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Step-by-Step Guide with Photos ~ Homestead and Chill

Making your own compost is a fantastic way to reduce waste, and create free natural fertilizer for your garden! If you’re interested in setting up a new compost pile, you’ve come to the right place. This tutorial will walk you through the step-by-step process we took to build a compost bin – including the supplies needed, our DIY compost bin design and plans, and tons of photos to guide you along the way. There is a condensed printable version at the end of this post too!

We’ve been composting for over a decade using a variety of smaller systems. Yet the recent addition of four mini-donkeys to our homestead motivated us to finally build the big 3-bay compost bin of our dreams. They generate a lot of manure, which will make stellar compost!

Once we came up with the design, it was quite simple to build the compost bin… so we’ve already done the hardest part for you! It reminded me a lot of building a raised garden bed since we used many similar materials and steps. Even if you don’t follow our exact design, I hope you find this helpful as a general guide and inspiration!

DeannaCat is kneeling next to a mini donkey name Winnie, beyond is the completed 3 bay compost bin system. The left and middle bay are at various stages of being filled. DeannaCat is kneeling next to a mini donkey name Winnie, beyond is the completed 3 bay compost bin system. The left and middle bay are at various stages of being filled.
We had to design our compost bin with these little stinkers in mind – our newly adopted mini donkeys.

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The Best Compost Bin Size

Compost bins come in many shapes, sizes, and styles. On our homestead, we use everything from a compact worm bin and compost tumblers to large 3-bay compost bins. 

To make a traditional passive or slow compost pile, it’s best to provide at least a three-by-three foot space. Yet for optimal microbial activity and decomposition, a compost pile should be at least 4x4x4 feet. That allows for enough material to be piled up to make a hot compost pile too, which is what we plan to do!

If space allows, it’s ideal to provide an area for several piles (usually separated by walls or “bays”) so that the compost can be rotated and turned. A classic 3-bay compost system includes one section to actively add fresh material to, one section that’s regularly being turned but not added to, and a final section to hold finished compost – ready and waiting to use in your garden. 

In today’s lesson we’ll build a compost bin with 3 bays, though you can tweak this tutorial to make just a single bay, two-bay, or smaller 3-bay compost bin as well. We used to have just a single bin at our old urban homestead – and it did the job! 

A single bay compost bin made of a pallet and 2x4 boards is halfway filled with decomposing food waste and straw. A compost tumbler is next to the bin to show a variety of ways to compost. A single bay compost bin made of a pallet and 2x4 boards is halfway filled with decomposing food waste and straw. A compost tumbler is next to the bin to show a variety of ways to compost.
Our compost tumbler and old single-bay compost bin at our previous homestead. In the single bay bin, we had to make compost in batches, turn the pile in place, and then wait for everything to break down before starting over again.
A diagram of a three bin composting system. You start with green and brown material in one bin and slowly move it through the cycle of bins depending on the stage of decomposition. Once it gets to bin three it should be finished compost. A diagram of a three bin composting system. You start with green and brown material in one bin and slowly move it through the cycle of bins depending on the stage of decomposition. Once it gets to bin three it should be finished compost.

Our New Compost Bin Plans and Design

Below are photos and drawings of our 3-bay compost design. The compost bin features three 4x4x4 bays, and takes up a total footprint of about 12×4 feet. I’ve also included a bonus drawing of a second simplified compost bin design that you could use if you prefer (yet note the lumber dimensions and instructions will vary slightly).

Our compost bin design features removable face boards that can be added via tracks or slots along the frontside of each bay. By doing so, you can pile up the compost nice and high rather than letting it spill out the otherwise open front side. This helps maximize the use and capacity of the compost bin, and is also optimal for speedy decomposition and hot composting!

A three bay compost bin constructed of wood 4x4's and 2x6's has been lined with hardware cloth. The first two bins are at varying stages of being filled while the third bay is still empty. Build a compost bin to create quality compost for your garden and trees. A three bay compost bin constructed of wood 4x4's and 2x6's has been lined with hardware cloth. The first two bins are at varying stages of being filled while the third bay is still empty. Build a compost bin to create quality compost for your garden and trees.
A slight angle view of a three bay compost bin constructed of wood 4x4's and 2x6's has been lined with hardware cloth. The first two bins are at varying stages of being filled while the third bay is still empty.A slight angle view of a three bay compost bin constructed of wood 4x4's and 2x6's has been lined with hardware cloth. The first two bins are at varying stages of being filled while the third bay is still empty.
The 3 bay compost bin design drawn out of graph paper, each section has the length and width in inches as well as a color coded key to shown which sized boards were used where. The 3 bay compost bin design drawn out of graph paper, each section has the length and width in inches as well as a color coded key to shown which sized boards were used where.
The exact design we used to build our compost bin, though you can use it as a general idea too! Don’t worry, all the lumber and supplies required are explained in more detail below.
A basic 3 bay system sketch with more general numbers and drawing without a key. A basic 3 bay system sketch with more general numbers and drawing without a key.
Here’s an even more basic 3-bay design, where you’d cut and build all four 4-foot walls the same (like step 3 below) and then simply attach back boards. This design doesn’t require fence rail brackets for the inner walls. You could still add additional wood around the front to create “tracks” for removable face boards like our original design. However, adding face boards will make these bins slightly less than 4 feet deep. TBH, these walls may be a tad more sturdy than our original design.

Donkeys, Gates, and Design Flexibility

Please note that we designed our DIY compost bin with a few very specific needs in mind. In addition to being durable, functional, and attractive, we needed our compost to be donkey-proof! 

Our four 250-pound miniature donkeys LOVE to rub up against wood posts and structures, yet we needed to build the compost bin in their pasture area for easy manure management. So, we chose extra sturdy lumber and also added additional support braces to withstand their rubbing. 

In addition to the removable front wood slats, we also added hinged gates to the front side of each compost bay to keep the donkeys out (which we can also take completely off and on with ease). As a bonus, the gates will deter some other critter activity as well!

That said, we had to ensure the width of each compost bay (or space between the walls) was very precise, since the gates needed to fit on the front side of each. The walls also had to be very straight so the gates could hang square and level. Though they’re fairly light, the gates do put added weight and pressure on the compost bin walls, so I only recommend adding them if necessary.

Since most of you folks won’t have such specific quirks to work around, feel free to be more flexible and creative in your compost bin design and build! For example, it’s not a big deal if your bays aren’t all exactly the same size or perfectly level.

A 3 bay system fully built with small gates attached to the front of each bay. The closes bay has the gate wide open to show the front wood boards as well as the built up compost in the bay itself. A 3 bay system fully built with small gates attached to the front of each bay. The closes bay has the gate wide open to show the front wood boards as well as the built up compost in the bay itself.
Three miniature donkeys  are standing around a partially built wooden frame. One of them is sticking their head through a section in between two boards. Three miniature donkeys  are standing around a partially built wooden frame. One of them is sticking their head through a section in between two boards.
They wouldn’t even let us finish building the compost bin before they started to investigate and rub on it
Four miniature donkeys area long the backside of the almost fully built compost system. The third bay doesn't yet have the gate attached to the front of it. Four miniature donkeys area long the backside of the almost fully built compost system. The third bay doesn't yet have the gate attached to the front of it.
This is fun, thanks Mom and Dad!

Supplies Needed to Build a Compost Bin

Here are the tools and supplies we used to build a compost bin, along with some alternative materials you could use too. See the printable “how-to” at the end of this post for a condensed supplies list and instructions.

Tools

  • Saw
  • Power Drill
  • Level
  • Aviation snips, for cutting hardware cloth
  • Measuring tape

Hardware

  • Longer screws: 2 ½ to 3-inch outdoor wood screws or decking screws to connect the 2x6s (or 2x4s) to the 4×4 corners.
  • Shorter screws: 1-inch or 1-1/4″ wide head cabinet screws to attach the hardware cloth to the 2×6 walls
  • Fence rail brackets (12 total) to connect the 2x6s to the 2x4s on the two interior walls of the compost bin
  • Screws to attach brackets: 1 inch or 1/4″ inch screws – either use the same cabinet screws as above or shorter wood/deck screws
  • Optional: 4 flat corner braces (one for each wall) for added stability.
  • Optional: 4-foot steel tube gates, one for the front of each bay. (The gates come with J-bolt hinges to hang them, but you’ll need a 1/2″ drill bit to make pilot holes for the J-bolts.)

Lumber

  • We used redwood 2×6 lumber to build our compost bin, as we wanted something extra durable and sturdy that will stand the test of time (and donkeys). You could also use 2×4 boards, though you’d want to add an additional horizontal row of boards (four rows instead of three like we did) so take that into account when you’re calculating lumber needs. Redwood is easily accessible here in California, though cedar is another great durable alternative.
  • We chose 8 foot long boards to build our compost bin because a) that’s what fit in our Subaru, and b) it divides up nicely without waste (compared to using 10 ft boards for 4-foot walls for example).
  • In total, we needed eleven 8-foot 2x6s for this compost bin design. However, 12 foot boards would work even better for the backside! That way, you could use three solid 12-foot long boards along the back, plus six 8-foot boards for the walls instead.
  • Four 8-foot 4×4 boards (cut in half) for the corner supports or end of each wall
  • Three 8-foot 2x4s (cut in half) to create the slots that the removable face boards will slide into along the front side of each bin.
  • Removable face boards: 1×12 inch pine wood boards (which really measure ¾” inch thick). Using three per bay, they stack up to create a nice 3-foot tall front wall. We used five 8-foot long boards total, cut roughly in half. Or, use 9 of these four-foot boards and trim them if needed. Wait to measure and cut the boards for each bay until after you build the compost bin!
The cut lumber that will be used to build the compost bin. Each board is laid out in sections depending on the size of each board. From 8 foot 2x6's, to 4 foot 4x4's, and two different lengths of smaller 2x6's. Aaron is standing next to a wheelbarrow that is being used to store extra smaller supplies that will be needed. The cut lumber that will be used to build the compost bin. Each board is laid out in sections depending on the size of each board. From 8 foot 2x6's, to 4 foot 4x4's, and two different lengths of smaller 2x6's. Aaron is standing next to a wheelbarrow that is being used to store extra smaller supplies that will be needed.

Wire Mesh

Compost needs to breathe! To provide adequate airflow, we built our compost bin with minimal wood and lined the walls with hardware cloth instead. You’ll need about 25 to 30 feet of 4-foot wide 1/2″ hardware cloth for our size bin.

Hardware cloth is ideal for a compost bin design for several reasons: a) it stays taught and won’t bend or bow out under the weight of the compost b) the gaps are small enough to hold little bits of compost IN while also keeping vermin OUT, and c) it’s galvanized and won’t rust, so it’ll last forever! 

You could also use chicken wire to build a compost bin, though if you do, I would add more wood slats around the outside to offer additional support. Also keep in mind chicken wire is prone to degrading over time, and vermin can fit through the holes. 

A view of the back of one of the bays that has hardware cloth fully attached along its side. A view of the back of one of the bays that has hardware cloth fully attached along its side.

INSTRUCTIONS

Step 1: Choose a Location + Site Prep

Where to put a compost bin? A compost pile should be located close enough to your garden or house for easy access and use, but not so close to home that potential odors or flies would be an issue. (Though a properly maintained compost pile should not stink!)

The compost bin should also be located on fairly level ground. Since it’s quite large and heavy, we built our compost bin in place and used a landscaping rake to smooth out the ground surface first. You could also construct the smaller side walls on a flat work surface elsewhere, then assemble the compost bin in its final location. 

Finally, it’s best to leave the bottom of the compost bin open to the native soil below (as opposed to adding landscape fabric, wire, or other materials below it). This leaves opportunity for drainage, beneficial microbe exchange, natural earthworm activity, and also makes it easier to turn or scoop out the compost without getting snagged up on something on the bottom.

FAQ: Should a compost pile be in the sun or shade?

A compost pile can be located in either sun or shade, and there are pros and cons to each. A sunny location will help to warm the compost, speeding up decomposition nicely. Yet a lot of sun will also dry out the pile more readily, requiring it to be watered more often as needed. In the shade, the compost will stay nice and moist but will break down slower.

A 3 bay compost bin made of 2x6's and 4x4's that are lined with hardware cloth. There is a welded wire gate attached to the front of each bay to keep out larger animals.A 3 bay compost bin made of 2x6's and 4x4's that are lined with hardware cloth. There is a welded wire gate attached to the front of each bay to keep out larger animals.
Our new compost bin is in a fairly shady location (some morning sun, with afternoon shade) – open to the soil below for drainage, microbial activity, and easy scooping.

Step 2: Measure and Cut Wood

Next, gather all your lumber, take and mark measurements, and cut the boards to the desired size for your DIY compost bin design.

  • Corners: Cut the 4×4 corners to four feet tall (e.g. cut the 8-foot 4x4s in half)
  • Back: If you’re using 12 foot boards, the back wall boards won’t need to be cut at all. Since we used 8 foot boards, we left three of them whole at 8 feet, then cut a couple to create the three additional 4-foot boards needed for the back of bay 3.
  • Walls: Though each bay is about 4×4 feet, we didn’t cut all of the side wall boards exactly to four feet. Because the two interior walls also have the added length of a 4×4 on each end, we cut six eight-foot boards at 51.5 inches that were used for the two end walls (the total depth of the finished compost bin). That left behind 6 pieces that were 44.5 inches to use for the two interior walls – which also equals 51.5 inches once the 4x4s are added to each end (since 4x4s actually measure 3.5 by 3.5 inches). See photo below.
Lumber is laid out neatly stacked on the ground depending on its size.Lumber is laid out neatly stacked on the ground depending on its size.
The inner wall of the system is shown from the backside facing the front. It is in the shape of an upside down "T". The hardware cloth that has been aproned and attached from the inside is shown as well..The inner wall of the system is shown from the backside facing the front. It is in the shape of an upside down
Showing why the inner wall boards are cut a bit shorter than the outer walls in our design, since we sandwiched them between two 4x4s on the ends using fence rail brackets (adding to the total wall length).
The 3 bay compost bin design drawn out of graph paper, each section has the length and width in inches as well as a color coded key to shown which sized boards were used where. The 3 bay compost bin design drawn out of graph paper, each section has the length and width in inches as well as a color coded key to shown which sized boards were used where.

Step 3: Build Compost Bin Outer Walls

  • Begin by building one end or outer wall of the compost bin. For our compost bin design, these were the 51.5” sections.
  • We find it is easiest to lay two 4×4 corner pieces on a flat surface (spaced the width of the wall), then lay the three horizontal 2×6 boards across the 4x4s – one at the top, one at the bottom, and one spaced halfway in between. Keep the ends of the 2×6 flush with the sides of the 4×4. See photos below. 
  • Next, add 2 long screws to the ends of each 2×6, securing them to the 4×4 below.
  • Repeat the same process for the second outer wall. 

TIP: Before securing with screws, check that everything is square using a carpenter square or measuring tape. With a tape, I measure the distance between the 4x4s at both the top and bottom to ensure they’re equal. I also like to help hold everything tight in place while Aaron screws everything in. 

Two 4x4 boards are laid on the ground while three, 2x6 boards are connected on each end to each of the 4x4 boards which creates one of the walls for the system. Two 4x4 boards are laid on the ground while three, 2x6 boards are connected on each end to each of the 4x4 boards which creates one of the walls for the system.
One of the complete walls is shown. Two 4x4's lay on the ground, one on each end while three 2x6 boards are attached horizontally to the 4x4 boards which are at each end. One of the complete walls is shown. Two 4x4's lay on the ground, one on each end while three 2x6 boards are attached horizontally to the 4x4 boards which are at each end.
Everything square, 2 screws at the end of each 2×6.

Step 4: Install Back

  • Once you have the two end walls of the compost bin assembled, stand them up and add the long boards along the back to create a giant U-shape. Try to set everything up where you want it to stay long term, as the compost bin will get heavier and more difficult to move the more you add to it.
  • It’s important to keep the 2x6s on the outside of the bin, with the 4×4 corners facing the inside of the bin. (The 4x4s provide part of the lip or edge that the removable front boards will tuck into.) Also check that the walls and back boards are relatively level as you go – front to back, and side to side.
  • Again, this part is extra easy using 12 foot boards. Simply add the 12 foot boards between each end wall, securing them to the corner 4x4s. 
  • Since we built our compost bin with 8 foot boards instead, we had to construct the backside in sections by connecting 8 foot boards and 4 foot boards together in the middle with an additional 4×4 to create the total 12 feet. (That additional 4×4 will become the base for one center wall)
Aaron is holding one of the completed walls upright while the bottom has an 8 foot 2x6 board attached to the backside which will be the start of the back wall. Aaron is holding one of the completed walls upright while the bottom has an 8 foot 2x6 board attached to the backside which will be the start of the back wall.
A partially built 3 bay compost bin, each of the two outer walls are constructed and connected to the lower 2x6 boards that will be the backside of the bin. One of the 4x4's along the back wall is connected to the two sections of 2x6 boards along the back wall as well. A partially built 3 bay compost bin, each of the two outer walls are constructed and connected to the lower 2x6 boards that will be the backside of the bin. One of the 4x4's along the back wall is connected to the two sections of 2x6 boards along the back wall as well.
The outer and backside walls of the system are complete and standing upright. The outer and backside walls of the system are complete and standing upright.
The outside of the backside wall is shown to illustrate how two separate 2x6 boards are connected to the same 4x4. The outside of the backside wall is shown to illustrate how two separate 2x6 boards are connected to the same 4x4.
Where the 8 ft and 4 ft boards meet along the backside
The outer corner of the system is shown to illustrate how the walls are connected to the 4x4 boards that are the posts. The outer corner of the system is shown to illustrate how the walls are connected to the 4x4 boards that are the posts.
We kept the back boards flush with the 4×4 corner (rather than overlapping the wall 2x6s) as to not shorten our bins.

Step 5: Add Inner Walls

Next the compost bin needs two interior walls, spaced 4 feet apart. Ours are 43.5″ apart when measuring inside-to-inside of each 4×4, as shown in our design drawing.

If you’d like, you can go ahead to Step 6 and add hardware cloth to the back and side walls first (as you’ll see we did in the photos below), as long as the hardware cloth won’t impede where you’re attaching the two inner walls.

To build the compost bin inner walls, you can either assemble them separately (like the outer walls) and then attach them to the back wall of the bin, or build them onto the back boards in-place. We chose to build them in-place since one of the inner wall 4x4s was already connected to the back. 

Metal brackets that will be used to connect the 2x6 boards to the 4x4 boards for the inner walls are being connected using screws and an impact driver drill. Metal brackets that will be used to connect the 2x6 boards to the 4x4 boards for the inner walls are being connected using screws and an impact driver drill.
Aaron is attaching the middle metal bracket a front 4x4 board for one of the inner walls. The bottom 2x6 board has already been connected to the 4x4 in the front and back wall. Aaron is attaching the middle metal bracket a front 4x4 board for one of the inner walls. The bottom 2x6 board has already been connected to the 4x4 in the front and back wall.
The completed inner wall is shown before hardware cloth is added. The completed inner wall is shown before hardware cloth is added.
We did our best to check level as we assembled each inner wall (keeping them consistent with the outer walls) so the front face boards will move smoothly in their tracks later.
The back wall of the compost system is shown to illustrate how two of the 2x6 boards can be attached to the same 4x4 board along the back wall with each 2x6 taking up half the width of the 4x4. Two screws have been used on each of the 2x6's to attach the board to the 4x4. The back wall of the compost system is shown to illustrate how two of the 2x6 boards can be attached to the same 4x4 board along the back wall with each 2x6 taking up half the width of the 4x4. Two screws have been used on each of the 2x6's to attach the board to the 4x4.

Step 6: Add Hardware Cloth

  • After building the compost bin frame, it’s time to add mesh wire (hardware cloth) along the inside of the walls and back.
  • Be careful when working with hardware cloth – it can easily scratch and poke you!
  • Rather than wrapping an entire bay in hardware cloth at once, we found it was easiest to measure, cut, and attach the hardware cloth to each wall one-by-one.
  • It’s fine to overlap the hardware cloth onto the 4x4s along the back wall and corners, but keep it flush with the 4×4 on the front side so extra hardware cloth won’t block the slot where the removable front boards will go. See photos below.
  • Secure the hardware cloth to the wood using 1” cabinet screws, pinching a corner section of the wire mesh under the wide head of the screw. Add screws in several places.

TIP: Since hardware cloth tends to bubble, I found it was easiest to hold the cut piece of hardware cloth in place, straight and centered on the wall where we wanted it. Then we secured it with screws along the middle first (one in each wall board) and slowly worked our way out, adding screws from the center towards both corners of the walls, holding or pulling the hardware cloth taught and smooth as we went. 

A close up image of the side wall which shows the hardware cloth slightly aproned onto the 4x4 from the 2x4 walls. A wide head cabinet screw is used to hold the hardware cloth in place A close up image of the side wall which shows the hardware cloth slightly aproned onto the 4x4 from the 2x4 walls. A wide head cabinet screw is used to hold the hardware cloth in place
One of the inner walls is shown from the side to illustrate the metal brackets that were used at the ends of the 2x4's that create the wall which connects them to the front wall 4x4. One of the inner walls is shown from the side to illustrate the metal brackets that were used at the ends of the 2x4's that create the wall which connects them to the front wall 4x4.
Keep the hardware cloth flat, flush and tidy in the front part of the compost bin, as to not impede the track for the removable front boards.
The back corner of one of the bins is shown to illustrate how the hardware cloth was attached to the 4x4 corner from the back and side wall of the bin.The back corner of one of the bins is shown to illustrate how the hardware cloth was attached to the 4x4 corner from the back and side wall of the bin.
On the other hand, it’s okay to slightly “apron” or overlap the hardware cloth in the back corners.
A straight on image of the 3 bay compost system. Build a compost bin if you want to create your own compost for improved soil health. A straight on image of the 3 bay compost system. Build a compost bin if you want to create your own compost for improved soil health.
You only need hardware cloth on one side of each inner wall – no need to line both sides.

Step 7: Removable Face Boards

Now it’s time to create the slots or “tracks” for the removable front boards to slide into.

  • Add a 2×4 vertically to the inner wall of each bay – 2 per bay, or 6 total. See photos below.
  • Use screws to secure each 2×4 vertically about 1 inch to 1.25 inches back from 4×4 at the front of each wall. We used “1-inch” thick face boards, but their true measurement is ¾ thick. The ¼ to ½ inch gap gives us enough wiggle room to easily get the boards in and out (leaving room for any swelling), but without so much extra space that the boards can fall in front or behind one another.
  • Measure to ensure the spacing is fairly straight and even along the entire length between the 2×4 and 4×4 before securing them, so the removable face boards can move smoothly up and down the track.
  • Wait to cut the removable face boards until the compost bin and tracks are completely assembled! Measure and note the length of the front slot for each bay. We found that the width of our bays varied slightly, requiring us to cut custom boards of different lengths to fit each bay (3 per bay). I added a number 1, 2, or 3 to the back of each board to easily keep track.

TIP: When measuring and cutting the face boards, give yourself a little bit of wiggle room. Cut them long enough so they’ll stay tucked into the desired track, but not so long that they’ll be tight and difficult to get in and out.

One of the inner and far walls of the system showing the front slat that was created by adding a 2x4 board and inch or so away from the front 4x4 board of the wall. The slat will be used to add front boards to create a front wall if needed. One of the inner and far walls of the system showing the front slat that was created by adding a 2x4 board and inch or so away from the front 4x4 board of the wall. The slat will be used to add front boards to create a front wall if needed.
A two way image collage showing the space that was created for front boards that can be added. The first image shows a hand with their fingers inserted into the slat created in between a 4x4 and 2x4 piece of wood that is close to an inch in diameter and just over in depth. The second image shows another slat that was created on the outside wall, a 4x4 and 2x4 board were still used to create the slat but the outside wall slat is deeper. A two way image collage showing the space that was created for front boards that can be added. The first image shows a hand with their fingers inserted into the slat created in between a 4x4 and 2x4 piece of wood that is close to an inch in diameter and just over in depth. The second image shows another slat that was created on the outside wall, a 4x4 and 2x4 board were still used to create the slat but the outside wall slat is deeper.
The track that the removable front boards will slide into (inner wall on the left, outer wall on the right)
A 3 bay compost bin made of 2x6's and 4x4's that are lined with hardware cloth is constructed in front of a copse of trees. A 3 bay compost bin made of 2x6's and 4x4's that are lined with hardware cloth is constructed in front of a copse of trees.
A blue tarp is laid out  with seven 12x1 inch boards that are around 4 feet wide sit atop the tarp.A blue tarp is laid out  with seven 12x1 inch boards that are around 4 feet wide sit atop the tarp.
Our bay sizes all varied ever-so-slightly, so I waited to measure and cut three face boards per bay until after the compost bin was completely assembled.
A close up image showing the front slot created in the bin using a 4x4 and a 2x4 so face boards can be added as the compost builds in height. A close up image showing the front slot created in the bin using a 4x4 and a 2x4 so face boards can be added as the compost builds in height.
A two part image collage of the slot created in the front of the bin so face boards can be used to keep the compost inside the bay. The first image shows a second board being slid into the slot while a board is already in place below. The second image shows the two face boards in place as well as the slot where the boards fit into between a 4x4 and a 2x4 piece of wood. Using face boards when you build a compost bin will help keep the compost inside the bin so you can build the pile tall. A two part image collage of the slot created in the front of the bin so face boards can be used to keep the compost inside the bay. The first image shows a second board being slid into the slot while a board is already in place below. The second image shows the two face boards in place as well as the slot where the boards fit into between a 4x4 and a 2x4 piece of wood. Using face boards when you build a compost bin will help keep the compost inside the bin so you can build the pile tall.
The perfect fit – stays in place, but isn’t difficult to slide up and down
The first bay of the compost bin is partially full of manure and leaves. The front gate is open and partially visible, there are two face boards inserted into the front of the bay to prevent the manure from falling out of the bin.The first bay of the compost bin is partially full of manure and leaves. The front gate is open and partially visible, there are two face boards inserted into the front of the bay to prevent the manure from falling out of the bin.
As the pile gets higher, we’ll add a 3rd front board on top

Step 8: Finishing Touches

At this point, your new DIY compost bin is basically complete and ready to use! However, we chose to add a few finishing touches to ours.

  • To give the walls added stability (for the donkeys), we added an 8” flat corner brace to the top of each wall – or four total.
  • We also installed lightweight 4-foot Behlen Country steel tube gates on the front of each bay.
    They’re secured closed to the 4x4s with a simple eye hook and carabiner type latch. If you’ve never hung gates on J-bolts before, I highly recommend watching this tutorial. However, we installed the J-bolts straight out of the front of the 4×4, not on the sides. We also kept both J-bolts facing UP intentionally, so we could easily lift and take the gates off if needed – such as when we’re turning the piles from one bay to the next.
  • For added vermin and pest protection (if needed), you could also build and attach a hinged lid on top of each bay, such as with wood and hardware cloth. 
  • I also chose to stain the pine front boards (outward facing side only) to help the light wood blend in better with the overall design. 
A two part image collage on optional additions when you build a compost bin. The first image shows an inside wall with an 8 inch L bracket attached to each of the top of the side wall and the back wall. The second image shows an 8 inch L bracket attached to the top of the outside corner and back of the compost bin to offer extra support and durability. A two part image collage on optional additions when you build a compost bin. The first image shows an inside wall with an 8 inch L bracket attached to each of the top of the side wall and the back wall. The second image shows an 8 inch L bracket attached to the top of the outside corner and back of the compost bin to offer extra support and durability.
Optional corner braces for each wall
A 3 bay compost bin made of 2x6's and 4x4's that are lined with hardware cloth. There is a welded wire gate attached to the front of each bay to keep out larger animals.A 3 bay compost bin made of 2x6's and 4x4's that are lined with hardware cloth. There is a welded wire gate attached to the front of each bay to keep out larger animals.
We hung the gate hinges on both outer walls and just one inner wall to reduce the weight burden on the less sturdy inner walls.
An inside 4x4 of one of the compost bin walls is shown, a latch is keeping one gate closed with an eye hook and just below that is a j bolt which secures the gate in the other bay to the same 4x4. Build a compost bin with a variety of materials that fit your specific needs. An inside 4x4 of one of the compost bin walls is shown, a latch is keeping one gate closed with an eye hook and just below that is a j bolt which secures the gate in the other bay to the same 4x4. Build a compost bin with a variety of materials that fit your specific needs.
Simple clasp to an eyehook to keep them closed
The front area of a compost bay is shown as DeannaCat is lifting off the front gate from its j bolts. Beyond are a few face boards to keep the compost inside the bin which is piled up even above the front board. The front area of a compost bay is shown as DeannaCat is lifting off the front gate from its j bolts. Beyond are a few face boards to keep the compost inside the bin which is piled up even above the front board.
By keeping both J-bolts facing up, we can easily lift the gates off completely when needed

And that’s how it’s done.

That, my friends, is how we built our new compost bin. I know that was probably a lot to take in, but I sure hope the added details and photos made it easier to understand! Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments and we’d be happy to help.

Next, you may be wondering… how do I actually USE this thing? I promise I will follow up soon with a guide on how to use a 3-bay compost bin, along with how to make a hot compost pile. In the meantime, don’t miss the related articles listed below. Also please consider sharing or pinning this post if you found it useful, and leave a review! Thank you so much for reading. Happy composting!

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How to Build a Compost Bin (Wood 3-Bay Compost Bin Design)

Come learn how to build a compost bin with our step-by-step guide to make a wood 3-bay compost bin design, full of helpful tips and photos.

Lumber

  • 11 pieces 8-foot 2×6 boards (or three 12-foot boards + six 8-foot boards)
  • 4 pieces 8-foot 4x4s
  • 3 pieces 8-foot 2x4s
  • 5 pieces 8-foot 1×12 boards (or nine 4-foot long 1x12s)

Step 1: Select and Prep Site

  • Choose a location that is fairly level, preferably near the garden (if you have one).

  • Sun or shade is fine. Sun = speeds up decomposition but will dry out more. Shade = will stay more moist but break down slower.

  • Leave the bottom of the compost pile open to the native soil below. Remove any debris and level the ground some if needed.

Step 2: Measure and Cut Wood

  • Corners: Cut the four 8-foot 4x4s in half, to create eight 4-foot long corner pieces.

  • Walls: Cut six 8-foot 2×6″ boards at 51.5 inches, which will create six 51.5″ boards fo for the exterior walls, and leave size 44.5″ boards for the interior walls (since 51..5+44/5 = 96 inches or eight feet).

  • Back: Leave three 8-foot 2x6s for the back, and cut two 2×6 boards at 48″ to get the additional three 4-foot boards you’ll need to finish the 12-foot long back. OR, simply use three solid 12-foot long 2×6 boards.

  • Front wall slats: Cut three 8-foot 2x4s in half to create the “tracks” for the face boards, but WAIT to measure and cut the 1×12″ removable face boards until after the compost bin is fully assembled.

Step 3: Assemble Exterior Walls

  • Lay two four-foot 4x4s parallel on a flat work surface, then place three 51.5″ 2x6s on top in the opposite direction: one across the top, one at the bottom, and one halfway in the middle.

  • Keeping everything square and the ends of the 2×6 boards flush with the side of the 4x4s, add two long decking screws to each of each 2×6 to secure in place.

  • Repeat for the second exterior wall.

Step 4: Add Back to Exterior Walls

Step 5: Build and Add Interior Walls

Step 6: Add Hardware Cloth

Step 7: Removable Face Boards

Step 8: Optional Finishing Touches

DeannaCat signature, keep on growing.DeannaCat signature, keep on growing.

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