How to Make a Homemade Burn Barrel?

If you have many bills, letters, and burnable trash, you may want to know how to make a burn barrel. I remain one of the guilty ones – leaving my sensitive letters and bills built up until the thought of having to sit down and shred them sends a shiver down my spine. Like many of us, I have better things to do than feed a pile of paper into a machine! Make sure to leave no evidence behind that can potentially be of use to people who want to take advantage of you. Thus, one of the uses of this equipment is to get rid of them without going into much hassle. You can also be able to get rid of things that are confidential. This is also a great way to dispose of rubbish easily.

homemade burn barrel
Image Credit: Canva.

Credit card fraud remains one of the most prevalent forms of crime in the USA, with over 167,000 cases last year and 650,572 reported identity theft cases, so protecting our information remains vital. It doesn’t take much for thieves to find the information they need to steal your money by rummaging through your trash. Consequently, burning letters containing sensitive information provides the safest route to protecting yourself, and a burn barrel provides you with the ideal solution.

What Is a Burn Barrel?

A burn barrel provides a safe and convenient way to dispose of burnable household trash such as bank statements, bills, and other sensitive documents. If you don’t have the space to build a bonfire or feel that a bonfire may look unsightly, a burn barrel offers you the opportunity to make something you can hide after use. Once cool, you may tuck the barrel away into an inconspicuous area.

A 55-gallon metal drum remains the ideal size for making a burn barrel. Furthermore, the process proves easy because you simply need to remove the lid and punch holes in the base for ventilation. Once you place the barrel onto a couple of concrete blocks to allow for airflow, you may proceed to destroy all those lingering documents.

A burn barrel proves helpful in getting rid of garden waste such as small branches and combustible debris like leaves and weeds. Moreover, if you place a metal grill on the top of the barrel, it makes a fantastic makeshift barbecue!

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Make a Burn Barrel

The first thing you need to find is the barrel. It’s worth checking sites such as eBay and CraigsList for sellers living close to you, as you may often pick up a barrel cheaply and collect it the same day.

Scrap yards and recycling facilities may supply a suitable barrel, so a phone around your area saves money because purchasing a new barrel may prove an expensive option.

1. Thickness of Your Metal Barrel Matters

Don’t buy a thin metal barrel because it won’t withstand the heat generated by your activities. Thin metal barrels may buckle and deteriorate quickly, so ensure you use a barrel made from thick, heat-resistant steel.

Plus, if the barrel is too thin, it may melt when heated. The melting process releases poisonous gasses, and if the barrel collapses during use, it may cause severe injury and harm. Therefore, it remains essential to buy a good quality, heat-resistant steel drum suitable for the purpose.

2. Clean Your Barrel

Depending on where you get your barrel, make sure you give it a thorough cleaning. Many manufacturers store chemicals and other toxic products inside metal barrels. Consequently, when you burn your rubbish, you may release poisonous fumes and gases, so it remains vital to ensure the interior and exterior remains spotless before you begin.

3. Open the Metal Burrel

A giant-sized can opener may feel appropriate when it comes to opening the lid of the barrel. Some barrels come with removable lids, which makes your job a lot easier. Otherwise, you need to flex those muscles and remove the top yourself.

When you buy a container suitable for making a burn barrel, you may see it referred to as “tight.” This means that both ends of the container remain sealed. Consequently, you need to remove one end.

A reciprocating saw or a jigsaw fitted with a metal cutting blade proves the ideal tools to perform the task. Once you run the blade around the raised lip at the top of the barrel, the circular face of the container comes away.

Stay Safe when Making It

Cutting the metal may create sharp edges and burrs that may slice through your skin with the greatest ease. Consequently, wearing a thick pair of work gloves helps to protect your hands.

The process of cutting through the metal makes a tremendous noise, and if you have sensitive hearing, the noise may hurt your ears. A good pair of protective earmuffs helps to protect your ears and hearing.

When cutting through metal, you run the risk of metal shards flying into your eyes. Consequently, to protect your eyes, wear a pair of good-quality protective eye goggles.

How to Vent a Burn Barrel?

You won’t be able to burn rubbish without adding ventilation and drainage holes to your barrel. Fire requires a constant flow of oxygen to burn successfully, and the flames refuse to perform if you don’t provide adequate ventilation. And if water collects inside the barrel, it may rust the metal and inhibit burning, so you need to make some drainage holes in the bottom of the container.


Turn the drum over and use a large metal drill bit to create the drainage holes. The holes let water drain away should any collect during a downpour.

Make the holes at least 1/2 an inch. If you make the holes smaller, any trapped water may not drain away quickly enough. Space out the holes evenly around the bottom of the barrel.

Drill five or six evenly spaced holes in the barrel base before turning it up the right way.


Use the same-sized drill bit to drill ventilation holes around the sides of the metal drum. Drill the holes in the bottom half of the drum near the base.

If possible, drill the holes roughly the same distance apart, drilling no more than 12 to 15 holes. Drilling more holes may result in the weakening of the drum structure, especially when it gets hot.

The holes around the lower part of the drum remain an essential form of ventilation to feed the fire with oxygen. The constant flow of oxygen helps the fire to burn hotter and for longer.

Use a Grate when Making a Burn Barrel

When you use your burn barrel, you may find that sparks and cinders escape as you incinerate your rubbish. That represents a fire risk because if a cinder lands on your home, it may start a fire. And you don’t want to set your neighbor’s shed on fire!

A sheet of perforated metal works well as a fireguard. Placing the metal grate over the barrel’s opening traps any sparks and cinders inside the unit and prevents any fire hazards.

Alternatively, you may use a piece of chain link fencing as long as the holes remain small enough to trap any wayward sparks.

You may wish to trim your cover to the shape of the barrel opening for a neater appearance. A pair of wire cutters or your jigsaw helps make short work of the task. However, ensure the lid remains 2 to 3 inches wider than the opening of the barrel.

Safety Measures when Using Barrels for Burning

  • When you use your barrel, it gets extremely hot and represents a fire risk. Consequently, you must situate your burn barrel at least 30 feet away from your house, greenhouses, and other surrounding objects such as trees and fences while in use.
  • The lid for the burn barrel keeps everything in the container and protects your wooden decks, sheds, and porches from accidental fires. Furthermore, it remains essential to ensure the barrel remains at least 10 feet away from any flammable items when in use.
  • To enhance the flow of oxygen and provide optimum conditions for use, it remains essential to raise your burn barrel off the ground using concrete blocks.
  • Place the blocks on the ground on the edge in a square shape. Lift the barrel onto the blocks so that its outer edges sit at the center of each block.
  • Use four blocks to support your burn barrel because the blocks prevent the barrel from tipping over.
  • Have a fire extinguisher or a hose at hand to extinguish the fire if it gets out of control. Once you have destroyed the trash, it remains a good idea to use the hose to douse any remaining cinders inside the barrel.

How to Use Your Burning Barrel?

It may feel tempting to ram the barrel full of waste. However, if you put too much inside the barrel, it won’t burn properly. It is worth loading your waste into the barrel using the following method results in a safer, more successful burn.

1. Load the Barrel

Only load the barrel up to the halfway mark. The rubbish burns quicker when you don’t overload the container. Plus, if you overfill the barrel, you run the risk of the burning contents spilling over the sides.

Place the larger items into the bottom of the barrel first and top up with smaller objects. If you want to burn sensitive papers, it is worth placing a few smaller logs into the base and adding the papers on top.

2. Avoid Burning Plastics in Your Barrel

Use the burn barrel to destroy disposable materials such as wood, tree limbs, brush, cardboard, paper, and natural fabrics.

Don’t burn household items such as plastics, rubber, or painted and treated wood. Burning plastics and rubber give off poisonous fumes which may harm you and the environment, while treated and painted timber may exude toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.

Painted and treated wood needs to be disposed of in a safe, responsible manner at a recycling yard. Rubber and plastic materials also need to go out in the recycling where professionals may safely dispose of them.

3. Use a Firestarter

Use long matches to ignite paper or cardboard a the top of your pile. Once the cardboard catches, drop the match into the barrel. It may take a few attempts to get it started, but it will catch up soon enough.

Don’t use accelerants such as kerosene, lighter fluid, or gasoline to start your fire. Fire accelerants may cause the fire to burn uncontrollably and represent a severe hazard.

You may use kindling in the base and on top of the rubbish to start your fire. A gentle start results in a more consistent fire that last longer and destroys everything inside the barrel.

Find yourself a reliable firestarter.

4. Cover the Barrel

Once you feel satisfied with the fire, cover it with the grating to contain the fire and prevent anything from escaping.

The grating becomes incredibly hot as the fire burns, so it is essential not to touch it when in use. Keep children and pets away from the barrel to avoid injury and nasty accidents.

5. Storing Your Barrel

When you finish using the barrel, allow the interior to dry out completely before placing a lid on top. Use sheet metal with no holes to cover the barrel and prevent water ingress.

When cool, you may move the barrel to a secluded, discreet area for storage when not in use.

Where to Buy a Burning Barrel?

You may purchase burn barrels and purpose-built incinerators from Amazon, eBay, CraigsList, and Walmart. However, you may find the items on the expensive side, though eBay and CraigsList remain excellent choices to find old metal barrels local to you and at reasonable prices.

With a bit of research in your local area, you may find scrap merchants and recycling facilities willing to sell you a barrel to make your incinerator. Local factories, garages, and manufacturing plants use steel barrels, so give them a try before you part with your hard-earned money.

Ready-made burn barrels prove an expensive investment, but you may easily make one by following our guide.

How Do You Make a Burning Barrel?

Incinerating sensitive information, bank statements, and bills remain the best way to protect yourself against fraud and identity theft. With a bit of hunting around on eBay and the scrapyard, you may find a steel barrel suitable for the purposes.

diy burn barrel
Image Credit: Canva.

Once you remove the lid with a jigsaw, drill drainage holes in the bottom of the barrel and ventilation holes around the lower half of the container. Use concrete blocks to lift the barrel off the ground and fill it with your trash up to the halfway mark. Once the fire catches, cover the barrel with a metal grill and watch as your trash goes up in flames.

Check out more DIY projects that you can do at home. DIY Bed Garden Designs, DIY Chicken Tractor, & DIY Smoker.

Have you made a burn barrel? Why not share your experiences with us by commenting in the space below?


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Katy Willis is a writer, lifelong homesteader, and master herbalist, master gardener, and canine nutritionist. Katy is a preparedness expert and modern homesteader practicing everyday preparedness, sustainability, and a holistic lifestyle.

She knows how important it is to be prepared for whatever life throws at you, because you just never know what's coming. And preparedness helps you give your family the best chance to thrive in any situation.

Katy is passionate about living naturally, growing food, keeping livestock, foraging, and making and using herbal remedies. Katy is an experienced herbalist and a member of the CMA (Complementary Medical Association).

Her preparedness skills go beyond just being "ready", she's ready to survive the initial disaster, and thrive afterward, too. She grows 100% organic food on roughly 15 acres and raises goats, chickens, and ducks. She also lovingly tends her orchard, where she grows many different fruit trees. And, because she likes to know exactly what she's feeding her family, she's a seasoned from-scratch cook and gluten-free baker.

Katy teaches foraging and environmental education classes, too, including self-sufficient living, modern homesteading, seed saving, and organic vegetable gardening.

Katy helps others learn forgotten skills, including basic survival skills and self-reliance.

She's been published on sites such as MSN, Angi, Home Advisor, Family Handyman, Wealth of Geeks, Readers Digest, and more.

3 thoughts on “How to Make a Homemade Burn Barrel?”

  1. I purchased a burn barrel from Family Farm and Home. It has a lid on top and 3 legs on the bottom but, there is no bottom to the barrrel. What do I put under it before I fill and burn?

  2. If you go target shooting, take the new barrel with you for a target! Makes a satisfying sound when hit, and creates ventilation holes at the same time!

  3. if you have code restrictions that eliminate standard traditional burn barrels >>> try an incinerator using a prepared barrel but a propane “weed burner” type torch for a burning source …

    usually the construction come under a propane BBQ ruling and cuts the legs out from the authority trouble makers ….


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