The Butter Churn: Restoring a Farm Classic

This restored butter churn is a beautiful relic from the American Wooden Ware Co. in Toledo, Ohio.

| January 2012

  • Butter Churn Gear Mechanism
    This restored butter churn has a beautiful and efficient gear mechanism, and gracefully curved legs. 
  • Paddle Gear and Seal
    The churn’s paddle gear and seal. The end beyond the seal is square; it mates with the end of the paddle to achieve rotation. 
  • Decal
    What remains of the churn’s original decal. 
  • Paddle and Setscrew
    Paddle and setscrew, lying on the lid. 
  • Inside the Churn Tank
    Paddle mechanism inside the churn’s tank. 

  • Butter Churn Gear Mechanism
  • Paddle Gear and Seal
  • Decal
  • Paddle and Setscrew
  • Inside the Churn Tank

My wife, Joanie, was at a sale in our little town of Trent. The event was a fundraiser for the town’s 125th anniversary celebration. A butter churn was being auctioned, so she bought it for our museum.

I took it apart, cleaned it up a bit, painted what needed painting and gave the rest of it three or four coats of linseed oil, which brought out the colors nicely. The unit appears to have been made with three different kinds of wood. The tank, ends and paddle assembly are made of one kind; the lid is made of a soft wood, and the legs are of a different hardwood. A geared drive gives about a 2-1/2-to-1 increase in paddle speed.

If you look at the photo of the paddle lying on the lid (see the Image Gallery), you can see the centering hole as well as thumbscrew and setscrew arrangement. That pushes the paddle up tight against the drive gear; the cast iron faces act as a seal to keep the cream from dripping out. It is a fairly effective design; many older tractors employed a similar seal (using a spring to do the pushing, instead of the set-screw shown here) on water pumps to keep the coolant in.

The decal on the churn is in poor condition and is hard to read. It appears to have been made by American Wooden Ware Co., Toledo, Ohio. Many companies manufactured butter churns and we have several others in our museum, but this one is so nicely built that it could pass for furniture.



As the poet John Keats notes, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” This little piece is just that, from the graceful curve of its legs to the nicely done gear drive operating the paddles. So it goes. FC 

Jim and Joan Lacey operate Little Village Farm, a museum of farm collectibles housed in 10 buildings at their home near Dell Rapids, S.D. Contact them at (605) 428-5979.