Looking to build a simple wooden pallet compost bin? Read on for some really easy instructions to build a pallet compost bin with repurposed materials for free!
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If you’ve been around the blog for a hot second, you know I’m a self-proclaimed composting nerd. If not, welcome! I’m so glad you’re here.
I love everything about composting and all its environmental benefits. Since moving into our house four years ago, we’ve used the upcycled rain barrel left by the previous owners as our compost bin. They removed the bottom so it sits directly on the soil, and it’s been a really effective way to contain a pile and help it stay hot.
We have a fairly large yard and also a sizeable garden. I wanted more composting capacity for garden remnants, weeds, and all the cardboard that makes its way into our house. I set out to build simple DIY zero waste compost bins from repurposed materials to create more composting space in our yard.
Tutorials on YouTube abound showing how to build a DIY compost bin made from pallets. Some are fancier or prettier than others. I was most concerned about keeping costs low and repurposing as many materials as possible.
Gathering Supplies For A DIY Wood Pallet Compost Bin
After watching a handful of YouTube videos to get an idea of how to build a low waste compost bin out of pallets, I started to gather materials for the project. I needed wood pallets, screws and nails, some chicken wire, a good drill, and a staple gun.
Repurposed Wooden Pallets
When we first moved into this house, we did some significant renovations. I pulled three pallets from the dumpster (or rather, asked my father-in-law to take them out) during those renovations and saved them in our shed for a future project. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with them at the time, but Pinterest has so many cool upcycled palette DIY projects that I couldn’t bear to see them go to waste.
I needed more than three pallets for this project, so I got two more pallets from a friend who had them on hand. If you can’t get them from a friend, it might be worth asking a hardware or grocery store if they have any extra pallets. They receive many of their products on them. Alternatively, a friend who works in construction might have access to some unused pallets as well.
Last but not least, don’t forget about sourcing materials from places like Buy Nothing groups, “free” postings on Facebook Marketplace, or Nextdoor. If people have extra supplies like wooden pallets, they’re often more than happy to pass them along to someone who can use them! It’s worth asking.
For safety purposes, be sure to use wooden pallets that are heat-treated and not chemically treated. You will see a marking on them noting “HT” which indicates they are heat-treated. The wooden pallets will break down over time, and you don’t want the chemicals from the chemical treatment in your finished compost.
Repurposed Chicken Wire
We had a bunch of chicken wire from garden projects. The previous owners of our house also left a few pieces of chicken wire in the shed. Some of the sheets of chicken wire were attached to wooden stakes, but I just attached those right to the wooden pallets and didn’t bother cleaning it up to look pretty. I think the stakes actually help make it a bit stronger and keep the chicken wire attached to the wooden pallets anyway.
We have a drill, but it’s not a particularly strong one. I ended up asking a neighbor to borrow their more powerful drill to get the screws through the pallets to keep them together.
We don’t have a ton of tools, but we have a few neighbors who are very handy and have lots of tools. Instead of buying every new tool you might need once or twice, consider borrowing from a neighbor. We usually return it with a plate of cookies or a bottle of liquor (depending on their preference). Worst case, if we do break it, we’ll buy them a new one, which would have happened anyway had we not borrowed it.
Miscellaneous Screws and a Borrowed Staple Gun
We had myriad screws hanging around our house, and we borrowed the staple gun and staples from my father-in-law. Not all the screws matched. But again, I didn’t really care. I intended to make a functional set of wooden compost bins and wasn’t trying to win an award for aesthetics. I just wanted to keep my project as low waste as possible.
So Simple Just About Anyone Can Do It
My handywoman skills are pretty slim. I like the idea of using power tools, but I have very little experience working with them. This project was so easy I managed to complete it in just a couple of hours with essentially no previous experience building things like this.
Making a compost bin out of pallets is really simple, so long as you’re not too concerned about precision. I was ok with a few wonky screws, a mishap with a couple of nails, and imperfection at every corner. The finished product works great, and that’s all that mattered to me. If you’re ok with something functional but not fancy, you can probably do this too!
Truth be told, it’s pretty empowering to learn to use power tools and build confidence in my construction skills. These DIY wooden pallet compost bins are far from perfect, but they are exceptionally effective and proof that I can be resourceful and learn new skills.
How To Build A Compost Bin From Pallets
There are lots of great tutorials online to follow if you want to make your own DIY wooden pallet compost bin with repurposed wooden pallets that are symmetric and gorgeous and fancy. I’ll leave the advanced pallet compost bin DIY tutorials to the experts. But know that it’s perfectly okay if your DIY compost bin is good enough but far from perfect.
The wooden pallets I repurposed to make my DIY pallet compost bins were of varying sizes. Most YouTube tutorials would probably advise against such mismatched aesthetics. I was more concerned about reducing waste and using things I already had on hand to make my DIY wooden pallet compost bin. I purchased no new tools or materials and left zero waste in my wake.
If you’re looking for a bare-bones, zero waste DIY pallet compost bin tutorial, I’ve shared all the steps I took to build ours below. It’s not fancy, but it definitely works. We’ve been using ours for about six months now, and it’s a great contained space to mix greens and browns with oxygen and water to create lovely finished compost.
- 3 wooden pallets
- 5-7 feet of chicken wire
- 12 - 15 screws, at least 2 1/2" - 3" long
- Drill + drill bit
- Staple gun and staples
- Wire cutter
- Find a flat area where the wooden pallet compost bin can stand.
- Position two wooden pallets standing perpendicular to each other that will create the right side and the back of the compost bin. I prefer to have the slats horizontal, but you can put the slats either horizontal or vertical.
- Drill 3-5 holes along the corner edge where the pallets touch, about evenly spaced from top to bottom.
- Drill screws into each hole to connect the two pallets.
- Repeat steps 2-4 with the third pallet aligned along the left (to create the left wall of the compost bin) and matched up with the opposite edge of the back pallet.
- Using the staple gun, staple the chicken wire along the inside of the compost bin. Start by aligning the left edge of the chicken wire with the left pallet wall of the compost bin. Work around to the back wall of the compost bin and then to the right wall, stapling when needed as you move along the inside walls to attach the chicken wire to the compost bin interior walls.
- If needed, trim any extra chicken wire with a wire cutter so it does not extend past the front edges of the compost bin.
Note 1: The instructions above are for a single wooden pallet compost bin with one bay. If you'd like to make multiple bins, you'll need two extra pallets per bay. Follow steps 2-4 for each additional bay in your pallet compost system and then add chicken wire to each bay as described in step 5.
Note 2: Building a wooden pallet compost bin does not have to be a particularly precise project. The instructions above provide general guidelines. We used different sized pallets based on what was available for free to us, added an extra screw or two as needed based on how the pallets aligned in each corner, and used chicken wire we had available to line as much of the inside of the bin as possible. The pallets are only holding the compost pile in place and helping to keep it loosely contained. Don't stress over perfection. 🙂
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DeWalt ATOMIC 20-Volt MAX Cordless Brushless Compact 1/4 in. Impact Driver, (1) 20-Volt 1.3Ah Battery, Charger & Bag
Arrow T50 Heavy Duty Staple Gun
Arrow T50 Type 3/8 in. Leg x 3/8 in. Crown Galvanized Steel Staples (1,250-Pack)
Everbilt 1 in. x 2 ft. x 25 ft. Chicken Wire
Grip-Rite #8 x 3 in. Philips Bugle-Head Coarse Thread Wood Screws (1 lb./Pack)
DIY Wooden Pallet Compost Bin FAQ
I’ve included some additional answers to question you might have about building a wooden pallet compost bin. If you have any other questions, be sure to leave them in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
How Do You Use A Wooden Pallet Compost Bin?
After building your wooden pallet compost bin, layer organic matter into the bin. Mix “greens” (like plant matter and grass clippings) and “browns” (like dried leaves, sawdust, and cardboard) on top of each other. Check out this post for more on greens vs browns ratios.
You can turn the pile if you choose. The more you turn the pile, the faster matter will decompose and become finished compost. You can also leave the matter to decompose on its own. While it takes longer (six months to a year typically), it also requires much less work and many people prefer to let nature take its course. It’s a personal preference to weigh how much effort you wish to put forth and how quickly you need the finished compost to be ready for your gardens.
Can You Add Food Scraps To A Pallet Compost Bin?
You can, but composter beware. A pallet compost bin is very open to wildlife. Kitchen food scraps can turn an open compost bin into a critter buffet. If you cover food scraps with dirt or in-process compost, you may be able to cover the smell of food when it first decomposes in the compost bin and avoid curious critters checking out your leftovers. This has worked well for us in compost bins that are mostly enclosed.
Our pallet compost bins, however, became a haven for wildlife when we added food scraps to the mix. Animals snack on the food scraps at night. They burrow in the buffets for warmth in the winter as the piles heat up on cold nights. The piles attracted so many animals, in fact, that we struggled to keep sufficient greens in the pile for adequate composting.
Today, we put our food scraps in an enclosed bin or a Subpod. We also use an electric composter sometimes and can add the output from this process to the compost bin without any issues.
Are Pallets Safe For A Compost Bin?
It depends on the type of wooden pallet that you use to create your pallet compost bin. Some wooden pallets are heat-treated while others are pressure-treated and may contain chemicals used in the treatment process. The chemicals are released into the compost as the pallets inevitably break down over time.
Look for pallets stamped with “HT” to ensure they are heat-treated. Those will be great for wooden pallet compost bins and will not have chemicals in them to contaminate your finished compost.
Do You Need Special Wooden Pallets For A Pallet Compost Bin?
Aside from the consideration above to use heat-treated wooden pallets, there are no special requirements about size or structure to create a wooden pallet compost bin. If you have a strong preference for the aesthetic appearance of your compost bin, you may prefer pallets that are the same size or have no broken slats.
I wasn’t too concerned about the pallet compost bin being pretty, especially because it lives in my backyard. We used different size pallets and pieced them together as best we could. All of the pallets were repurposed and a couple of them had broken slats or different numbers of slats. Especially once we lined the inside of the bins with chicken wire, it really didn’t matter.
Do Wooden Compost Bins Rot?
Eventually, a pallet compost bin will rot. Wood is an organic material that will break down over time. That’s why it’s important not to use pressure-treated or chemically-treated wooden pallets for your bin. However, it will take several years for the wooden compost bin to rot, so you have many years of use before you need to restore it or build a new one.
Additionally, if you line the inside of the compost bin with chicken wire to help keep the decomposing organic matter away from the wooden pallets, it should help the pallet compost bin last longer and rot more slowly.
Does A Wooden Compost Bin Need A Lid?
Nope! A compost pile does not need to be covered, whether it’s in a plastic bin, a wooden pallet bin, or any open pile. A cover can help keep finished compost dry, particularly if you live in an area with a lot of rain. A cover can also help compost stay warm and process faster in colder climates. However, a cover is not necessary for a compost bin (and we don’t have covers on any of ours).
Can I Build A Wooden Pallet Compost Bin On Grass?
Yep! There’s no need to pull up sod to create a compost bin. Set your wooden pallet bin right on the grass and start piling up your organic waste. The grass will break down and eventually become part of the compost pile. The worms and other microbes will make their way up from the soil into the compost bin to help break down all the organic matter into lovely finished compost.
Returning Nutrients To The Soil In Our Own Yard
I’m excited to close the loop and return the nutrients from plants in our yard back to more raised beds and garden spaces. We will use the finished compost to nourish our own fruit and vegetable gardens and the orchard I hope to have in our yard someday. We have several beds of annual vegetables that I plant each year as well as one apple tree, a peach tree, and a handful of berry bushes. Hopefully, it’s the beginning of something much more robust.
Composting is such an important component of environmental well-being and healing. Composting is easier than you think, definitely doesn’t stink, and returns so many nutrients to our soil on the path to a healthier planet. Have you built a DIY compost bin from repurposed wood pallets? Was it fancy or functional or both?
Learn More About Composting At Home
If you want to learn more about composting, we’ve created a huge series of articles about common questions related to composting at home. We also have a recurring interview series called Bring Your Trash To Life in which we interview everyday families who compost at home to see how they do it.