By Travis Birch
Living a life off the grid with our family requires accounting for every contingency. This includes among other things, eliminating our waste. A burn barrel is a fantastic method to employ for this task. Only a fool rushes into this endeavor though. To properly and effectively manage this you must prepare your barrel to be safe, otherwise, it is ineffective.
The goal here is to dispose of junk mail and small garbage. You can buy a new barrel online for this project. Often times though you might be able to find one from a friend that works in an environment that uses these, and disposes of them regularly. I am fortunate to have a friend who works in a food production plant, and they have more of these barrels than they know what to do with.
You will want to make this safe, and build something that will create air flow easily. Take your barrel, and clean it. Make sure that you use the proper safety equipment that is suggested by the power and hand tools that you will use. I take my clean barrel, and using an angle grinder with a cut off wheel, I cut out along the bottom, four squares, each about 5” X 7”. If you imagine the round barrel being a clock position these holes at 12, 3, 6, and 9.
Next, use self-tapping screws with washers on them. Screw a wire mesh over the hole putting one screw into each corner. This gives you the proper flow of air through the barrel, feeding your fire as it consumes the fuel you put in it.
Now drill four holes with a metal drill bit. The hole should be made at the 1/3 ring, and they should be in north, east, south and west positions. Make the holes large enough that you can slide a bar through one hole and into the hole across from it. I used old pieces of all thread. This makes a cross in the barrel that will hold an old metal grate, this will hold what you’re burning. I have an old kettle barbecue so I used the grate that was with it for this. I set it over the cross bars and it is heavy enough to hold the light debris we’ll be putting on it.
All that is left is to take the kettle drum lid from the old barbecue and customize it for our needs. To prevent little embers from escaping and causing bigger problems, I use a hole saw and cut about 6-8 4” holes through the top. I used JB weld to affix pieces of wire screen. This allows the fire to breathe and keeps it the bits and pieces contained, safe from blowing away and possibly starting a brush fire somewhere else.
Set the burn barrel off to the side so that it is away from any structure or wooded areas, but has good cross ventilation. Light the fire and get rid of all that junk mail and documents that you can legally dispose of. I always keep a couple of five-gallon buckets of water close by in case of a runaway fire. Put a lid on it, and relax while you’re taking care of business.