How to Make a Compost Bin from Pallets

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Pallet compost bin

With the pre-winter clear up completed you’re probably left with lots of plant debris: the spent crops, weeds and prunings of the old growing season that form the perfect ingredients to a soil-nourishing compost. Composting is a great way to recycle valuable organic matter and, of course, plants love it!

That said, loose compost heaps have a habit of looking a bit messy, so read on or watch our video to discover a tidier alternative – a compost bin made from wooden pallets.

Materials for Making a Pallet Compost Bin

To make a pallet compost bin you’ll need four pallets of matching size (or you can cut them to size). Old pallets are widely available but check they’re safe to use by looking for the pallet stamp. Stamps should display the IPPC or EPAL logo, plus the letters HT, which indicates the wood has been heat-treated and there’s no risk of toxic materials leaching into your compost. Avoid using pallets with the letters MB on them, as these have been treated with methyl bromide which is a toxic pesticide.

To join the pallets together you will need four corner brackets, a box of screws, plus a drill and a screwdriver. The front pallet will be cut in half and attached to create two hinged doors, a bit like a stable door. Attach them to the walls with four sturdy hinges and use two pairs of hook and eye latches to keep them shut. You’ll also need a saw.

Building a Compost Bin with Pallets

Start by joining together three pallets to create the back and sides. Stand them up, lean them against each other then screw them together to hold them in place. The two side walls should be flush with the width of the rear wall.

Screw two brackets to each corner of the bin, one at the top and one at the bottom. You now have your completed walls.

Assembling a compost bin made from pallets

The fourth pallet will be made into a door for the compost bin, to make filling it easy. Using a saw, cut the pallet in half between two of the rear slats. Correspondingly, the front side should be cut between two of the front slats. Saw right up against the slats to give an even, tidy finish.

Now attach the doors to the walls. Use two strong hinges per door, attaching the hinges on the outside so the door can swing out more easily. Set the bottom door slightly off the ground to stop it from catching. Similarly, leave a slight gap between the bottom and top doors. With the hinges in place, it’s time for the hooks and latches. Screw them into position, near the top of each door.

The compost bin is now finished, but if you want to make yours extra sturdy you can screw in additional plate brackets at the rear corners. The front ends can be further anchored into place by hammering in lengths of rebar either side of the walls, effectively jamming the pallets into position.

Securing pallet composter in place with length of rebar

Some gardeners like to wrap their pallet compost with chicken wire or netting. This keeps any stray contents from escaping the bin, but it isn’t strictly necessary. Attach the wire or netting with u-shaped nails or a staple gun.

Using a Pallet Compost Bin

Start filling the compost bin with a mixture of browns, such as dried leaves or torn pieces of cardboard, and fresh green materials, including grass clippings and kitchen scraps. Try to ensure a good balance of browns and greens to speed up decomposition and so air can penetrate the compost heap.

Mature compost, ready to sieve

You could add additional compost bins alongside the first. A three-bay compost setup allows for the three main stages of composting. The first bay is the active bay, into which new material is currently being added; the middle bay has been filled and is left to rot down; while the final bay is beautiful, mature compost that’s ready to use.

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Comments

 
"good video. I liked the suggestion to make the needed 3 compost containers. It needs 10 pallets. I don't think the boards in the middle of the 3 compost containers need to be covered with the chicken wire. Am I correct?"
janice on Tuesday 4 July 2017
"good video. I liked the suggestion to make the needed 3 compost containers. It needs 10 pallets. I don't think the boards in the middle of the 3 compost containers need to be covered with the chicken wire. Am I correct?"
janice on Tuesday 4 July 2017
"Hi Janice. That's right, it isn't really necessary as you'll be clearly able to differentiate the different ages of compost when you come to dig it out/turn it. Chicken wire on the middle boards might also catch the tines of the fork, which would be annoying."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 4 July 2017
"Would it be a good idea to cover the top of the bin to control the amount of moisture (ie rain!), or is this not necessary?"
Jackie on Tuesday 18 July 2017
"It really depends on how wet it is. If you get a lot of wet then it can be advantageous to cover the compost so it doesn't get excessively wet and possibly slimy as a result. On the flip side, if it's fairly dry, then any rain will help to keep things moving. I would keep it covered for now and see how you get on - adding a cover if you feel this is necessary at a later date."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 18 July 2017
"Thanks for this. Please forgive these rookie questions! 1. Assuming one transfers the contents of one bin to the next in stages, how do you know when it's ready to do so? 2. How often should one turn over the contents of a bin (presumably to aerate it)."
Warwick on Friday 27 July 2018
"Not at all - they're not rookie questions and are very much worth asking! In answer to them: 1. You can leave a bin to sit as it is until it's ready to use. A multi-bay system means that once one if full of material, you can then leave it to rot down while filling the next. This negates the need to turn. That said, turning the contents can help if things aren't rotting down successfully and it needs reinvigorating by getting more air into the heap. Compost is ready when it's dark and crumbly and you can't really make out any of the original 'ingredients'. 2. Related to the above, the contents of a bin are indeed turned to aerate it. You may find this isn't even necessary, but if things are slow then you may need to do it perhaps once, after a couple of months. In most cases it's easy to simply dig out all the material then re-fill the bin, which will add plenty of air to it. I hope this helps. Happy composting!"
Ben Vanheems on Friday 27 July 2018
"We are surrounded by forest. How do you keep rodents and other animals out of your compost?"
Rachel Willson on Tuesday 21 August 2018
"Rodents shouldn't be attracted to your compost if it contains solely plant material and no meats, cheeses or other materials that might attract vermin. You can stop rodents getting access by being very thorough with the mesh that goes around the compost bin, so it is of a small enough gauge to stop them gaining entry. But generally a well-managed compost bin shouldn't attract animals."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 23 August 2018
"I've seen bins that are lined with solid sheeting or boards that they have said increases heat therefore decreasing composting time. Will leaving the sides relatively open still allow the waste to compost down quick enough or will it take much longer? Sorry for the novice question just want to get it right."
Julie Fleming on Saturday 8 December 2018
"Yes, generally the more you block in the sides, the more insulated it becomes and, therefore, the quicker decomposition happens. It wouldn't make an enormous difference in this instance, but if you want the quickest possible compost, may be worth considering. Personally, I wouldn't bother."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 10 December 2018
"Hello, If I live in a cold weather area, do you have any special instructions for the winter season? Should I cover the bins in early December? Also, do they need all day direct sun light or can I put them in a shaded area? Thanks."
Darren on Saturday 13 April 2019
"You can put the bin in sun or shade, although it will decompose quicker in a sunny and therefore warmer spot. Covering the heap during the winter will keep it insulated and decomposing for a little longer, but again this isn’t essential."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 17 April 2019
"Hi Ben We operate a 3-bin system, but always fill the centre bin. One of the side bins (say, the left hand side) is full of maturing compost; the other side bin (say, the right) is mature compost which we gradually use, emptying the bin. Once the mature side bin is empty, we flip the contents of the middle bin over the partition into the now empty bin, water it, cover it, and leave it to rot down. By this time, the compost in the other side bin is generally in a perfect condition for using, and so the rotation continues. Always filling the centre, and flipping it to one side or the other when the bins are empty really cuts down on the turning work, and makes sure we have fast-maturing compost all year round. "
KatyVic on Saturday 6 July 2019
"That's a really smart setup you have their Katy. Thanks for sharing your experience on this - great idea!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 8 July 2019
"Hi, I have a quantity of pressure treated softwood timber lying around (fencing rails, gravel boards, fence posts etc.) and was wondering if it would be harmful to the compost if I made a bin or two from this timber. It's the 'new' style pressure treatment (the timber I have is about 3 or 4 years old) which I understand is less toxic than the older style 'tanalising' treatment but have no idea whether it's suitable. What do you think?"
Andrew Hill on Monday 16 September 2019
"Hi Andrew. If the wood has been pressure treated then there is possibly still some risk of the treatment agent leaching out into the compost over time. That said, the quantities would be very, very minimal, if at all - and as you say treatments are less toxic these days. In my opinion - though others may feel differently - I'd go ahead with it. You can always spread the compost from that bin around ornamentals that you're not going to eat, to err on the side of caution."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 16 September 2019
"Thank you for talking about the ways to compost. I am new to this and plan on starting my composting system as soon as I can."
Eve Avery on Thursday 16 January 2020
"Great stuff Eve. Good luck with starting your new composting setup."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 20 January 2020
"I am trying to "tweek" our compost system. At this point a fairly large percent of what we put into the pile(s) will be grass clippings with a small percent from kitchen waste (2 people). I like your basic design, but was wondering if putting the chicken wire on the compost side (inside) might contain the compost better? "
Bruce Grossie on Sunday 2 February 2020
"Hi Bruce. Yes, you're probably right - securing the chicken wire to the inside would ultimately give a neater finish with compost better contained. That is a modification I'd make if I was to make another compost bin like this."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 3 February 2020
" Nail it together using 6+" nails, ( pre-drill the holes with a 6mm drill its easier ) make it double size by using 2 pallets along the side. mature for at least a year . then take it from the ½ pallet end which is left loose for easy removal. No need to move it about or mix it it should just fall towards the end as you take it. you dont need to hinge it thats a load of nonsence make sure its moist if you have a dry spell water it with a few gallons you can also use newspaper junk mail and paper and cardboard from packaging it all rots down and tis safe as the ink is all soya based and the white is titanium oxide which is in every soil naturally"
L A Vye on Wednesday 11 March 2020
"Great extra tips there L A Vye, thanks for sharing!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 12 March 2020
"Hi Ben! Great post, and I love the comments, as well. Thanks for sharing with us. I want to start composting horse manure now (from my uncle's farm), and add in dried oak leaves that are still blowing around the property from winter, so I can use the manure in June or so for the garden and even next spring. I am concerned about how much odor would be coming off the pile. I could put the bin near my garden in the center of my side lot, about a hundred feet south of our house and 100 feet north of the neighbor's house. I can put it in shade or sun. Would that be too smelly?"
Kimberly Conway on Saturday 4 April 2020
"Once the composting process gets underway the smell isn't too strong and in fact is quite odourless in time. I would suggest that 100 feet is more than enough to avoid any issues with smells. Generally a sunny spot is best to keep it all warm and speed along decomposition. But a shady spot would be fine too."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 6 April 2020
"Hi Ben, Thanks for all the great advice. We're just in early stages of our veg garden and were just about to knock down an old wooden shed when I read your post. Would this old shed be a suitable compost bin? We could take the roof off if it needed to be open air?"
Hannah on Thursday 9 April 2020
"Hi Ben, Thanks for all the great advice. We're just in early stages of our veg garden and were just about to knock down an old wooden shed when I read your post. Would this old shed be a suitable compost bin? We could take the roof off if it needed to be open air?"
Hannah on Thursday 9 April 2020
"Hi Hannah. Yes, that could work, although it might make for a very, very big compost bin! How big is the shed? I'd suggest anything up to 1.5m (5ft) wide and high is probably as big as you want to go. Also consider how you'll get the mature compost out once it's ready. You may be better off pulling the shed apart and then constructing a compost bin from the salvaged wood."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 9 April 2020
"Thanks Ben. The shed is 6ft long by 3ft wide, so it would make a large compost bin! I like to aim big! We could half the height and see if that works, thanks for the advice! "
Hannah on Thursday 9 April 2020
"No problem Hannah. Yes, I think making it half the height would certainly make it more manageable. Happy composting!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 9 April 2020
"Hi I’m about to make one of these but only have room for one I am a little confused how you get compost if you keep adding stuff on top and how often do you have to turn it. We live in a warm country and have a lot of kitchen waste. Many thanks in advance"
Julie on Sunday 26 April 2020
"Hi Julie. You would just keep adding stuff on top. The material towards the bottom would be more mature and eventually turn into compost. The material towards the top will not have broken down by this point. So the answer is to dig the whole lot out and gather up the compost, then return the not-quite-broken-down material back into the bin as your new bottom layer. It's a bit of hard graft but very satisfying given the haul of compost you'll be harvesting. You'll find the material collapses down with time, so it may be some time before you get round to harvesting the compost. The heap shouldn't really need turning, but you can get in there and give it a 'stir' with a border fork or similar every now and then (maybe one a month) just to speed things along a little."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 27 April 2020
"Is there any harm in drilling holes in the thicker parts of the pallets to make homes for solitary bees?"
Ian on Thursday 28 May 2020
"Hi Ian. No, that would be absolutely fine. Just bear in mind, though that this may ever so slightly shorten the lift of the compost bin, in that the wood will be a bit thinner at this point. But to be honest I expect the difference in lifespan would be negligible, and what you suggest is a great way to add more habitat for solitary bees."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 1 June 2020
"I'm limited on space and already use a plastic bio compost bin. It takes so long for the compost to become ready/broken down. Especially, when you keep adding new stuff into it. Your pallet system is a good idea, but it takes up too much space. How about the idea of having a vertical three-layer system- each layer has a divider piece of wood and a small section, about ¼ of the wood, is cut out. On the top layer, chicken wire would be stapled into the cut out area, and then the cut out wood could be slid back in to cover that opening. The next layer would use hardware cloth that has smaller holes. There could be a vertical hinged door to access all the layers to mix the ingredients around if needed; slide out the pieces of wood to push the "ready for next step" compost through the wire; and to easily get to the finish compost at the bottom. Would this work?"
Loulouzinha on Wednesday 19 August 2020
"What a good idea! This may work. The only thing I would caution is that compost bins need a good volume to them, to insulate the heart of the compost ingredients inside. This way the heat will be maintained and decomposition will be a lot faster and more effective."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 19 August 2020
"Brilliant comments here. I was thinking of starting a compost with pallets. Just wondering, do I need to dig up the grass I sit it on or can I just create it and pop it on top of the grass directly? "
Phil on Wednesday 18 November 2020
"You can just pop it straight onto the grass Phil, no worries."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 18 November 2020
"Hi Ben What a great amount of useful advice. I am removing a greenhouse which has large concrete slabs at its base. I want to put a double pallet style compost bin in its place. Do I have to remove the concrete slabs - will they harm the process ?"
Roger Ing on Monday 30 November 2020
"Not at all. You can just leave those in place. Somehow the worms will find their way into the compost bin, don't worry."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 30 November 2020

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