Manufacturing Then

In the beginning waste material was used as a base for wooden horse manufacturing. When the sales increased, eventually wood was taken from the forest with the intention of using it to carve horses out of. Pine was the normal material but it happened that spruce was also used.

The wood had to be free from knots and the logs sawn in suitable bits, and cloven with an axe. If the log was large enough it was chopped into what looked like “slices of cake”, these “work pieces” were formed with an axe so that they had an obvious narrowing front part and a head. To form the legs a brace was used and then a small axe.

Manufacturing Now
In the 1920s the band saw took over the task of the axe for the manufacturing of the material. Today the horses are made from pine ( 7 cm and bigger) and alder ( 5 cm and smaller). The pine has to grow slowly and the tree rings sit close together. It is a must for the smaller models that the wood piece is free from knots, but it is not necessary for practical reasons for the larger models which are made up of so-called lamina which are glued together.

Wooden horses are series produced in 20 sizes, from 10 mm to 75 cm . the height is measured from the foot to the upper side of the ear.

Gluing starts with the 25cm size. The larger horses (30cm and bigger) are glued together in sections. The material has to be carpenter dry, that is to say 8% to 10% moisture and is dried for about two to three weeks in the drying room ( compressor with heating fan), after that it is planed. Water based glue is used to join the pieces together .The glued workpiece is planed again. Using a stencil the outline of a horse is drawn (the smaller models are stamped by hand) and then sawn in the band saws.

Nine production steps

  1. A plank of pine or alder is planed and marked/ stencilled with the outline of a horse.
  2. Contour-sawing in the first band saw
  3. Profile sawing in the second band saw. Sawing by free had, forming of a head, legs and stomach. The horse is now called a workpiece.
  4. Woodcarving with a knife
  5. Dipping in water based paint (first coat)
  6. Puttying and polishing
  7. Final dipping in the first coat colour.
  8. Oil painting in the kurbits style
  9. Dipping in clear laquer. When the oil paint has dried after about two days, the horse is dipped in a clear varnish to protect the design and to give it a finish.

Stage 1: Planing/ Stamping
  Stage 2: Contour sawing in the band saw.
A pine /alder plank is planed and stamped with the outline of a horse (For the larger models a stencil is used).

Stage 3: Sawing in the band saw
Stage 4: Carving

Free hand sawing: forming of the head, legs and stomach. After sawing the piece of wood is called a “workpiece” and is sent out to the carver.
The company has about 30 carvers who work in their homes.

Jute sacks full of workpieces are transported to the whole of Dalarna and collected again when they are ready. Several carvers are even in other counties. The workpieces (especially the smaller ones) are sent to them by post.

Most of them do this as a spare time occupation and the group of older men, pensioners is clearly over represented.

Each one is specialized in different sizes and need craft knives with different lengths of knife blades (it has to be long enough to reach across the stomach) The cutting angle is well tested and is the same for all the knives.

The company sharpen the knives for the carvers if they so wish.

The carvers keep their knives sharp by stropping them, they strike the edge against a piece of leather and a little paste (autosol). Others prefer to strop them using a newspaper wrapped tightly round a piece of wood (preferably a Mora Tidning – the local newspaper).

Stage 5: First coat
Stage 6: Puttying
Dipping in water based paint. The whole horse is dipped in the paint bath, taken out and the paint runs off onto a plate and then the horse is put onto a tray. It's then moved to a shelf to dry.

Many older horses have a diffuse, orange colour. It was a red lead colour which faded with time. The colour was used until 1952 and then abandoned because it was poisonous. Horses produced up to then were painted with a brush which means that you can see the wood on the sole of the foot.

If the horses has cracks or visible knots they has to be puttied . This applies even to the coarsely carved horses from 13 cm in size.

All the bigger horses made from lamina are puttied with hard putty and then with soft putty so that the joints will not be seen through the undercoat. Polishing of the putty is done with a hand machine, and then finely polished by hand with sandpaper.
Stage 7: The final dipping
Stage 8: “Oil painting in the “Kurbits” style
As with the first coat the whole horse is dipped in the bath, the paint is run off onto a plate, and then put on to a tray to dry. The horse is placed leaning backwards to avoid “tjillor” in other words drops of paint drying under the stomach. About 10 painters paint wooden horses working piece time, most of them work part time. Formerly the colours were bought in sticks which were then carefully broken down on a “runner”. The finely grated pigment was then mixed with oil. Eventually powder paint could be bought and today ready mixed oil colours in tubes can be bought.

Further back in time the brushes were made by the painters themselves. The absolute best brushes were made from the bristles of squirrels' tails. The last squirrel brushes were used at Grannas A. Olsson in the 1940s.
Stage 9: Varnishing
When the oil paint has dried, it takes about two days, the horse is dipped into a clear varnish to protect the décor from wear and tear and at the same time give it a finish.  

The environmental friendly Dala horse.
From 1, 2 tons of solvent to about 300 kilos in four years.

In 1999 Grannas A Olsson started an extensive environmental project which resulted in practise that all of the company's routines were thoroughly examined. The biggest effect on the environment not surprisingly is caused by the paints

A large amount of them contain solvents and the total discharge in 1998 was about 1, 2 tons. The goal was set to try to replace the synthetic paint with a water based colour. Several years of work and a whole pile of difficulties which were eventually solved resulted in the company only using about 300 kilos of solvents in 2002, producing the same amount of horses. Since then we have reduced the amount of solvents even more.

Our horses are often handed from one generation to the other and it feels good that the Dala horse is environmental friendly and just right in time.

Please note! Do not give painted Dalahorses to small children, who might chew on them. Wait until the child has stopped biting and sucking - after that the Dalahorses are perfect and very durable toys, like they have been for centuries.