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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As you might have guessed, here at WasteWell, we’re a good bunch of self-proclaimed composting nerds.
We love all things composting and all its environmental benefits. While we provide curbside composting services to those who live in our neck of the woods, we also strive to help people everywhere have greater access to composting.
We’re not partial to the way you compost at home. There are so many ways to compost and each has its pros and cons for various types of lifestyles and home environments. We know that upcycled rain barrels and old garbage cans make perfect compost bins, especially if they sit directly on the soil. Electric composters are great for small spaces, and curbside composting works for anyone who doesn’t have the time, resources, ability, or interest to do it themselves.
However, if you’re the handy type, a DIY wooden pallet compost bin might be right up your alley. These bins offer good capacity for garden remnants, weeds, and all the cardboard that makes its way into your house.
Our founder set out to build a simple DIY zero waste compost bin from repurposed materials to create more composting space in her yard. Tutorials on YouTube abound showing how to build a DIY compost bin made from pallets. Some are fancier or prettier than others. She 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, she started to gather materials for the project including wood pallets, screws and nails, some chicken wire, a good drill, and a staple gun.
Repurposed Wooden Pallets
You can get repurposed wooden pallets from a variety of places. Ask around at big box stores, hardware stores, or grocery stores to see if they have extra pallets to offload. They receive many of their products on them. Alternatively, a friend who works in construction might have access to some unused pallets as well.
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
You don’t need chicken wire to make a wooden pallet compost bin, but it will really help keep all the pile matter contained and heating up. Our founder used pieces of chicken wire from a previous project to make the most of what she already had available.
Some of the sheets of chicken wire were attached to wooden stakes but she didn’t bother cleaning it up to look pretty. It’s your call on how important the aesthetics of your compost bin are, but it doesn’t have to be perfectly beautiful. It’s a pile of waste, after all.
If you have a drill, great! If not, ask a neighbor to borrow their drill. A simple drill may not be strong enough to get through the pallet, so you may need a more powerful drill.
If you don’t have a ton of tools, find a neighbor who is handy and has lots of tools. Instead of buying every new tool you might need once or twice, consider borrowing it. Return it with a plate of cookies or a bottle of liquor (depending on their preference). It’s a great way to reduce waste, save money, and build a little neighborly community.
Miscellaneous Screws and a Borrowed Staple Gun
You’ll need some screws to attach the pallets together. You can use what you have on hand, so long as they are long enough to go through one pallet to the next. A staple gun and staples connect the chicken wire to the pallets if you choose to use the chicken wire.
So Simple Just About Anyone Can Do It
Our founder is not exactly the handiest person we know. She likes the idea of using power tools, but has little experience working with them. This project was so easy, even she managed to complete it in just a couple of hours with essentially no previous experience building things like this. What we’re saying is… if she can do it, you can do it.
Making a compost bin out of pallets is really simple, so long as you’re not too concerned about precision. The finished product works great, and that’s all that matters. The worms and microorganisms doing all the hard work to turn your trash into treasure don’t care one iota if your screws match or if the pallets are the same size.
Truth be told, it’s pretty empowering to learn to use power tools and build confidence in construction skills. These DIY wooden pallet compost bins are far from perfect, but they are exceptionally effective and proof that one 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. We’ll leave the advanced pallet compost bin DIY tutorials to the construction experts. But know that it’s perfectly okay if your DIY compost bin is good enough but far from perfect.
The wooden pallets our founder repurposed to make my DIY pallet compost bins were of varying sizes. Most YouTube tutorials would probably advise against such mismatched aesthetics. But we’re all about reducing waste and using things you already had on hand to make my DIY wooden pallet compost bin. You have our permission to make your compost bin without purchasing fancy new tools or materials.
If you’re looking for a bare-bones, zero waste DIY pallet compost bin tutorial, we’ve shared all the steps below. It’s not fancy, but it definitely works. The ones in the photo below have been in action for over a year, and they’re still going strong.
- 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. We 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. 🙂
DIY Wooden Pallet Compost Bin FAQ
We’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 we’ll do our 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.
In short, you can put food scraps in a pallet compost bin, but it might be harder to manage than you bargain for.
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.
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
We love to close the loop and return the nutrients from plants back into the soil (duh… that’s kind of our M.O.). We use the finished compost to nourish our own fruit and vegetable gardens at home and also support larger operations to use finished compost on local farms and in community gardens.
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 have a growing series of articles about common questions related to composting at home. We also have a nifty interactive tool that helps you figure out what you can compost at home (or in our WasteWell buckets).