for an opening. (This will serve as the 'door.') To cut out the door, simply drill a 1/4" hole along one of your lines, insert your saw, and cut. 
  • Step 7: Finish your door by attaching it to the barrel with hinges and a hasp.
  • Step 8: Build the barrel's support frame: nail two sets of 2x4 pieces in an X-frame, then nail two additional 2x4s across the bottom feet for support. (The distance between your X-frames should allow the barrel and bearings to fit inside the pieces, with the steel rod overhanging.)
  • Step 9: After setting your barrel into the frame, drill several rows of 1/4" holes for aeration.
  • Step 10: Start composting: fill your barrel with leaves and other compostable material, rotating every day (for 2-3 week composting) or every other day (for 3-4 week composting).

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