I’ve had a long-running battle with countertop compost bins: too big, too small, too tall, too ugly, hard to wash, heavy to maneuver; it doesn’t seem like it should be this hard, does it? I’ve tried many different approaches, from the classic fireplug version, to a Tupperware bin, an antique pickle crock, a mixing bowl & kitchen towel. They all have their issues.
My biggest issue with most commercial compost bins is the shape: why tall & narrow? It doesn’t make any sense to me. Food scraps get quickly buried at the bottom of the bin, which means that air can’t access the scraps on the bottom and they get very wet and very smelly, very quickly. (Those little carbon-filter pads designed to absorb odors do nothing, in my opinion). Then you need to empty the bin before it’s even full, and scrub out the nastiness before using it again.
My other big issue? Could they be more ugly? Who decided that “fireplug” was the be-all end-all in kitchen compost bin design? Or the ever-popular, “I know! We’ll make it look like a teeny-tiny plastic trash barrel that sits on the counter!” Really, kitchen designers? Really?
And then I saw the Noaway Bin in food52’s Provisions shop. A beautiful walnut box with a lightweight, stainless steel, long-and-shallow insert to hold the compost. Swoon. The only problem? $129. I don’t think even I could rationalize a $130 compost bin, salvaged walnut or not. I went directly to the source, Cliff Spenser Furniture: nope. Still $129 (as well as the equally lovely Tigger version for $149. Gulp.) So, I drifted away, with a sigh, and continued to use my ugly fireplug bin.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about the Noaway. I kept going back to look at it (maybe it’ll go on sale, she thinks, oh-so-optimistically) and asking Tai things like, “You know those stainless steel pans that they use in salad bars? What are those called?” and, “If I wanted a simple wooden box, say 13″ X 7″ X 6″, could you make one?” And so it came to pass: I found an insert pan of the appropriate size on Amazon (after much searching for “bain-marie” which gave me only sites in Canada & Australia, harrumph), and when Home Depot failed to have any interesting wood, found an online source for pre-cut planks of walnut at Ocooch Hardwoods. We measured and measured and measured again, then Tai borrowed our friend Kathy’s table saw and put his mad woodworking skillz to work, and hey! presto!: DIY walnut countertop compost bin.
Since, at the end of the day, it was relatively easy to put together (well, especially easy for me, since I didn’t do anything other than order supplies <cough>), I thought I’d share the details here. Keep in mind, this is still a rather extravagant compost bin: the steam table insert ran me about $20 and the wood was $39. However, quite a bit of that was shipping costs: if you have the time and inclination to head to a restaurant supply store for the insert and a lumber yard for some wood, you could bring it in much more economically, I’m sure. What I will say is that is was totally worth the effort of tracking down the supplies and I owe a huge thank you to Handyman Husband Tai for building the box: I love, love, love this compost bin. It sits on the counter looking sleek and lovely, it’s easy to empty and wash, it stays drier and odor-free for longer than my other bins, and it hangs out conveniently right next to the big cutting board on the counter. I thought that the last thing I would want in this kitchen is more(!) wood, but: walnut compost bin, I’m in love.
- 1 stainless steel steam table insert pan, third size, with lid
- 2 planks walnut (or other hardwood), ¾” thick X 8″ wide X 24″ long
- finishing nails or wood glue to join corners
- fine-grit sandpaper
- beeswax + walnut oil for finishing rub
- table saw (or a friend with one!)
- someone who actually knows how to use a table saw
- tape measure
- 2 end pieces, 7 ½” wide at widest point by 6 ¾” tall, with beveled edges at left and right
- 2 side pieces, 13 ½” wide at widest point by 6 ¾” tall, with beveled edges at left and right
- 2 bottom support pieces, 6 ⅜” wide by 2″ long, no beveling (optional)
- Measure your insert bin and determine the optimal size of your box. While the inserts are a standard size, and as such our measurements above should work for you, you should always double-check and trust your own measurements if something seems hinky. Decide if you want bottom support pieces or not. Tai would tell you that they are definitely necessary: I’m not so sure, though my box is quite sturdy. I suspect, based upon measurements, that the Noaway Bin does not have any bottom pieces. If you do not include any bottom pieces, the box walls can be 6″ instead of 6 ¾” tall.
- Cut. Using a table saw, trim the walnut planks to the appropriate sizes and add beveled edges where the box corners will meet. I have never used a table saw; in fact, machine-driven blades of any kind sort of freak me out. So please use all appropriate safety gear and be careful.
- Assemble. Choose the sides with the prettiest wood grain for the outside of the box. Fit the box corners together, including bottom support pieces if using, one in each short end of the box, and join the corners with finishing nails or wood glue.
- Finish. Once the box is fully assembled and dry, lightly sand the exterior for a silky smooth surface. Make a protective rub: melt together ¼ cup beeswax and ¾ cup walnut oil until wax is fully melted. Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until cooled, about 30 – 60 minutes. Stir briskly to a whip consistency, then rub thickly on the wood surfaces of the box, inside and out. Allow to dry and absorb for at least 2 hours. Rub briskly with a clean cloth. Repeat once or twice a year to keep your wood looking beautiful.
- You could probably get away with ½” plank width. Any narrower than that would likely be flimsy and the wood would not show around the edge of the steel insert. We ordered 8″ wide planks to have a little wiggle room: since the box is 6 ¾” tall, you could get away with 7″ planks, or 6″ planks, with no need to trim, if you decide not to include bottom support pieces..
- Obviously, this will work with any hardwood. For an economical option, use hardware store pine and paint or stain the wood to coordinate with your kitchen.
- The nice thing about making it yourself is that you can choose any size steam insert and simply build the box to fit.
Disclosure: There are no affiliate links, nor did anyone pay me to link or say nice things about their product. Links represent the actual products that I used and/or dreamed about.