Compost bins are a great source of free fertilizer. Food scraps and yard clippings can turn into gardening gold if you handle them right. The traditional compost bin is a handcrafted wood-framed box three feet cubed, though some compost experts prefer a more accommodating four-foot cube.
What Is a Compost Bin?
A compost bin is a container where organic waste is placed to decompose over time. Some bins are continuous, meaning you can add waste to them at any time, while others make batches of compost with a specific mix of elements that you add all at once.
Even if there's no housing, the same process will occur over time in a compost "pile" or "heap,” it just goes faster within a bin. Bins can also make it more difficult for rodents and other pests to get at your compost, depending on the container you use.
A wood bin, often constructed of rot-resistant cedar or other tougher woods, will easily conceal yard clippings, assorted compostable waste products, and kitchen leftovers without sticking out like a sore thumb in your landscape.
They are a relatively inexpensive do-it-yourself build, but unfortunately, they do require a level surface and, depending upon the size of your yard, might take up too much space. They also require at least some basic carpentry skills and tools to construct.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Using a Wood Compost Bin?
There are many benefits to using wood compost bins over other types of bins.
Lumber, which hasn’t been pressure-treated, is better for the surrounding environment than plastic or metal. It's also usually cheaper.
Wood compost bins are also attractive and easy to customize. You can even let them fade nearly completely into the background by keeping their surfaces untreated.
Unfortunately, there are some cons to using wood compost bins as well. Depending on your design choices, they can be difficult or time-consuming to construct, and they're usually not as warm or insulated as other types of compost bins.
This lack of insulation can cause the composting process to take longer, and rodents may find it easier to get inside. Finally, wood bins, primarily if you use untreated wood, may need more upkeep to ensure their longevity.
What to Consider When Building a Wood Compost Bin
When building your wood composting bin, there are three critical elements to keep in mind.
Ease of Use
The bin itself must be simple to use, with plenty of space for loading compost ingredients, turning them, and scooping them out. Containers with narrow designs or limited access points can be difficult to load, turn, and work with.
Measure and mark out the size of your bin before purchasing any materials or starting work.
Second, the bin must allow adequate airflow while holding the pile together for proper decomposition. A large amount of oxygen is essential for heating and decomposing a pile, and without that oxygen, there will be no decomposition process.
Instead, you will have a large stinking heap that doesn’t do the job it is meant to do.
Finally, and probably most importantly, a compost bin must be the correct size: large enough to store enough material to aid decomposition while remaining small enough to turn and work with.
You don’t want so large a pile that it is a true chore to work with it, but you also don’t want to throw out compostable materials because you don’t have enough room to throw more into the bin.
Step-By-Step Instructions for Building a Traditional Wood Compost Bin
First, gather all your materials. This includes the lumber, saw, drill or hammer, and measuring tape. You will want to measure out how large you want your compost bin to be, then measure and cut the wood to match. For this project, you can even use fence wood which is a relatively cheap and easy-to-cut alternative.
Next, create a basic frame with the largest pieces of wood (this can vary depending on the size of your bin). Take your cut lumber and lay six similarly sized pieces on the ground so that they have about an inch gap between each slat.
Then lay two cross-ways pieces over the top and attach each of the two horizontal pieces to the six vertical slats. Repeat this three more times, so you have four "sides."
Following that, use the brackets to attach each side. We recommend using at least two brackets on each corner, though three work better and provide more stability. This setup should leave you with the general box shape.
As an optional step, you can do a fifth "side" just like the others, and attach it with brackets to the back and top side of the bin, allowing it to swing open and providing at least some cover for the top to help prevent rodents from getting in.
Building a Wood Compost Bin Out of Pallet Wood
Pallets are one of the simplest, and cheapest, ways to make a wooden compost container. You can use brackets to connect three sides while utilizing hinges to secure the fourth side, like a gate or zip tie the sides together. If you want the pallets to appear nicer and survive longer, you can choose to paint them first.
Dismantling the pallets and separating the wood is an alternative to merely connecting them with ties or hinges. Pull each slat apart, take out the nails, hammer four wooden stakes into the ground, and fasten the pallet wood between them.
While this approach does make the entire build more stable, it does come at the cost of being more time-consuming and tedious.
Building a Wood and Wire Compost Bin
Wire and fence bins are simple to construct and utilize less wood because the wire is the major component. Furthermore, because the bins are made of wire, they are light and portable and can easily be attached to one another to make a larger series of bins if necessary.
If you have any extra wood lying around that you wish to use, these are an excellent alternative to a fully wooden bin.
Simply construct the frame out of wood, then stretch the wire between each side. You may choose to stake down or otherwise reinforce the screening, especially if you want it rodent-proof.
Building a Stick Pen Compost Bin
Another option for a wood bin is to drive stakes or even sticks into the ground in a square or circle that holds your compost. These can be difficult to assemble or disassemble, but they are mobile and give a lot of sizes and shape flexibility while still being far cheaper than wood or even wood and wire options.
You can use tomato or garden pegs or even stout branches if you live near a park or woods.
To start a stick pen, mark out where you want your bin to go, then drive holes in the ground with an iron bar and stake it down. Place half-inch chicken wire around the interior of your pen for extra support, and use more wire to connect the chicken wire to the stakes.
This will prevent rodents from getting in through the sides, though they can often get in over the top and prevent the stakes or branches from bowing outward with the weight.
What Types of Wood Are Best for Using in a Wood Compost Bin?
When constructing a wooden compost bin, there are various factors to consider. The type of wood you plan to use for the container is one of the most crucial considerations. The type of wood used can affect how long the system lasts and how well it works.
You might be interested in using new wood that you can get from a lumberyard or another source. When buying new wood, it's essential to consider the species and construction.
Some woods are naturally resistant to rotting, such as red cedar, redwood, and black locust, and will be able to withstand water and the elements without rotting or weakening.
Another thing to think about is whether the wood is treated or not. In most circumstances, treated timber will outlast untreated lumber. There are specific concerns with using treated timber when it comes to composting.
Treated lumber is treated with a range of chemicals that could be harmful to the environment; however, there is little evidence of the long-term consequences of these chemicals on the soil.
Consider choosing old-growth or recycled wood for your bin because it is typically denser and more robust. This type of wood is less likely to rot and decay than some of the other woods usually used for construction.
Other DIY Compost Bin Ideas
There are many alternate DIY compost bin ideas, with wood being only one! See which suits your lifestyle and needs, and start composting today!
Plastic Storage Bins
Smaller volumes of compost can be stored in storage bins. Choose a storage container that meets your needs, preferably plastic, and the lid should either have locks or some way of ensuring it remains closed.
After setting up your bin, fill it with composting materials and close the top. Allow it to settle for a while before adding more compost items. Open the lid when you need compost, take what you need, and close it again.
An excellent DIY compost bin idea is to use a plastic rubbish bin or trash can. Make sure it has a locking lid or a mechanism to secure the top to the can so you can roll it around and mix up all of the compost inside to ensure even layers and combinations.
Punch holes up and along the edges for aeration and put a few on the bottom to help with drainage. Place the bin on the pavers, fill it with your materials, and let it work for you.
Perhaps a bit unusual, but milk crates are another simple and cheap compost bin alternative. Collect your milk crates (we recommend three or four) and fill them with your compost material, then stack them up one on top of the other on a level surface.
Start with the compost on the bottom and rotate the milk crates once you're done with one. If you're afraid of mixing them up, you can easily label each box, so you know which one to take next. A simple lid or wooden board on the very top crate will help keep rodents from getting inside too quickly.
Have a bunch of cinder blocks lying around that you aren’t sure what to do with? Make an easy DIY compost bin! To make the walls of this DIY compost bin concept, simply stack cinder blocks in a circle or square, whatever you’d like.
You can enclose all four walls or leave one open for convenient access. This container should not be covered to allow air circulation and rain to aid in the decomposition process.
Wrapping It Up
While they may not be as quick in the composting process as others, more insulated systems, wooden compost bins look lovely in your garden and can be b cheaply if you prefer DIY projects.
They could be the appropriate solution for you if you don't mind waiting a little longer for your compost or want to save more green in the build!
For more great compost information, check out our articles on the difference between mulch and composted manure or whether or not you can put charcoal BBQ ashes in a compost dump.