Few symbols of Sweden are more famous than the painted wooden horses from the province of Dalarna, in the Swedish heartland. People have been carving wooden horses as toys and decorative items for hundreds of years, but it was in the early 1800s that the Dala horse began to take its classic shape, with bright colors and painted flowers. The production of Dala horses was localized to four villages outside Mora, especially the small community of Nusnäs, where they are still produced today. In 1939, the Dala horse gained worldwide recognition after a giant version was placed outside the Swedish pavilion at the World’s Fair in New York. The following year, 20,000 Dala horses were produced for shipment to New York.
The Olsson brothers of Nusnäs began carving horses as a way to help supplement their family’s income. Eldest brother Grannas Anders began producing Dala horses in 1922, aged 26, along with other items that he sold through traveling salesmen. Younger brothers Nils and Jannes would help out by carving horses after school. In 1928, when Nils was 15 and Jannes 13, they started a small factory, taking out a loan in order to buy a saw. The risk paid off, and the descendants of the Olsson brothers are still making Dala horses in Nusnäs nearly a century later.
Visitors to Dalarna can visit the Olsson brothers’ factories and see Dala horses being produced. Grannas A. Olsson and Nils Olsson Hemslöjd are located adjacent to one another in Nusnäs, about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) outside Mora.
Shaping the Horses
The wood for Dala horses comes from the dense forests around Lake Siljan, where Nusnäs is located. Producing a Dala horse takes about two weeks. First, a template is stamped onto the wood that has been selected and prepared. Using electric saws, the horses are cut out and given their general form. Then, they are hand carved and smoothed until they have obtained the desired shape.
The Base Color
Next comes the painting. The horses are dipped in primer in the main color — traditionally red, although other colors are also used nowadays. Each horse is smoothed and polished to eliminate any unevenness, and then given a second layer of primer.
Once the horses are dry, the detail work begins. Using oil-based paints, skilled artisans hand paint variations of the traditional design onto each horse. Once this is finished, a coat of lacquer is applied to each horse, and they are ready to venture out into the world.
A Classic Souvenir
Every Dala horse is unique. At the factory shops in Nusnäs, you can choose from a vast array of colors and sizes, and you can even order one with a name, date, or other text added as a personal gift or to mark a special occasion.
No matter what color or design you choose, you can rest assured that by taking home a Dala horse you are helping to maintain a Swedish tradition that may have achieved global fame but still remains rooted in the community where it began, so many years ago.
For more information, or to inquire about ordering Dala horses, please contact the factories through their websites, Nils Olsson.se and Grannas.com.
Note that for websites without international versions, you can always paste the full website link (URL) into Google Translate to get a rough translation into the language of your choice.
Latest update: June 18, 2018
20 thoughts on “The Dala Horse Factories of Nusnäs: Where Sweden’s Most Famous Handicraft is Made”
Do you have also little horses to hang in a Christmas Tree???
Real Scandinavia is an independent blog and is unaffiliated with the places we cover. You’ll have to contact the Dala horse factories directly to find out if they offer Christmas ornaments. I don’t specifically remember seeing any, but they have a huge selection, so it’s possible they might have something like what you’re looking for.
Hemslöjd of Lindsborg, Kansas sells Swedish made Dala horse Christmas ornaments, and they’ll paint your name on them if you like. I’ve placed a number of orders with them in the past, including the Dala horse Christmas ornaments, and have been very happy with their products and service.
I am traveling to Nusnas Tues., Sept. 26, 2017 and would like to preorder Dala horses that are personalized. After going to Nils Olsson website, it is all in Swedish, with no option for English. I am wondering how long it takes in person for personalized horses. Is it possible to preorder and pay and pick them up when I visit?
If you just want names added, it shouldn’t take that long if you do it on the spot (unless you want a lot of horses), so if you’re not in too much of a rush you could always go to the shop first, place your order, and then look through the factory while the paint is drying (or if you don’t want to watch the personalization being done). There’s also a cafe onsite where you could hang out. Note that on the day you’ll be visiting, the hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. in the shops at both Nils Olsson and Grannas A. Olsson. (The factory at Nils Olsson is open 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.)
Both Nils Olsson and Grannas A. Olsson have online ordering, with personalization options, but there’s no clear way in their ordering system to let them know you want to pick up the horses on site, rather than having them shipped. I suggest you e-mail the factories directly to ask them about options. They will have someone able to respond in English. You’ll find the e-mail addresses on the websites.
By the way, if you copy and paste the URL for the Nils Olsson website into Google Translate, it will translate the whole website for you. It’s not always perfect, but it should be good enough to help you find the info you need. The Grannas A. Olsson website has info in English already.
Thank you so much for all the info. It really helped!
my wife and i would like to give each couple that come to our 70 year
anniversary a 4 or 5 inch red dala horse,. will need about 20 . would like to know the best price and delivery ,(how many dayss)
please respond as soon as possible, thank you
Real Scandinavia is an independent travel website and is not affiliated with the Dala horse factories. You will have to contact them directly for ordering information. I’ve included the links in the article, but here they are again:
https://www.nilsolsson.se/ (the website is only in Swedish, but you can get a serviceable English version by pasting this link into Google Translate)
You didn’t mention where you’re located, but if you’re in the US, you could also try one of the Swedish import shops such as Hemslöjd of Lindsborg, Kansas, which a previous commenter has mentioned as a good place for Dala horse products.
Here is the link: http://www.hemslojd.com/
Good luck, and happy anniversary!
Is the Dala Horse factory in Nusnas open on National Day?
Unfortunately I can’t answer that question. The websites only list general opening hours. I suggest you e-mail the factory to ask them directly. The e-mail for Nils Olsson is: email@example.com and for Grannas it’s firstname.lastname@example.org
Can I buy red touch-up paint for my damaged Dala Hest Many thanks
This website is not affiliated with the Dala horse factories, so you’ll have to contact them directly. Links are at the end of the article. You could also try bringing your Dala horse to an art shop in your area to see if they can match the color. Good luck!
Are the dalahast t-shirts available? The shirt shows the various stages of cutting, carving, painting, and finishing. I noticed the shirts in the picture of two men carving. The shirt(s) seems to be just black.
Hi Nils, I don’t recall seeing any t-shirts in the shop, and they’re not listed in the webshop, but you could try e-mailing the factory. The photos were taken at the Nils Olsson factory: https://www.nilsolsson.se. The English language link on the site doesn’t seem to be working, but you can paste the URL into Google Translate to get a rough version. The contact e-mail address is email@example.com.
Is there any way I can I find out the age of my horse?
I inherited one from my grandmother and I really want to know what year it was made?
Hi Jon, apologies for not responding sooner. I’ve been rather neglecting this site during the coronavirus pandemic, I’m afraid. Unfortunately I don’t know of any way to find out the age of a Dala horse. I suppose you could try contacting one of the factories to see if they have any suggestions. (See the websites at the end of the article for contact information.) Good luck!
Hi, I have a red 25.5 inch tall dala horse in mint condition. I am wondering how much it is worth?
Hi John, unfortunately I do not know anything about assessing the value of Dala horses. You could try contacting the factories to see if they have any suggestions. (See the links at the end of the article.) Good luck!
Hi! I happen to be from a historically Swedish part of the usa, and today I bought a Dala horse for Christmas. This article was interesting. Thank you! My horse has a Nils Olsson sticker.
I absolutely loved this place. I bought a bunch of the horses for the Swedish side of my family. It was fun to see them being made. It is in a beautiful location. As we were arriving, we passed Swedish homes in every color.