Butter is made by the simple process of agitating cream until the fat solidifies and separates from the liquid. The liquid or buttermilk is drunk in some cultures and used in baking in others. The remaining solid mass is washed and generally salted. Butter churns are simple mechanical devices to save labor and expedite the churning process.

The dash or plunger churn offered little mechanical advantage.


The history of butter churns is as old as butter itself and most likely began with Asian nomads who used churns of animal skins in which cream was agitated until the solid and liquid separated. From these evolved the rocker or swing churn often powered by animals. Barrel, dash, stoneware, tin and steel churns have all found a place in different times and locations, and simple glass jars acted as churns for many, particularly in cases where the volume of cream was small.

Rocker Churn

The rocker churn was an improvement on the primitive goatskin arrangement for making butter and consisted of a box set on a rocker frame, which could be pushed backward and forward.

Dash Churn

The dash churn is a simple design without a great deal of mechanical advantage, but was widely used until the 18th century and is still in use in Tibet. The dash churn consists of a cylindrical wooden or stoneware tub with a wooden lid through which a stave or dasher is plunged up and down to agitate the cream. The dasher or stave often had holes or sticks to increase the agitating movement. The dash churn was also known as the up and down churn, plunger churn, knocker churn or plowt-kirn in Scotland.

Paddle and Barrel Churns

The paddle churn consists of a wooden box with a handle that operates paddles. The paddle churn was popular for domestic use in many countries in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The barrel churn was a variation on the same principle -- in some designs the handle turned the barrel and others designs used paddles inside. By the nineteenth century many churns were geared and gave more mechanical advantage to the user. Wooden, tin and stoneware churns were all popular during the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Glass Dazey Churn

The glass Dazey churn also became popular in households during the 19th century. Being geared, they were a significant labor saver and the person churning could watch the progress of the cream as it turned to butter. They were designed for small, domestic volumes of cream. The glass Dazey butter churn is still available, and this style of churn is the most popular design still in use.