How to Make a Burn Barrel in 6 Easy Steps

Burn barrels are a fantastic way to get rid of your unwanted items that you don’t want in the landfill. They’re also great for getting rid of materials like brush, tree branches and other things that can be burned safely. In this article, you’ll discover what is a burn barrel, how to make a burn barrel, what you’ll need to make one, and how to use it.

What is a burn barrel?

A burn barrel also called a trash barrel or an open burning barrel is a simple metal container used for the open-air burning of trash. The typical size ranges from about 30 to 55 gallons (110–210 L), and can be round or square in cross-section. They are usually made of heavy steel plates, reinforced around the bottom with heavier steel angle irons.

Why is it called a burn barrel?

A burn barrel as its name suggests is used for burning trash such as household garbage and paper products. It’s important to note that the term “burn barrel” means different things to different people. Most folks understand that a “burn barrel” is a container, usually metal, used for burning items; however, not everyone understands that there are different types of burn barrels.

How does a burn barrel actually work?

Typically burn barrels have a metal grate that prevents the trash from falling to the bottom of the barrel while allowing airflow between the pieces. Some folks will place wood or charcoal briquettes under the grate to create the open flame needed for complete incineration. The burning process can be enhanced with accelerants such as lighter fluid or gasoline.

Why should I use it?

Burn barrels are much cheaper than hiring a trash service or having your garbage hauled away. If you’re looking to save some money, then consider purchasing one of these barrels. (I’ve found them for free on multiple occasions.) You can also use it to dispose of hazardous items like batteries, paints and cleaners which cannot be placed in the municipal waste stream.

What are some safety precautions I should take?

First off, you’ll want to make sure your burn barrel is located far away from your house or any other structure. The heat that comes off of the burn barrel can easily damage vinyl siding, other building materials and cause a fire. You don’t want to burn paint-soaked rags in it either as they can produce deadly hydrogen cyanide gas.

Also, make sure you have a garden hose, bucket of water, and fire extinguisher on hand just in case the fire gets out of control. If you’re using gasoline or another accelerant to get your burn barrel started, I would recommend taking appropriate precautions such as wearing gloves and safety glasses.

What you will need to make a burn barrel

A metal trash can with a lid (the larger the can, the longer it will burn) – * At least 14 to 18 inches in diameter, but bigger is better. The actual size of your drum should be at least 36 gallons. In a minute I will tell you where you can find a barrel or trash can to be used as burn barrel.

How to make a burn barrel step by step

Step1: Gather your materials. You’ll need a barrel with a lid, a drill, metal snips and either a wire brush or sandpaper.

Step 2: Clean the interior of your new burn barrel. If you purchased one that already has a coating of paint on the inside then you can skip this step. However, if the inside is rusted or has a lot of dirt and/or other residues on it, then you’ll want to remove that before proceeding.

Step 3: Drill holes in the bottom of your new burn barrel. If you’re using a steel garbage can with a lid then skip this step. However, if you’re using a 55-gallon drum then you’ll need to drill several 1/4-inch or 3/8-inch holes in the bottom of the barrel. The holes are needed for proper airflow.

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Step 4: Use metal snips to cut a 4-inch diameter hole in the upper part of your barrel. The intention is for this hole to be located above the level of the grate inside the barrel. It’s important that you don’t make the hole too close or directly over where your trash will be placed because it could cause a fire outside your burn barrel.

Step 5: Remove the lid from your burn barrel and drill several small holes. The holes are needed for proper airflow. (Most people do not even use a lid on their burn barrels.)

Step 6: Replace the lid on your burn barrel and you’re finished! The total construction time should be about 15 minutes or less depending on how quickly you can locate a suitable drum or garbage can to use.

If you are a visual learner you can watch this video on how to make a burn barrel here:

Where to find a burn barrel?

trash can

Although they can be free, my preferred method of easily acquiring a new burn barrel is to purchase one from a hardware store. I highly recommend “The Home Depot” as they have a great selection and it’s pretty easy to find what you need. If you live in the United Kingdom or anywhere else worldwide, my suggestion would be for you to check out your local hardware store and see if they have any burn barrels for sale.

You can also find burn barrels on amazon. Check out this one:

stainless steel burn barrel

What size of a new burn barrel should I get?

The ideal size for your new burn barrel is going to depend on what you plan on burning in it most often. A typical 55-gallon drum will have enough room to burn most items that you might burn. However, if you utilize your new burn barrel every weekend then it’s good to go bigger with a 65-gallon drum or larger.

How much does a new burn barrel cost?

The cost of a brand new 55-gallon drum like the one you need can vary but expect to pay anywhere between $30 and $50 dollars. On the other hand, you’ll be able to find a suitable steel drum for free on multiple occasions.

You can also check out facebook marketplace and craigslist in your local area to find used or new barrels you could use as a burn barrel.

What can I burn in a burn barrel?

There are a number of items that you’re allowed to legally burn in a burn barrel. Some of the most common things people burn include old wooden pallets which can easily be found for free on multiple occasions, junk mail, cardboard boxes and more. You should never incinerate plastic or rubber items as these can release toxic chemicals into the air.

Pretty much anything that you would burn in your fire pit or fireplace you can burn in a burn barrel.

What you cannot burn in a burn barrel?

There are a number of items that you cannot burn in a burn barrel. Some examples include plastic, paint and other chemicals as these can release deadly toxins into the air. You should never burn any type of wire or cable, animal carcasses and more.

Just be conscious of what you burn in your burn barrel and you’ll be fine.

How do I create a fire?

The process of creating a fire in your new burn barrel is pretty simple and straightforward. Just remember to keep the small hole in the upper portion of your barrel free from debris. You should start by placing kindling or sticks in the bottom if you plan on burning wood in your burn barrel.

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If you’re using newspaper for kindling, be sure to take 2-3 sheets and ball them up tightly before placing them at the bottom of your burn barrel. Once all the kindling is in place, you can add a few smaller pieces of wood on top.

Once you get it going and a good bed of coals is made, you can add larger pieces of wood to your burn barrel. You might need to adjust the height of your burning sticks from time to time in order to keep everything going smoothly. That’s all there is to it.

What’s the average temperature inside a burn barrel?

The temperature inside a typical 55-gallon drum can range anywhere from 400 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on how much and what you’re burning. If you have your burn barrel free-standing then it’s important that you don’t place it in direct sunlight so that the barrel doesn’t get too hot. For example, if your burn barrel was located in direct sunlight during the summertime months then you could face some problems over time with the barrel itself starting to warp.

Can I legally burn trash in my yard?

As long as you’re burning waste materials that are not hazardous or toxic, you should be fine. The areas where it’s still okay to use a burn barrel should be posted if there is any question or concern about what materials are burned in the barrel itself.

How long can I leave my burn barrel unattended?

It’s best to only allow your burn barrel to operate for up to 4 hours at a time and only if the outside temperature is between 35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

What can you do with the ashes and unburned materials inside the burn barrel?

Ashes from a burn barrel that have been cooled down can be thrown somewhere in your backyard, garden or flower bed. It’s also a good idea to use the ash as a fertilizer for various plants and trees. If you’re not going to use your ashes right away then it is best to seal them in a container so they don’t pollute the soil or area they are located in.

The larger unburned materials can be left in the barrel for future fires.

How long does it take for a burn barrel to cool down?

A typical 55-gallon drum will start cooling within 30 minutes of the fire being extinguished. Depending on the outside temperature, you can expect your burn barrel to be completely cooled off in anywhere from 3 to 4 hours.

Above all else, safety should be your number one priority when it comes to operating a burn barrel. Be sure to keep children, pets and others away from the barrel at all times.

How do I extinguish my burn barrel?

Your burn barrel can be turned off once it is no longer producing any embers and is completely cool to the touch. Using water to put out a burn barrel might not work as well as you’d expect so it’s best to use dirt, sand, etc.

If you follow the tips and tricks listed above then you should be fine operating a burn barrel in your backyard or other outside areas. If you continue to have concerns about how to operate a burn barrel then it’s best to contact your local fire department or government agency for more information and clarification.

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