How to Make a Trash Burner From a 55-Gallon Drum

Written by jessica blue
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How to Make a Trash Burner From a 55-Gallon Drum
Used barrels are perfect for incinerating refuse. (Oil Drums image by Yali Shi from

Burning trash and yard scraps is cheaper than having them hauled away. It might even give you some warmth on a chilly day. You can make a basic burn barrel out of any 55-gallon drum, using a cutting torch or hacksaw. For safety, you might want to add a top screen that will keep burning cinders from flying into the trees -- or onto your roof.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Empty, clean 55-gallon drum
  • Cutting or welding torch
  • Drill with 1/2-inch bit
  • 3 pieces of metal screen or expanded metal, 4 inches square
  • 1 piece of half-inch No. 13 expanded metal, 24 by 24 inches (optional for top screen)
  • 1 angle iron, 8 feet by 1 inch by 1/8 inch (optional for top screen)
  • Chop saw or hacksaw (optional for top screen)
  • Protective clothing and eyewear
  • Heat-protective gloves for metal working
  • First aid kit
  • Fire extinguisher

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  1. 1

    Put on protective clothing, gloves and eyewear.

  2. 2

    Turn the barrel over so it is standing on its top end; the top should have a small hole used to fill the barrel. Drill three evenly spaced holes in the bottom of the barrel. These will serve as drain holes to let rainwater out.

  3. 3

    Set the barrel on its side.

  4. 4

    Light the torch and, holding it at or near a 90-degree angle to the barrel, cut along the top rim to remove the top of the barrel. Turn the barrel slowly until you have cut all the way around. Discard the barrel top.

  5. 5

    Cut three evenly spaced holes in the lower section of the barrel. Each hole should be 3 inches square, and 1 inch or 2 inches from the bottom edge of the barrel.

  1. 1

    Light the torch and adjust it to a low heat setting. Spot weld each of the three pieces of metal screen to the interior of the barrel, so they cover the vent holes. Be careful not to cut through the side of the barrel.

  2. 2

    Begin fabricating the square frame for the top screen. With the torch, cut three 90-degree notches in the angle iron, spaced 25 inches apart.

  3. 3

    Cut each end to 45 degrees, mirroring the angles so the ends will fit together neatly. Using the torch, heat the outside of each notch. Hold the cool ends of the metal and bend each angle to 90 degrees. Let cool, then repeat with each corner until you have a square frame.

  4. 4

    Weld the two ends together to solidify the square frame. Place the large piece of expanded metal inside the frame and weld it into place.

  5. 5

    Place the screen on top of the barrel before you light your first fire.

Tips and warnings

  • Before using a cutting or welding torch, make sure you have a first-aid kit and fire extinguisher handy.
  • Use the barrel on level ground, not on a sidewalk or other stonework [which will get a permanently scorched ring], preferably on hard-packed dirt without any flammable grass.
  • Before you burn trash, check with your local authorities to find out whether you need a permit.
  • You don't need to cut draft holes in the sides. Your trash will burn fine without them, and it'll stay in the barrel better too.
  • Always leave 10 feet of clear space in all directions around a burning barrel.
  • Never burn toxic garbage or combustibles. These can create dangerous fumes or even explode. Check with your local authorities to find out what's safe to burn.

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