Finished compost bins with slats installed and bins filled

Last year, I started composting. Grass clippings, kitchen food waste, leaves and unbleached shredded cardboard were fed to a pile at the back of my yard. The pile’s hunger was insatiable. Before the weather got too cold, I decided to build some compost bins. Moving the piles into a three-bin system over the winter should help break down the material into soil for my raised garden beds. Although I recently stained an unfinished a picnic table set, this is the first wood project I’ve built from the ground up.

Although I’ve had several projects in mind, I’ve avoided buying tools needed for woodworking. I thought back to the childhood TV show Pete & Pete, and how Pete was apprehensive about taking shop class; working with power tools that could easily mutilate or dismember him1. For the compost bins, I finally purchased a miter saw.

Hercules Miter Saw in Packaging
Hercules Miter Saw in Packaging

Harbor Freight is known for low prices, with somewhat variable product quality. Despite apprehensions, their Hercules branded miter saw has generally positive reviews2. This one worked fairly well for cutting the lumber I needed for these compost bins.

Miter Saw Assembled on Stand
Miter Saw Assembled on Stand

I looked at several tutorials and blogs for building compost bins, eventually basing my design on a video by Grow Your Heirlooms, which he created in 20183. In the video he uses the following supply list:

List of materials needed to build compost bins
List of materials needed to build compost bins

Not all of the lumber was available on my first supply run, and I wanted to start building out the walls and get a feel for the project before I purchased everything. I ended up doing three supply runs, purchasing the following:

2023-10-19 Lowes
1 lb Galvanized Common Nails $6.98
Two 4x25 Chicken Wire Rolls (2 x $31.98) $63.96
Twelve 1x6x8 boards $107.52
2023-10-23 ACE
8x3 Galvanized Deck Screws $22.99
2023-10-18 Home Depot
Eight 2x4-96” KD-HT Whitewood Stud $27.84
Two 2x4x12 $14.14
1.25 in Decking Screws 5 LB $35.57
2023-10-27 Lowes
Twelve 1x2x4 No 2 TC Whitewood $33.96
Thirteen 1x8x8 2 Whitewood Board $192.66
2023-10-29 ACE
Box 3 inch common nails $39.99
Total $545.61
Lumber and building material between open garage and truck bed
Lumber and Chicken Wire

The walls for each section of the compost bin are composed of chicken wire stapled and sandwiched between cut boards.

Assembling the walls and dividers of the compost bin
Sides and dividers stacked against my garage

I used a hand truck to move the dividers to where I wanted to setup my compost bins. I then fastened the outer walls of the bins using the 2x4x12 boards.

Walls with 2x4x12 holding them up and dividers on a hand truck

Some of the backing boards were a little lopsided, but it’s my first project and it’s just a compost bin set. So I wasn’t too concerned.

Dividers and sides attached with a single backing board

I nailed in the dividers first, and then stapled chicken wire to the back of the bins. The wire was sandwiched between boards I fastened to the fame.

Rear of compost bins with two of them filled

Another mistake I made was measuring the location for the center dividers. I measured from the very outside piece of lumber and divided the segments into thirds. The center bin was a different length than the two outer bins. I should have measured from the centers of the walls instead. Thankfully, I made the front slats last, allowing me to cut them to the correct lengths.

Finished compost bins with slats installed and bins filled

I had been collecting composting material all year (grass clippings, leaves, plant trimmings, food waste, etc.) and just kept dumping them into this massive pile.

Pile of composting material outside bin

All the wood I used was untreated, to avoid getting pressure treating compounds leeching into the compost. From what I’ve read, these bins will tend to compost themselves eventually, after a few years. I put them together at the end of summer, and here they are now, going into the spring.

Close up of compost bins a few months later in the spring

A good amount of the material has broken down, but I probably should have turned it at least once during the winter, and added more water as well. It’s already starting to show some wear. Hopefully I’ll get a couple of good years out of these bins before they start decomposing into the compost.

Full view of compost bins in the spring
  1. Tool and Die. The Adventures of Pete and Pete. Season 1, Episode 5. (1993 TV Show) 

  2. The Hater’s Guide to Harbor Freight - What to Avoid. 1 December 2022. Woodworks 

  3. Build a 3 Bay Compost Bin STEP by STEP. 9 June 2018. Grow Your Heirlooms. (Video)