Build Your Own Butter Churn
by Ken Gies of Fort Plain, NY
Fresh butter melting on hot homemade bread… Isn’t that the homesteader’s dream? For me it is a satisfying reality. It started with a few goats and a rusty cream separator and blossomed into fresh milk and butter. Elbow grease cleaned up the separator and provided hand shaken butter for a long time. I simply couldn’t justify the expense of a new butter churn.
Before I describe building a churn, I want to tell how I handle our milk. I have heard many complaints about off-flavored milk from goats. So here are my personal don’ts. First, keep goats out of strong tasting plants, especially the cabbage family! Next, don’t let the buck near the milking does except for a quick breeding. Somehow, billy-smell gets into the milk almost instantaneously. Then, filter it quickly. Finally, cool it quickly. I have a shelf reserved in the freezer for the evening milk. I chill the milk in a shallow stainless steel pan until bedtime and then transfer it to the refrigerator. In the morning, I pour the warm morning milk over the partly frozen evening milk, thawing it and cooling the other immediately. Then I run it all through the separator. I get more cream if the milk is not full of ice crystals.
My filter is as cheap as I am. I take a six inch, non-gauze milk filter and fold it in half. Then I fold one corner up about a third and make a cone. I set this into a funnel and hold it with my thumb as I pour the milk into the freezer pan. The pictures show the steps. Usually I find just a few hairs in the filter. It is nice to use in case there is mastitis in the herd. The little curds show up, alerting me to check carefully. This has not happened in a long time and I hope that it doesn’t happen any time soon.
The temperature of the cream and the ripening process vary with the time of year and the feed eaten by the dairy animals. I disregard all advice and just take the cold cream out of the fridge and mix several days’ worth together. I fill the churn, plug it in and go away.
At some point, the churn will become very quiet as the butter forms and floats to the top of the buttermilk. I let it churn for another ten or fifteen minutes and then place it into the fridge to firm up more.
After a few hours, my wife works the butter under cold water, salts it and makes pats. She freezes the excess.
A cheap two-gallon stock pot from the local chain store got me started in churn building. It was thin stainless steel and cost less than ten bucks. I carted it home wondering what I might find in my junk pile to run the thing. I found an old squirrel cage fan and pulled the little motor to test it. It was a bit sticky, so I added a few drops of automatic transmission fluid to the bearings and away it whizzed. It is rated at 3000 rpm and only 1/100 hp! I figure that if it could turn a six-inch fan, it could turn a two-inch impeller.
The motor shaft was 1/4 inch and I just happened to have a drill bit extension that fit right. If you have an odd sized shaft, try a similar sized piece of cold rolled steel rod and a long roll pin with an inside diameter close to the shaft size. If the shaft is too large for the roll pin, swell the ends with a tapered punch. If it is too small, lay the roll pin on its side on an anvil and tap the sides to close the split side and decrease the diameter.
I cut off one end of the extension so it was an inch shorter than the churn and welded a 1/8” by 1/2” by 2” flat iron onto the bottom for the dasher. I bent it into a propeller shape with a vise and adjustable wrench. I noted which way the motor turned and bent the leading edges up so that it would force the milk down. The milk moves out to the edge, up the outside and back down the center in a small whirlpool. This circulation seems to be important. I suspect that a slower rpm motor would need a longer impeller to agitate the cream well.
I attached the motor directly to the lid of the stock pot after drilling holes for the motor shaft and two flange bolts. I am not that precise so I just eyeballed the center hole and located the flange holes with a marker. My motor has its own switch, but a hard-wired motor can be plugged or unplugged as needed. My mother’s monstrosity was over two feet tall with a 1/8 hp motor and no switch. It churned three gallons at a time and thundered around on the floor as it worked. It had a 4 inch impeller and ran at 1750 rpm. This little comparison shows the latitude that would-be churn builders have in choosing parts for the homebuilt machine.
I am no engineer, just a copycat. I couldn’t find a good latch to imitate. Instead, I have used a large elastic band for several years without failure or replacement. I stretch it over the top of the churn and under the bottom of the pot. I set the contraption on a towel so it doesn’t rumble and let it spin my butter out.
This system has worked well for me for several years now. I think it could work for you too. However, if the thought of building a churn still daunts you, go ahead and shake. Efficiency will increase markedly if you imagine that the jar is the neck of your least favorite politician… Oh Look! Butter!