Want a fun DIY project to try out? This step-by-step guide on how to make a giant abacus is easy to follow and comes together fast.

This giant abacus is really simple to create for your own home.

This is a DIY project that has been years in the making.

I’ve wanted to build this giant abacus ever since I saw it in the Pottery Barn catalog years ago.  I knew that I knew that I knew…..it would be perfect in the house.

If only I could figure out how to DIY it.

I could figure out the sides and I could figure out the metal corners and I could figure out the rods in the middle….but I couldn’t figure out how to make the beads that you used to count with.

Giant wooden discs?

Too flat.

Giant metal washers?

Too un-round.

Giant beads?

Too round.

And then one day I saw these.

Gather finishing floats for your giant DIY abacus.

Fishing floats.

I know, right?

Can you believe it?

We have friends who are commercial fisherman and I saw these at their house when they were stringing up lines.

As we say in Kentucky….I almost had a come-apart.

Visions of that long-ago DIY giant abacus danced round my head.

So here is the projdect in all its glory courtesy of those fishing floats—how to build a giant abacus.

For your giant abacus project you will need pine lumber, small dowel rods, fishing floats , metal L-brackets for the sides and dark wood stain.

How to Build a Giant Abacus


13 feet of 1 x 4 pine lumber

8 feet of small dowel rods

30 fishing floats

metal L-brackets for the sides

dark wood stain

Cut your pieces of wood to build the frame for your abicus.

Step 1:  Build your frame

The frame is 42″ long and 18″ wide with a center piece that is 40″ long.

Cut the pieces to fit (or have your home improvement store cut them for you).

Nail the center piece in place.

Don’t nail it exactly in the center.

Make sure when you attach the center piece you have one larger side and one smaller side.

Ensure your fishing floats fit into your abacus frame.

Step 2:  Make sure fishing floats fit

The fishing floats are styrofoam and the holes are different sizes.

You may have to enlarge some of the holes with a drill bit.

You could just buy a smaller dowel and save this step….

But some of us are stubborn. 🙂

Drill holes into your abacus frame to ensure rods fit.

Step 3:  Drill holes to create the giant abacus

Line up the dowel rods and drill holes on both of the side pieces.

Drill a corresponding hole all the way through the center piece.

(Keep in mind….you have not attached the side pieces yet….so this makes it easier).

Step 4:  Stain frame and dowels with dark wood stain

I liked the look of stained wood, so I stained the frame with Provincial by Minwax.

Then I sealed it with a clear sealant.

You could also paint it or just leave it plain wood and seal the wood with a clear sealant.

Insert dowels into holes and attach sides of abacus.

Step 5:  Fit dowels into holes and attach side pieces

Thread dowel through center hole.

On the larger side thread four fishing floats on each dowel and two fishing floats on the smaller side.

Fit dowels into holes and attach side pieces.

This takes time and a little patience and lots of compliments. 🙂

Attach L brackets to all four corners of your abacus.

Step 6:  Attach L brackets

Just like jewelry.

A project isn’t complete without a little accessory.

Attach the L brackets to all four corners.

The history of the abacus:

Now that you’ve built a giant abacus—here’s a little bit more about abacuses and what they were used for.

If you know—you know.

  1. The abacus is an ancient calculating device with roots that date back over 2,000 years. Used across various cultures and civilizations, the abacus served as a precursor to modern calculators and contributed significantly to the development of numerical skills.
  2. The basic structure of the abacus consists of a series of rods or wires on which beads or counters are slid. The beads are arranged in specific groupings, with each representing a different place value. Users manipulate the beads to perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
  3. One of the primary purposes of the abacus was to facilitate calculations in everyday life and commerce. Merchants and traders, particularly in ancient markets, relied on the abacus to perform rapid calculations involving quantities, prices, and transactions. Its portability and simplicity made it an invaluable tool for those engaged in trade, allowing for quick and accurate computations without the need for pen and paper.
  4. In educational settings, the abacus played a pivotal role in teaching mathematical concepts and fostering numerical fluency.
  5. Beyond its utility in commerce and education, the abacus found applications in various fields such as astronomy, architecture, and engineering. In astronomy, for instance, it was used to calculate celestial phenomena and planetary positions. Architects employed the abacus to ensure precision in measurements and geometric calculations for constructing buildings. The adaptability of the abacus to different mathematical tasks made it a versatile tool for professionals in diverse disciplines.

I LOVE how it turned out and every time I walked by it yesterday…..I smiled.

A DIY project years that was years in the making.

And it happened….

….all because of a fishing float. 🙂

This tutorial on how to build a giant abacus is easy to follow.

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  1. Image for Thrift My House Thrift My House

    Well! I'm about to have me a come a-part because I have NEVER heard of an abakus... you should have a questionnaire later asking WHO here "pretended" they knew ... HaHa. . Or should I be embarrassed? Never to old to learn! I love the way it looks though :-)

  2. Image for Diana W. Diana W.

    I would never have guessed when I got up this morning that I would find the need to have a giant Asian counting system in my home!! Who'duh thunk it? Now, thanks to your fabulous tutorial, I'm feeling the need. And thank you for the reminder to keep our eyes open for ways to complete our long held 'think I want to make it' projects! You are my favorite rockstar!

  3. Image for Susan M. Susan M.

    You is just so daggumed clever Ms. Karianne! Since the floats are made of foam, I wonder if one could take a pool noodle and cut it into rounds --- think it would hold the paint? Just a thought and I may very well have to pull apart a pallet and cut into a pool noodle and see what I can come up with. Once again, thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Image for Karen Marcontell Karen Marcontell

    You can buy fishing floats here: https://www.sealifegifts.net/floats_2.html Can't wait for mine to be delivered so I can start my project. So excited!

  5. Image for Kathleen Kathleen

    Those are not wood? I've seen foam ones that really looked the part ~ foam, that is! Love that ABACUS, girl! And I, too, know the feeling of finally spotting just that one/missing piece for a long-wished-for project completion! I've never had a "come-apart," but I've certainly darn near "w*t my knickers!" ... as my fave *elder gals* would say! (Oops! Hope I don't get "drummed off" here!?) Keep those fabulous projects coming ~ they are definitely Rock Star calibre!!!

  6. Image for Teddee Grace Teddee Grace

    Terrific project, which I've Pinned...and the post was worth reading just for the "come-apart" bit. Got to remember that one.

  7. Image for TucsonPatty TucsonPatty

    Now, we need instructions on how to USE an abacus! (I know...just look it up on the net... Very, very cool, indeed!

  8. Image for Michelle Lepak-Dandelion Patina Michelle Lepak-Dandelion Patina

    Awesome abacus! So glad you can check that box off on the project list! A few years ago, I created an abacus for my girls on our landing upstairs. It was about 4' x 4'. We have this rather large opening above our stairs that they could have easily reached over the top and fell into the stairwell. It made me so nervous. So, I had my hubby cut pvc pipe to attach to each side of the opening and I then spray painted cut sections of the pvc to attach to the pipe (which would slide back and forth). It was enough to block the opening, still let the light into the space, and the girls had a fun counting game they could play!

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