How to Build a 3-Bin Composter for Less Than $5


* This article contains affiliate links. For more information, please read my Affiliate Disclosure.

 

 

A 3-bin composter allows you to mix organic green and brown waste in one compartment, turn it in another, and store your finished, ready-to-use compost in another. And the best part is, you can build one yourself with recycled materials for next to nothing!A 3-bin composter lets you mix in one compartment, turn in another, and store finished compost in another. And you can build your own for next to nothing:)

* * *

I’ve been wanting a compost bin forever.

When we first moved to our property a couple years ago, there was already an old compost pile that had been left sitting for years since the previous owner had passed on. I’m sure there was probably some good soil underneath the grass clippings that covered the top. But we had a lot on our plates when we first moved, so we didn’t really “do” anything with the compost heap aside from add to it.

And add to it we did…

In fact, all we ever did was add to it. I was just happy to have a place to toss our organics on our property.

Before, when we lived in the city, we had no choice but to throw it away until it became mandatory for all buildings to get a green bin. But even then, we couldn’t really benefit from our own organic waste.

Naturally, when we moved to our current home, I was excited at the prospect of starting the garden I had always dreamed of and of using soil made by us to feed all of our plants. But I didn’t know much about composting other than what you could toss in a compost pile. So we just continued to toss.

The following summer, we were too busy putting in our raised beds, getting new soil delivered and having a baby to worry about dealing with the compost pile. We didn’t have a pitchfork to turn it and it was turning into a compost mountain. We knew there was probably lots of fertile, wormy soil buried in there somewhere, but we just had too much going on to get to it, and it was low on our list of yard-work tasks. 

By the end of last summer, weeds began to grow wildly out the top of the pile and the bramble had found its way over as well. Our potentially rich soil was now being tainted by awful weeds we definitely didn’t want in our garden!

A 3 bin composter allows you to mix organic green and brown waste in one compartment, turn it in another, and store your finished, ready-to-use compost in another. And the best part is, you can build one yourself with recycled materials for next to nothing!

Our old compost pile sits to the left of our new bin. Now it’s nothing more than a small hill of greenery, overtaken by weeds and grass. We’re letting it go back to nature and starting fresh with our new bin:)

By the time we were ready to start prepping our soil again this spring, the compost pile had all but completely disappeared beneath the new growth that had sprung up all over it. It’s now less like a pile and more like a hill. Clearly a very fertile hill considering everything that’s growing out of it. But we pretty much decided to just let it go back to nature and start fresh.

In order to start fresh, though, we needed a proper compost bin.

I started bugging my husband, Ryan about the composter more and more this year until he finally gave in and agreed to give up a day on the weekend to build us one. To be fair, he’s always working on one project or another, so the reason it took so long to get to this was simply a matter of time.

Between renovations on this old house, building and repair projects for other people and a plethora of other little side projects he takes on, it’s tough to fit it all in. But we were at a point where we needed this to happen. No more waiting. I couldn’t throw one more slimy banana peel on top of the mountain formerly known as our compost pile and feel good about it.

And so, our 3-bin composter was born.

A 3-bin composter allows you to mix organic green and brown waste in one compartment, turn it in another, and store your finished, ready-to-use compost in another. And the best part is, you can build one yourself with recycled materials for next to nothing!

Ryan did some research on what type of bin he wanted to build and decided on a 3-bin-composter. Having the 3 bins is so much easier than just having one pile because you get one bin to toss everything into, another bin to mix it and turn it into compost, and a third bin for finished compost that’s ready to use in the garden. Already a much better plan than we had ever had before.

We also wanted to make our bin completely out of free, recycled materials if possible. Since we live in an old house that’s under constant renovations and are of the homesteader mentality that materials should be stockpiled for just this purpose, we just so happened to have everything we needed right here on our property:)

We used wood from old pallets and fir siding and shiplap that were a by-product of the renos. Then Ryan found a piece of corrugated plastic in the lean-to by the garage which he figured would make a perfect lid. So even though we weren’t originally planning to put a lid on the bin, we decided to add one and actually based the dimensions of the compost bin on the measurements of the piece of plastic. 

A 3-bin composter allows you to mix organic green and brown waste in one compartment, turn it in another, and store your finished, ready-to-use compost in another. And the best part is, you can build one yourself with recycled materials for next to nothing!

The corrugated plastic piece was 2 ft. x 8 ft. So we decided that our bin would be 8 feet long and 2 feet wide. As far as depth, we decided on 2.5 feet deep since that seemed about the perfect depth to hold a significant amount of compost while still not being too high to get a pitchfork in there and work it. And actually, Ryan being the talented handyman that he is, decided to make the front panels removable so that we can actually remove the front of each section in order to turn and shovel the compost in and out.

For the lid, he built a wooden frame to go around the edge of the plastic so that it would keep it from warping and give it just a little weight. He fastened the lid with some hinges from old doors in our house and then attached a piece of aircraft cable he had laying around to the lid and the side of the bin so that when you throw the lid up and back it doesn’t fall back too far. We were going to use a piece of wood to prop the lid up like you would with the hood of a car, but this was more practical.

A 3-bin composter allows you to mix organic green and brown waste in one compartment, turn it in another, and store your finished, ready-to-use compost in another. And the best part is, you can build one yourself with recycled materials for next to nothing!

Ryan did most of the work, but I got to use a few power tools on this project too;)

 

As for tools, we used…

  • a reciprocating saw to cut down the pallets. (This saw is also known as a “sawsall” because it pretty much saws all things you could need to saw. It even saws through nails, which was especially handy when sawing boards off of pallets). 
  • a table saw and a sliding miter saw to cut pieces of wood down to size,
  • a drill/impact driver to piece everything together,
  • a crown stapler for part of the lid, and
  • a good ol’ fashioned hammer to remove some of the harder-to-get-out nails from the pallet wood. 

All said and done, we completed the compost bin from start to finish in one day and it cost us less than the price of a packet of seeds. The only non-recycled material used were the construction screws we used to put it all together:)

If you factor in the cost of the power tools, that would certainly add to the price, obviously. But since we had all the tools we needed already, the tools were already paid for and have proven time and time again to be a wise investment for folks like us!

(I’m a firm believer in investing in quality things that will last a long time and save money in the long run by costing less per use. Good quality tools are definitely one of those things:)

And speaking of investments, after investing some hot, sweaty work on a beautiful, sunny, Sunday afternoon, we now have a sweet as compost bin that will surely last us a very long time and help us to produce some amazing, fertile compost to feed our garden with for years to come.

It’s official! We’re real gardeners now:)

 

3-Bin Composter Building Instructions

Below are full instructions on how to build a compost bin like the one we did. Keep in mind that you can amend your bin or design based on the materials you have on hand, so don’t feel like you need to follow the instructions exactly. 

If you don’t have a piece of corrugated plastic to make a lid out of, you could use tin roofing or even a piece of plywood. Or you could forgo the lid altogether if you like! (In fact, you’ll want to leave your lid open at least sometimes when it’s raining so your compost gets watered. Water helps the organic material decompose:)

If you don’t have pallets but have other pieces of wood long enough, use those! Or if you would rather buy wood new, go for it! We just like to do things as frugally as possible whenever we can. 

 And you can change the dimensions as well if you would like it bigger or smaller (or you need to adapt your own bin to the measurements of some materials you are using). But personally, the size and dimensions we went with seem pretty perfect to me as long as you have the space to put it. 

The point is, feel free to substitute any materials that you have on hand that would work in place, and alter the size or the design if you like as well. However, in order to replicate the 3-bin composter that we built, here are the instructions:

 


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Step 1: Prepare Design and Materials

 1. Prepare your design and measurements. Here is our design:

A 3-bin composter allows you to mix organic green and brown waste in one compartment, turn it in another, and store your finished, ready-to-use compost in another. And the best part is, you can build one yourself with recycled materials for next to nothing!

2. Gather all materials you will be using. Make sure you have enough wood to work with. If you have piles of scrap wood laying around like we do, gather all pieces you think you can use.

When using scrap wood it’s difficult to say exactly how much you’ll need, but in our case we used the wood from two pallets, two 10 ft. 4×4 posts, and at least 20 shiplap boards, approximately 4 to 5 feet long, plus a bunch of odds and ends. We then milled the lumber we had to the correct dimensions in our schematic, which we’ve included below.  

* Note: If you don’t have scrap wood laying around, you could purchase new lumber, or you could get some free pallets from any big warehouse store. Big box stores always have more pallets laying around than they know what to do with, and are usually happy to give them away for free to anyone who will take them off their hands.

3. Prepare tools and inventory materials (in our case, that meant setting up the power tools, breaking down pallets with a reciprocating saw and stacking materials together).

A 3-bin composter allows you to mix organic green and brown waste in one compartment, turn it in another, and store your finished, ready-to-use compost in another. And the best part is, you can build one yourself with recycled materials for next to nothing!

 

Step 2: Assemble the Sections of the Bin

1. Cut lumber for the main panels, which will make up the three sections of the compost bin. We used two 4×4 posts cut down to 30”, and six boards cut to 26” -a mixture of pallet boards and shiplap cut to size- to build each panel. We built four panels in total, which made up the two outer side walls and two inner walls that would separate the 3 sections of the compost bin. 

2. Assemble panels. We made sure to leave about an inch and a half of space in between each board to allow air to flow through the bin and aerate the compost. (Fig. 1)

A 3-bin composter allows you to mix organic green and brown waste in one compartment, turn it in another, and store your finished, ready-to-use compost in another. And the best part is, you can build one yourself with recycled materials for next to nothing!

 

Step 3: Assemble the Back of the Bin

1. Once you’ve assembled the main panels, stand them up and space them out according to how wide you want each section of the bin to be (this might be easier with some assistance, but our panels stood up pretty well on their own). Stand your two outer panels up 96” apart if you’re using the same measurements as us, and then place the two inner panels in between to separate the sections of the bin.

We decided to make the first section larger than the other two because the first section of our bin was the one we would do all the mixing of our compost in. So we made the first section 36” wide and each of the other two sections 30” wide. (Fig. 2)

A 3-bin composter allows you to mix organic green and brown waste in one compartment, turn it in another, and store your finished, ready-to-use compost in another. And the best part is, you can build one yourself with recycled materials for next to nothing!

2. Tie all boards together by attaching boards to the backside of your bin. Ideally, you would have boards long enough to run the entire length of the compost bin, but if you’re using smaller or varying sizes of scrap wood like we did, you can cut boards down to the length of each section to fill in the backside. 

A 3-bin composter allows you to mix organic green and brown waste in one compartment, turn it in another, and store your finished, ready-to-use compost in another. And the best part is, you can build one yourself with recycled materials for next to nothing!

Attaching the boards onto what will be the back of the bin. Here we have our main panels spaced out according to how wide we want each section of our 3-bin composter, and we are tying them all together with boards that will make up the backside.

 

Step 4: Build Channels for the Front of the Bin

1. Create channels on the front of each of the 4 posts. The channels will hold the boards in place that will make up the removable front panels. This is best done with a table saw, so if you’re using hand tools you might want to forgo being able to remove the front panels of your bin. If so, you can just attach the boards the same as at the back, using some construction screws or nails.

A 3-bin composter allows you to mix organic green and brown waste in one compartment, turn it in another, and store your finished, ready-to-use compost in another. And the best part is, you can build one yourself with recycled materials for next to nothing!

This is a top view of one of the completed channels on one of the front posts of our compost bin. The boards on the front of the bin are able to slide in and out of the channels that are created by the gap between the post and the cover board on either side of each filler board. (We actually made our gap too big at first so we had to add a couple more little filler strips to ours, which is what the extra two light pieces of wood in the gap are in this photo).

To create each channel, first cut filler strips by cutting a 30” piece of wood (we used a piece of 2×6 board), and mill it to a thickness just slightly thicker than the boards you’re using for your removable panels. We used shiplap for the removable panels at the front, so we milled our wood to just slightly thicker than shiplap, or about one inch. Then cut a 30” cover piece for each channel.

Use a board that’s at least as wide as the post or preferably a bit wider. Attach a filler strip to the centre of the front of each post. Then, attach a cover piece to each filler strip. Attach them in the middle so that the gap in between the post and the cover piece creates a channel for boards to slide in and out of on each side of each filler strip. (Fig. 3 + 4)

A 3-bin composter allows you to mix organic green and brown waste in one compartment, turn it in another, and store your finished, ready-to-use compost in another. And the best part is, you can build one yourself with recycled materials for next to nothing!

A 3-bin composter allows you to mix organic green and brown waste in one compartment, turn it in another, and store your finished, ready-to-use compost in another. And the best part is, you can build one yourself with recycled materials for next to nothing!

2. Cut the boards that you’ll be using for your front panels down to size. Measure the distance from one channel opening -filler piece to filler piece- to the next. Cut boards to that length or just slightly less. Slide your boards into place to complete the front of the bin.

 


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Step 5: Build and Attach the Lid

1. Use whatever material you’re using for your lid (if you’re adding a lid), and attach it with a couple hinges to the back of your compost bin. Old door hinges are a good choice because they can handle the weight of a lid. Then attach a piece of chain or aircraft cable (which we used) to the lid and one side of the bin so that the chain or cable prevents the lid from opening too far back. 

A 3-bin composter allows you to mix organic green and brown waste in one compartment, turn it in another, and store your finished, ready-to-use compost in another. And the best part is, you can build one yourself with recycled materials for next to nothing!

The aircraft cable (shown here) helps to prevent the lid from swinging open too far back.

 

Last Step: Stand back and marvel at your work!

You now have a brand new composter:)

A 3-bin composter allows you to mix organic green and brown waste in one compartment, turn it in another, and store your finished, ready-to-use compost in another. And the best part is, you can build one yourself with recycled materials for next to nothing!

 

Hey Fellow Homesteader!

If you’re ready to really dive in and learn how to grow your own food at home and maximize your food production no matter what size space you’re working with, my Seed to Soil Organic Gardening Course is now open for enrollment.

In the course, I walk you through everything you need to know in detail to grow a 100% organic vegetable garden at home, completely from seed.

From how to assess your property and identify your unique microclimates to how to start your seeds off strong, set up your indoor grow lights and keep your seedlings alive and thriving until they’re ready to get planted outdoors, to hardening off your plants, direct sowing seeds and transplanting outdoors and then onto how to actually care for your garden without using any chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides whatsoever, I will take you through the entire gardening season step-by-step so you know exactly what to do first, second, third and so on, so you don’t have to guess or simply hope that you’ve done things the right way.

I’ll also be doing live monthly Q&As with my students throughout the growing season in our private Facebook group, where you can be part of a community of other gardeners of varying levels of experience, and where you can get tailored support and answers to your gardening questions in real time!

The Seed to Soil Organic Gardening Course is open for enrollment now, but only for a limited time. Click here to learn more or to enroll for the 2021 gardening season.

Wishing you homemade, homegrown, homestead happiness 🙂

 

 

 

The House & Homestead

 

 

 

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9 Comments

  1. James Dwyer

    I am planning to build this for my town , as a Boy Scout Eagle project. Thanks for posting this!

    Reply
    • Tish Painter

      That is a great idea!

      Reply
  2. Shana T

    This was excellent and so helpful! I look forward to building compost bins like this this spring/summer. Thanks for taking the time to photograph, write up and share all this!!!

    Reply
    • Anna Sakawsky

      So glad you found it useful! We’re still using our compost bin and it works great!

      Reply
  3. Pam Russell

    Do you have to worry about critters getting into your bin?

    Reply
    • Anna Sakawsky

      Hi Pam,

      We haven’t had any issues with critters thus far. We have a lid on our compost bin which keeps most critters out and we are careful not to compost any meat or dairy of course. Our current lid is a wood frame covered with chicken wire so it still lets the rain in (moisture helps the compost break down). This has worked well for us where we are:)

      Reply
  4. Sammie

    Absolutely love this! Thank you so much. I just moved to my home in January and it’s my first time living on an acerage. I look forward to hearing more about your homestead journey. ?

    Reply
  5. Cheryl Redden

    Do you move the contents each year to the respective bin, or leave what’s in them & change the ‘labeling’ or purpose or each bin per year?

    Reply
    • Anna Sakawsky

      Hi Cheryl,

      Yes we start all the compost in the first bin and once it gets full we turn it and transfer it to the second bin where we let it age and turn it frequently. In the meantime we start filling up the first bin again. Once it’s aged and ready to use we transfer it to the third bin and use the compost out of there for our garden.

      Reply

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ABOUT ANNA
Hi! I’m Anna, and I’m a city girl turned modern homesteader who’s passionate about growing, cooking and preserving real food at home, creating my own herbal medicine and all-natural home and body care products, and working toward a simpler, more sustainable and self-sufficient life each and every day. 
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That what sets Homestead Living magazine apart from much of the information you'll find online: We don't have staff writers, we have experienced homesteaders sharing their hard-won wisdom in each issue. And while we do offer a digital version, we're also now offering monthly PRINT issues for U.S. subscribers (Canada and elsewhere hopefully coming soon!)⁣

Plus, until the end. of January, you can get your first 12 issues of Homesteading Monthly for just $1.00!⁣

No matter where you are on your homesteading journey, if you've been feeling overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information and the noise of the online world and have been craving a return to the real, the tangible and, quite frankly, the human, Homesteading Monthly was made for you. ⁣

For homesteaders, by homesteaders.⁣

*** Comment "Homestead" below and I'll send you the link to subscribe! ***
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When I graduated from university with a degree in journalism many years ago, I remember thinking that while I knew how to write, edit, interview, shoot, and handle just about every part of creating a publication from the editorial standpoint, I really had no clue how to actually get published, let alone how the printing process works.

Over the years I’ve followed my passion for writing, editing and creating content, figuring much of it out on my own. From creating my blog to “self-publishing” my own digital/print magazine for the last 4 years, I’ve taught myself most of the practical skills necessary for turning an idea into a publication and getting said publication in the hands and in front of the eyes of many hundreds of readers.

But now that I’ve joined forces with the team at @homesteadlivingmagazine and @freeportpress, we’re all able to level up and reach many THOUSANDS of print and digital readers together.

People are HUNGRY for tried and tested advice on homesteading and self-reliant living. There’s a huge movement happening right now as more people wake up to all of the corruption in the world and realize that many of the systems we have come to depend on are fragile and on the brink of collapse. People are ready to take matters into their own hands by growing their own food, preparing their own meals, becoming producers instead of merely consumers and taking control of their health, freedom, security and lives.

I’m so proud to not only be a part of this movement, but to be at the forefront of it with some of the most passionate, talented and driven individuals I could ask to work with.

Getting to meet and brainstorm with some of the team in person and tour the printing facilities over the last few days has opened up a whole new world of possibilities, not just for me, but for everyone who considers themselves part of the modern homesteading movement. We are growing faster than I could have ever imagined. We’re creating a system outside of the system! We’re charging full steam ahead and we invite you to climb aboard and join us for the ride:)

#homesteading #modernhomesteading #homesteadliving #selfsufficiency #selfreliance
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It’s been a minute since I popped into IG to say hi. (Hi! 👋) But before I share what’s been going on behind the scenes, I thought it would be a good time to (re)introduce myself, because I’ve never actually done that before!

My name’s Anna, and I’m a city girl turned modern homesteader living in the beautiful Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. I live with my family (human, furry and feathered) on 1/4 acre property where we grow and preserve hundreds of pounds of our own food every year, and strive to live a more self-reliant lifestyle in all that we do.

I grew up in Vancouver and had pretty much zero experience homesteading before my husband, Ryan and I decided we wanted to escape the rat race, become less dependent on the modern industrial food system (and all modern industrialized systems), and dove head first into this lifestyle around a decade ago.

We packed up and moved to Vancouver Island where we live now, started our first garden, and the rest is pretty much history.

(Well, actually that’s not true… There have been A LOT of ups and downs, successes and failures, wins and losses, struggles, challenges and pivotal moments along the way, but those are stories for another day).

Over the past few years, our decision to follow a less conventional path that aims to break free (at least in some part) from “the system” has been affirmed over and over again. We all know for a fact now that our food system, healthcare system, financial system, transportation system and so much more are all really just a house of cards built on shaky ground. We’ve been lucky so far, but sooner or later it’s all liable to collapse.

But preparedness and security isn’t the only thing that drives us… The peace of mind I get knowing that everything we grow is 100% organic, and that the ingredients in our food, medicine, personal and household products are safe and natural is worth more than anything I could buy at the grocery store.

(I’m not perfect though. Not by a long shot. I still rely on the grocery store, on modern medicine, and on many modern conveniences to get by, but I balance it as much as I can:)

(Continued in comments…)
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