This post was originally published on DIY Network’s blog Made + Remade in July 2014.
Wooden playthings are timeless and enjoyed by kids of all ages. There’s something to be said about classic wooden train sets and hand-carved rattles when you compare them to the mass produced plastic, light-up toys that inevitably also occupy space in your family’s toy chest, and I’m here today to show you one that you can make at home: A colorful DIY abacus.
Cut a board of 2×2 wood into three pieces: The two sides measure 12″ in length, the base will measure 15″ in length.
You will want to make sure your abacus rungs are even, and the best way to do this is to create a template using scrap wood. Measure and pre-drilling 5 holes, each spaced 1-1/2″ apart.
Prepare to paint the wooden beads your chosen colors. It’s really not easy to evenly paint something that’s round, but in this case, I was able to string the beads onto a grilling skewer and balance them over a wooden box for elevation.
Coat your beads using non-toxic paint. Most of mine required 3 coats to achieve an opaque look.
While the paint dries, assemble your abacus frame by joining the pieces using a screw at each lap joint. Tip: In addition to pre-drilling to ward against splitting, use a second drill bit that is slightly larger than your screw head to widen the opening and allow for you to countersink the screw so that it is out of sight completely.
Sand the assembled abacus using a fine sandpaper (tap into a palm sander if you have one handy). Smoothing down the edges and surfaces evens out the abacus frame nicely. If you want to seal the wood, I recommend a non-toxic finish like beeswax, or a salad bowl oil finish to keep the toy kid-friendly.
String your beads onto 16″ lengths of leather cord, and attach them to the frame row by row. I like using leather cord for this project versus a dowel, because the narrow dowels that you would need to fit through these beads seems apt to snap like a twig if pulled the wrong way by a child. Leather has a little stretch, making it more kid-friendly.
Knot each end so that they are very taut, and trim any excess leather away.
Enjoy your DIY abacus as a piece of classic home decor, or as a toy for your child!