Why were we looking for a better DIY compost bin?
For years we have used simple compost rings made from 1/2 inch hardware cloth. They work fine but they don’t stand up to normal wear and tear very well and have other draw backs. We considered our options for a few weeks and consulted several gardening books in search of ideas. We saw many different types of DIY compost bins and decided, for various reasons, that we wanted to switch to wooden bins. In particular, we wanted a design with an adjustable height so access to the bottom of the pile was easier. Of course, we want to be good stewards of God’s resources and so our DIY compost bin is made almost entirely from recycled materials.
What is wrong with compost rings made from hardware cloth?
First of all, hardware cloth is a bit expensive and we wanted a cheaper solution. Because metal rusts, the hardware cloth degrades over time and its performance suffers. The edges of the ring are not sturdy and any weight applied to the edge can cause them to sag and deform. If the seem in the hardware cloth (where the ring closes on itself) is not fastened really well, it bulges. Since the height is not adjustable, access to the bottom of the pile is more difficult. In addition, as the metal breaks down, the wires scratch and poke everything that comes in contact. The hardware cloth has mostly served well, but we believe there is a better solution.
Introducing a simple and affordable DIY compost bin made from recycled wooden pallets
Initially we didn’t like the potential cost of a wooden compost bin. We wanted several bins and the cost quickly added up. It finally occurred to us that we could use wooden pallets and we happened to have a source for the perfect pallets. They are very clean and uniform and there were plenty for us to use. You can find wooden pallets just about anywhere but they are not always in good shape and are often not of consistent construction. We couldn’t be happier with these pallets and the results.
It takes three pallets to build a single DIY compost bin. Since there was no suitable material in these particular pallets to make the rails for the front gate, we had to scrounge up some scrap 2 by 4’s and rip them. Add in a bit of wire and some screws and we have all the materials we need. It took myself and my two small boys only about 4 or 5 hours to build three of these compost bins. We needed aerator towers for the center of the bins and we chose to use hardware cloth. PVC pipes with holes in them would surely last longer, but we already had the hardware cloth and so chose to use it.
We started by disassembling the pallets. Use a “banana bar” (nail puller) to pry the planks off of the bottom of the pallet. Be sure to pry from the ends of the board, rather than the side, so that the planks don’t split because we will use them later. Once the pallet is fully disassembled, be sure to pull any nails that are sticking out or to clinch (bend over) any that must remain. As you can see, we started with 6 pallets and ended with 6 perfect compost bin sides, 18 planks from the bottom of the pallets and plenty of blocks to burn later. A few of our planks split, but there were plenty for the front gate, which requires 7 planks.
We simply used wire to bind the corners. There may be other ways, but we have an extra roll of slick wire and it was very easy. The compost will apply outward pressure from the inside and the wire will prevent the walls from separating. The best part is, with a little slack in the wire, you can fold the bins and stack them! If you want to turn the compost and you only have one bin, simply undo the wire, move the pieces and reassemble the bin a few feat away.
Attaching the rails which hold the gate planks was the most difficult part of the project, though it was still fairly easy. We ripped 2 by 4 scraps and simply screwed them from the outside of the pallet. Be sure to leave a little extra gap between the rails so that the planks slide in easily. We considered putting small blocks between the planks to provide a gap for air circulation but have yet to do so. We are thrilled that we are now able to remove the planks and easily reach the bottom of the pile.
In order to keep the walls from spreading apart allowing the gate planks to fall out, you will need to construct a top brace to hold the walls together. We had extra planks and so we simply ripped them, screwed them together and added blocks to the ends to grab the outside of the walls.
We hope that you find this post useful. The boys and I had a great time working together and it is an easy way to teach practical skills with a simple project. We paid a couple dollars a piece for these fabulous pallets but that was the only cost. You could easily find free pallets to build your DIY compost bin. While you are here, you may also be interested in the DIY compost sifter dubbed “The Spider”. Be sure to check it out. Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments below and thanks for visiting.