Admittedly, “old barrels” can be a rather open term. We have old plastic barrels that have formerly been home to pickles. We might have old metal barrels that housed olive oil. Maybe it’s wooden whisky or wine barrels that are available.
The options only increase with this variety of manufacturing materials, but regardless of what the barrels are made of, it’s important to be careful of what was in them. For most home projects, we want to look for food-grade barrels that we know have never housed harmful chemicals.
With that in mind, we can start taking advantage of all the options at our disposal. Plastic barrels can be great because they won’t rust or rot. Metal barrels can be excellent because they won’t melt or burn. Wooden barrels have a classy, classic look that makes them visually appealing.
It’s just a matter of knowing what to do with what.
1. Tumbling Composter
Compost decomposes much more rapidly when it is turned and oxygenated. Often, we envision this being done with a pitchfork and about half an hour to spare. But, tumbling composters make light work of this sometimes-heavy task.
Rather than turning the compost with a fork, a tumbling composter—best made with a plastic barrel—requires much less energy. It is designed such that the container, a barrel in this instance, is flipped around so that the compost is turned inside of it.
Plus, it keeps the compost nice and tidy.
2. Wildlife Pond
Source: Wild Your Garden with Joel Ashton/YouTube
While plastic and metal barrels would likely hold water better/longer than wooden barrels, using wooden ones just adds the right natural nuance to a water garden. There is nothing more inviting to valuable wildlife in the garden than a pond or body of water.
A repurposed half-barrel is easy to find at garden centers, or it’s possible, though a touch more difficult, to cut barrels in half as well.
3. Rain Barrel
Source: Alberta Urban Garden Simple Organic and Sustainable/YouTube
Rain barrels are a great way to conserve water usage at home. Rather than directing all that rainwater away during storms, we could be catching and storing it for drier times. Barrels, of course, are the perfect storage container: they hold enough to make a difference but aren’t so big as to be intrusive.
To make a good rain barrel, it’s important to locate it well, good for catching plenty of water and easily delivering that water to gardens (or wherever needed). One of the beauties of rain barrel catchments is that the system can easily be expanded to multiple barrels storing water, so the storage can be sized to fit any situation.
4. Barrel BBQ Pits
Source: Roy Starling/YouTube
Old metal barrels have long been the classic backyard barbecue pit/smoker, and now with repurposing being a thing, it’s time to start revisiting these old methods. There was a time when barrel barbecues were actually from old barrels, not box stores.
Building a barrel barbecue pit will require a few tools, namely a grinder and drill, but it is perfectly doable for the average DIY adventurer. It’s perfectly plausible to build an elaborate barrel bbq pit with no welding required.
5. Whisky Barrel Desk/Bar Table
Source: IdeaScape Point/YouTube
Wooden whisky barrels and wine barrels have that old-world charm that makes them work very well for furniture and using them for tables and desks couldn’t be simpler. Either acquire a couple of old barrels and a nice rustically milled slab of wood for a killer desk or bar. Or, a circular glass top will fit well atop just one wooden barrel to make a bar table.
6. Container Garden
Barrels are ideal for making container gardens. A single barrel can be used intact to grow dozens of types of plants, or several barrels can be used to create an oasis of food on a patio or balcony.
Food-grade plastic barrels are probably the easiest to work with here. They can be converted into vertical gardens, self-watering garden pots, as well as massive plant pots by simply cutting them in half.
7. Pet Bed/Room
It’s fairly easy to imagine how cozy a barrel could be for a four-legged friend. They can be cut in half vertically and then filled with cushions or blankets to make a comfy bed, or an opening can be cut at the end of the barrel so that a kitty or puppy can crawl in for an entirely private room.
Wooden barrels are probably the nicest option for these if they are going to be inside, or plastic barrels can work well outside, as they won’t have the sharp edges metal barrels might have.
With a little ingenuity, old barrels can become something with a whole new, useful lease on life. Plus, completing a great DIY project just feels so good. So, get on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Freecycle, or wherever else to find a few old barrels for next to nothing and get to crafting.
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