Burn Barrel

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Of course, proper survival skills and items of survival gear are of the topmost importance.

If you own your own house and have a backyard in 2023, you will probably think of using a burn barrel to get rid of the trash. Made from a metal drum, a burn barrel might be handy in your yard. It has been trendy since drums first were used for burning trash. On the other hand, you might have grown up in the countryside in your grandparents’ backyard. In this case, we bet you are familiar with burn barrels.

However, since that time, not so many people have used burn barrels. There is a certain reason for that. In some states, the laws have changed. In some states, there is a fire ban which means that it is illegal to use burn barrels. But if it is allowed to use this way of burning trash in the place where you live, we will recommend considering owning your own burn barrel. Surely, food supplies or water resources are really important, but warmth will also be needed a lot!

Stay tuned! Your knowledge and situational awareness are what will keep you safe! This article will cover all the essential rules that you should know and follow when using a burn barrel concerning things that can be burned in the barrel, the burn barrel’s location, and the usage of a cover.

We will also tell you how to make the right burn barrel for burning trash in your yard. All professional homesteaders and preppers should take care to learn about it.

Crucial Things to Know About Burn Barrels

Crucial Things To Know About Burn Barrels Let us begin by saying that usually, a garbage burn barrel is made of a 55-gallon drum. This is the optimal size. Do not think that if you use a smaller burn barrel, it will be easier for you to clean it from burned garbage. Moreover, the smaller the burn barrel is, the more likely it is that the burning debris will be carried away by the wind to an unsafe distance in your yard. Therefore, when dealing with fire, you should be extremely careful and follow all the rules.

A burn barrel of this particular size is perfect for getting rid of the trash. To begin with, the walls of such a barrel are quite thick. Thus, the burn barrel is not afraid of a very high temperature. It is such a barrel that it is suitable for burning garbage because you do not want to create too much smoke that will spread throughout your site and can reach your neighbors. The higher the burning temperature is, the less smoke is released during combustion.

You should realize that there is nothing complicated about making your own burning barrel. Actually, you do not have to make or build anything. The main thing is to study all the safety measures, use common sense, and place all the parts of a burn barrel correctly to minimize smoke, ashes, and unpleasant smell.

Note to make

Notice that the laws can differ depending on the state you live in. The main thing that you should do right now is to check if there is a fire ban in the state you live in. Therefore, the first thing we advise you to do is to study all local ordinances that relate to both the lighting of a fire and the storage and burning of garbage extremely carefully. You should search for all available information. Even when you find information that garbage incineration is generally allowed in your state, you will also have to check whether there are any restrictions related to weather conditions, seasons, types of plastic, some other natural materials, and so on.

Where to Locate Your Own Burn Barrel

Where To Locate Your Own Burn Barrel Since the most crucial thing is to follow safety rules and use common sense when you are planning to use a burn barrel, let us cover the right place that you should choose carefully.

  1. First and foremost, you need to realize why picking the right place for burning trash is so important. Please note that the burn barrel should be installed in the place of your site where the ground level is quite flat; there are no small bumps, hills, or pits. Remember that if you choose an insufficiently flat terrain, the burn barrel can easily fall under the influence of even a light wind.
  2. You should also choose a place that is located at a distance from any buildings, such as your personal country house or barn. It is important to understand that sparks that can fly from the point of fire are potentially dangerous for your backyard and even for your life. Unfortunately, not all people observe safety precautions and treat the use of a barrel for burning lightly. This approach can lead to terrible consequences.
  3. You should pay special attention to the presence of trees and shrubs around a potentially suitable location for the burn barrel. This is especially important for those who have a lot of fruit trees and shrubs in the garden. Believe us, in an extreme situation, you yourself will not notice how ashes will fly away from a burn barrel and start a fire that will flare up and destroy your entire garden. Surely you have seen in the news and on social media how rapid and destructive forest fires can be. Do not think that such a fire cannot start in your small garden.
  4. The last tip from us would be not to burn too much trash in one burn barrel at the same time. Moreover, below we will cover the things that you should not burn in any case. If you do not follow these basic rules, you will risk the safety of your whole family and your neighbors.

What do You Need to Know About Burning Trash in a Barrel

What Do You Need To Know About Burning Trash In A Barrel Now let us move on to the essential details about organizing the right burn barrel. Make sure that you already have a 55-gallon metal drum. Actually, you get it for free from a local company that manufactures drinks, paint, or is famous on the construction market. You can also contact a car wash or a company that sells cars. If you cannot find any local companies like those in the place where you live, it will be a good idea to search for ads on Facebook, some other online markets, or in all the local newspapers. You might not find ads about burn barrels immediately. Wait for some time. There will be a couple of offers sooner or later.

1. Ventilation Holes

The first thing you should do to prepare an ordinary barrel for burning garbage is making a lot of ventilation holes. These openings are necessary in order to provide air access to the center of the burn barrel, thanks to which a fire occurs and is maintained. Please note that the air holes need to be made on all sides of the burn barrel. Also, do not forget about the holes in the bottom and at the top. However, the largest number of holes should be located precisely in the lower part of the burn barrel, closer to its bottom.

The easiest way to make holes in the burn barrel is to use a drill. Also, if you have a weapon and cartridges of more than 22 calibers, you can make holes with them. Another way is to use a hammer and large metal nails.

Think in advance about how you will get rid of the water that will periodically accumulate in the burn barrel during the rainy and windy days. Obviously, you will not always use the burn barrel. Besides, it will stand in the open air. You can either think in advance which rain cover you will use or make a few additional holes in the bottom of the burn barrel so that the water can freely leave.

2. Where to Place a Burn Barrel

Where To Place A Burn Barrel It is absolutely not recommended to place the burn barrel directly on the ground. Under the influence of humidity and due to contact with the soil, the bottom of the burn barrel can quickly deteriorate, which will lead to the need to replace the burn barrel earlier than usual. Most often, two concrete blocks are used to install the burn barrel. It is essential to set them at the correct distance from each other and make sure that they stand at the same level. Check this before installing the burn barrel.

What is more, it is essential to clean the place where you will burn the trash. It must be clean at least four feet all around. It is highly important since the ash that will scatter while you burn the waste can get on something and become a source of ignition. It is worth constantly removing even the leaves near the burn barrel so as not to risk your own safety.

Precaution No doubt that plastic or other highly flammable garbage is even more dangerous. Remember that this is not just a precaution that has no basis. It is your responsibility to maintain absolute cleanliness around the waste incineration site. If you do not comply with it, you are committing a dangerous action. The fire that started in your yard is extremely hard to stop.

3. The burn barrel has a certain period of operation

Another very important point that you should not forget about is the period of use of one burn barrel. You can’t just install one drum and use it for many years to burn garbage and waste. Use a burn barrel for no more than ten months.

Also, remember that the ventilation holes that you make in the burn barrel can gradually narrow under the influence of hot fire. The same goes for the holes in the bottom of the barrel. Since the water goes through them regularly, they might be narrowed due to the moisture. We recommend periodically checking the condition of the barrel. Notice that its replacement with the second barrel may be required sooner than you think at the beginning of use.

4. The past usage of the barrel matters

The purchase of a previously used barrel can be an excellent solution to save money and your search efforts since often, large companies and manufacturers are ready to give away barrels for free. However, in no case should you take burn barrels from companies where flammable liquids could be stored in such barrels, which is quite common. Search and choose precisely to burn trash safely afterward.

Using a Cover for Burning Yard Waste

Using A Cover For Burning Yard Waste Another important thing that you should consider before starting to use a burn barrel is making a burning cover. A burn cover helps minimize smoke and smell. The use of a lid is important since the lid provides security. However, it is not necessary. If you do not have the right materials, or you just do not want to worry about using the lid correctly, then you can choose other safety methods that will help you avoid the occurrence of a dangerous open fire.

The lid for the barrel is excellent protection against ash and debris that can spread much further from the barrel than it may seem at first. Generally, there are three types of materials that are ideal for making a lid for a burn barrel.

Burn Barrel

1. Sheet metal

An excellent solution that is suitable for protecting the barrel from rain and preventing ash from entering your backyard from the barrel is the use of sheet metal. Even if you have already made several holes at the bottom of the barrel so that water can easily escape from it, we still recommend covering the barrel when it is not in use. The less water gets into the barrel, the longer it will last. That is why you need a rain cover. Do not wait for rust to appear. Think about it in advance.

Perhaps you were lucky, and local paint producers gave you a barrel for free. Even better, if together with it you received the original lid from it, which tightly closes the barrel from water ingress. If not, then you can make a metal cover yourself or just use a sheet of heavy metals or plastic. To fix it, it is enough just to put something heavy on top of the sheet.

2. Hardware cloth

The second option that you can use to cover the barrel is hardware cloth. The indisputable advantage of this type of coating is that the hardware cloth can be purchased really inexpensively in any store. You do not need to look for a manufacturer for a long time and think about how to make a lid and fix it.

Everything is as simple as possible. You will need to take just a few steps to achieve the goal:

  1. Buy one roll of fabric for hardware;
  2. You will also need a thin metal wire to secure the fabric to the barrel;
  3. Make a couple of holes closer to the upper edge of the barrel along its entire perimeter;
  4. Thread a metal wire through these holes and the fabric itself.

3. Metal grate

Another option is a metal grate that also can be used as a cover. The metal grate is also suitable for preventing mess all around the fire. It makes all the burned materials and further ash being stuck in the burn barrel. It is not only important because it prevents fire spread all over the place. In addition, ash being stored in the barrel burns longer.

A free barrel?

Moreover, many are ready to give the burn barrels for free. It is good if you know local construction companies or enterprises that produce paint. Any fairly large business that can use large burn barrels for transporting products will be suitable. Search for their website and phone number. Contact them or also look for ads from them in social networks and online markets.

Making Your Own Burn Barrel

Making Your Own Burn Barrel Now, let us summarize everything said before in one particular guide on how to make a burn barrel. We do not want you to search for the information in various places and still remain confused. Therefore, we compiled a checklist of the materials and tools that you will need at the start and a step-by-step tutorial. This part of the article will make your search much easier. Without further ado, let us share this info with you!

Here is the list of the tools you will need:

  • a drum made from metal;
  • two concrete blocks to place a drum on them;
  • a drill to make approximately 20 holes in the barrel;
  • a material that is suitable for making a lid out of it (such as sheet metal, hardware cloth, or grate).

When you have all the tools and materials prepared, it will be the right time to make your own burn barrel. Follow the steps described below:

Midwest Tool And Cutlery Aviation Snip

  • Think in advance where you will put the barrel;
  • Clean this area from debris and leaves;
  • Put concrete blocks and adjust their level;
  • Use a drill to make holes for air to enter the barrel;
  • Use the prepared material to make a reliable coating;
  • Fix the coating with a wire (use tin snips to cut it) or place something heavy on top of the lid.

Congrats! You did a great job! Now is the time to relax and wait for the moment when you will need to use a burn barrel for the first time. However, we do not recommend starting using a barrel before you will be acknowledged with all the safety rules and requirements. They are presented above, so continue reading the article to make sure that you use a burn barrel correctly and nothing threatens your safety!

How to Ensure Your Safety While Using a Burn Barrel

How To Ensure Your Safety While Using A Burn Barrel You should keep in mind that burning waste is dangerous and heavy-duty. Therefore, you should remember about safety when starting fires. We present you with a few pieces of advice that will help you deal with burned trash, smoke, and ashes.

Fire Extinguisher

  • Always keep an eye on the fire after you have started it. Do not go far away, or at least ask someone to keep an eye on the barrel. You never know what can happen, so it is better to immediately warn of a possible fire due to accidentally fallen ashes or some other unforeseen situation;
  • The following advice is connected to the previous one. Until you check for sure (preferably several times) that the fire is completely extinguished and re-ignition is impossible without your participation, do not move away from the barrel. The slightest spark or ashes can cause a fire that you did not plan to start and dangerous smoke;
  • You should not fill the barrel too much. Fill it with about the amount of garbage that will fit in one trash bag. If you fill the barrel completely, the garbage will explode;
  • Make sure that the holes that you made in the barrel remain wide enough. Otherwise, you can limit the flow of oxygen into the barrel. If there is not enough air in the barrel, the fire will quickly go out. Instead of fire, you will only get a lot of poisonous smoke. If the holes are narrowed due to the rust, you will get a second barrel;
  • Think in advance how you will put out the fire. The easiest way is to hold a hose nearby and provide water access near the place where you installed the barrel. If this is not possible, we strongly recommend that you have a fire extinguisher nearby. Even when extinguishing a fire in another way, usually in an extreme situation, a fire extinguisher can be indispensable;

Also Matters

  • Remember that thanks to the barrel, you can get an important component for compost for free. The ash after burning fits perfectly, as long as you don’t burn the plastic;
  • You could have already started and maintained the fire for some time so that it would not go out prematurely. In this case, you probably know that a fairly long wooden or metal stick is usually used to move large pieces of burned things and not let the fire go out. When starting a fire in a barrel, you must do the same;
  • It is important to understand that a barrel is not the same as a regular garbage can in your house. Do not thoughtlessly throw any waste into a barrel that stands in your yard. It is especially dangerous to dump food waste there, as the smell can attract wild insects and bigger animals. They can climb right into the barrel. This, firstly, threatens to mess up your homestead, and secondly, it can be dangerous for the animal. Also, to prevent this problem, you can cover the barrel. This will also prevent the premature appearance of rust;
  • Do not use a burn barrel during windy days. Choose a sunny and calm day so that less smoke spreads through your garden.

When using a barrel, burn only things that are allowed. Below, we will cover two categories of trash: those things that can and cannot be burned in a barrel. Obviously, most people would like to stay safe. Therefore, you need to use common sense and know what must not be burned.

What Can You Burn in a Barrel?

What Can You Burn In A Barrel? The most important thing to remember: not everything can become a burning material for a burn barrel! Do not throw all the trash you have in the burn barrel! It is forbidden in the majority of states. Moreover, someone who burns all the trash in the burn barrel and does not mind the rules will risk their health and safety.

Below you will find a list of things that CAN become burnable material. However, it is crucial to know that only small amounts of the stuff should be burned in a burn barrel. Otherwise, the burn barrel can simply explode.

  1. Burning plastic will be allowed when it is non-recyclable plastic. In another case, you can simply recycle it. What is more, do not burn too much plastic;
  2. Feel free to burn cardboard. Of course, you may recycle it, but if we talk about cardboard that was used as packaging for food and which cannot be washed, then the only correct solution will be to burn it;
  3. Packaging from food. As you know, plastic and cardboard are accepted for recycling already cleaned. Most often, it is impossible to clean the material in which the food was stored. Therefore, you will do the right thing if you turn this material into ashes.

List of Things That Should Not Be Burnt in a Burn Barrel

List Of Things That Should Not Be Burnt In A Burn Barrel On the contrary, it is strictly forbidden to burn some things yourself. Keep in mind that the list that you will find below was compiled based on the results of an analysis of the local ordinances of different states. We have compiled a list of those things that are most often prohibited by the government. However, this does not mean that this list is absolutely accurate and complete for your case.

Usually, each state has its own special amendments and clauses that differ from all other regions of the country.

  1. Aerosol cans are extremely dangerous to burn. Trying to burn aerosol cans will lead to an explosion;
  2. Do not burn food scraps. If you care about the environment, it is a great idea to recycle food scraps and make compost;
  3. Let us assure you that there is no point in burning metal objects since they will not burn;
  4. It is forbidden to burn tires because they are dangerous with their poisonous smell and smoke;
  5. Avoid getting wet things into the fire, as this can provoke premature extinguishing. Make sure that you do not put a wet and damp cloth in the barrel;
  6. The main thing is that you should avoid getting flammable liquids into the fire. Even getting a jar of cleaning products with active chemicals or even more flammable liquids (such as fuel) can lead to terrible consequences;
  7. In addition, you can not burn glass and light bulbs. You can take them for recycling. Usually, there are special containers for light bulbs, glow sticks and batteries;
  8. Do not use styrofoam as a burning material;
  9. It is not the best idea to add to the fire parts of plants that you have thrown away due to illness. They may contain dangerous substances;
  10. Do not burn too much trash at the same time.
  11. Pay attention to the fact that if a fire occurs due to your fault, which spreads on your house plot and moves to the territory of your neighbors’ house, you will have to bear legal responsibility.

In addition, if it turns out during the trial that you burned things prohibited by the laws of your state, you will have to suffer even more severe punishment and, probably, compensate for the damage. Therefore, be very careful about what you burn near your home.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is it illegal to burn in a barrel?

If there are no particular regulations, it will mean that you can use a burn barrel. If you burn safely, use a burning cover to minimize the smoke and ashes, do not store everything in the barrel, choose burning material correctly, and burn only non-recyclable items such as food wrappers and cardboard. You will not do anything illegal, so feel free to do it.

What is the point of a burn barrel?

If you choose a burnable material correctly, you will be able to get rid of the trash in your own yard. You can burn some things in a burn barrel without being afraid that there will be a lot of ashes or a bad smell. This way of putting some trash on fire is fast. It will be perfect if you recycle most of the trash, but there are some sorts of non-recyclable plastic, paper and paper tablets, and food wrappers.

This way is safe and clean. What is more, it is a great way to get rid of the trash for free. Of course, remember to follow the rules when using a burn barrel and make sure that you do everything safely.

Where can I get a 55-gallon drum for free?

One of the most common problems that are faced by almost everyone who wants to use a burn barrel for the first time is searching for a metal drum. Obviously, going to any local store is not enough. We recommend searching online. Search for ads for sale on various online markets such as placed on Facebook or OfferUp. There are also dozens of ads in the local newspapers. Most offer to sell burn barrels for a small amount. But do not worry. There will be a solution for you if you do not want to pay money for a drum. You can always call and try to bargain and get the lowest price.


A former USA Army sergeant and a highly educated survivalist and prepper with a degree and interest in Engineering and Electronics, Mike Millerson applies his extensive expertise in survivalism, homesteading, backpacking, hiking and hunting, spreading his deep knowledge about handling emergencies and prepping for them reasonably and effectively.




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