July 15th, 2011 by Marc Opperman
I’m nothing if not a do-it-yourselfer. I love the challenge of taking stuff I already have and finding the best way to make something useful out of it. Part of this comes genetically – my grandfather was, and my father is, crafty this way. And like them, I keep a lot of salvaged stuff around so that I have options when it comes time to make something.
But one project eluded me – a rainbarrel. It’s been hard for me to locate a source of barrels suitable for tinkering. Most sellers know a finished rainbarrel sells for between $100 and $200, so they tend to price empty food-grade barrels accordingly.
Back when I wanted to make fresh mozzarella, I stopped by Austin Homebrew Supply since they are apparently the only place in town supplying the ingredients for cheese-making. However, they sell empty 55-gallon barrels very cheaply, as well. They have a supply of them because they sell beer-brewing malt syrup in bulk. These barrels are a very sturdy blue plastic with a metal ring and rubber gaskets to seal the top. I bought one on the spot the last time I was there.
It didn’t take too much tinkering to create a functional rainbarrel.
First, I had to clean the leftover malt out of the barrel. Because malt is basically a sugary syrup, this was a pretty pleasant-smelling – if sticky – task. I didn’t use any soap, and all of the leftover water, I poured directly on parts of my garden.
I drilled a half-inch hole near the base of the barrel to accommodate a spigot. I had a cool, weathered brass spigot leftover from who-knows-where.
I also had an appropriate gasket and half-inch nut for the inside to secure the spigot.
Next I cut a hole in the lid of the barrel. The lid already had two threaded 3-inch holes in it, but I needed something bigger to be able to use a proper downspout diverter ($8 at Home Depot). I used my Skil saw to cut a hole in the lid that matched the diameter of the downspout diverter. I had marked this with a Sharpie.
Inside the lid, I fashioned some metal window screen as a catch-basket for debris and mosquito larvae pouring in from my downspouting. Currently, zip ties hold it in place, but I may use a stainless-steel hose clamp in the future. Cleaning the trap is done by removing (and inverting) the barrel lid steel hoop and the diverter assembly.
I built a stand for the barrel using some pieces of 2×6 lumber and cedar fence slats. It’s not gorgeous, but it does the trick of elevating the barrel 18 inches to give me head pressure for watering parts of the yard. The wooden part of the stand rests on some concrete pavers to help reduce the chance the wood rots.
So far I’ve spent a total of $28 to make it. It’s not perfect, though. What this barrel is lacking is any form of overflow arrangement, or way to connect it to a second barrel. Adding a second barrel would be nice since 55 gallons doesn’t go far. I want to figure out a better way to connect the spigot (it leaks a tiny bit). Also, I didn’t remove the St. Augustine grass from below the stand. A gravel base beneath it might be tidier. In April I made a concrete block stand for a friend, and I might try that model in the future. Concrete blocks are cheap.
Still, we’ve had a couple brief downpours since I built this barrel, and even a few minutes of rain fill it completely to the point of overflowing. Now if we’d only have a few more.