The Abacus Bracelet

Hey, hipsters! So that 1980s calculator wristwatch you’re wearing isn’t retro enough for you anymore? Time to go waaaaay back in time with your wrist-worn calculating devices, all the way to the abacus.

The bracelet is made from layers of bubinga veneer, glued around a form one layer at a time. Individually, each piece of wood is flexible, but when they’re glued together they hold their shape. Below are veneer sheets cut into 1.5″ wide strips for the bracelet.

The first step was to make a form for the bracelet. I drew out the shape in Illustrator, printed it, then spray-mounted it to a scrap of 2×4. I cut around the edges with the band saw, then smoothed it right up to the line with the belt sander.

To make the bracelet I spread some glue on a strip of veneer, wrapped it around the form with the glue side out, then wrapped another strip around it. Hose clamps held its shape until it dried, then I added another layer, let it dry, added another, and so on until seven layers were built up.

My first attempt (this project wasn’t successful until the third try) had indentations in the wood from the clamps, so on later attempts I put a layer of brass sheet around the wood to spread the pressure of the clamps. A scrap of baking parchment keeps any glue squeezed out from sticking to the clamps.

Once I had all 7 layers finished I drilled holes through the wood for the rods that the beads would slide on. Unfortunately, because of the bit’s small size, the characteristics of the wood, and some poor alignment on my part, the perfectly spaced and centered holes on one side wandered all over on the other side. On my second attempt I tried to be more careful in alignment. It was slightly better than the first attempt, but still not good enough.

For my third try I realized I could make some channels for the rod before I glued on later layers. These would serve as pilot holes when I drilled. I stopped at the 4th layer of wood and clamped it into my milling machine, then ran an engraving bit across the layer (as seen in the photo below). This ensured that the channels were straight and evenly spaced.

When I glued on the last three layers I had to take care that glue didn’t block the channels, so as it dried I passed a piece of guitar string back and forth through each channel to keep it clear. The photo below shows this, but without the clamps and the form.

Once all the layers were formed and dried, I squared the edges on the belt sander and clamped it into the mill again. This time I routed out the openings where the beads would go. The photo below shows this step on an early attempt, without the pilot holes/channels in the middle.

With everything roughed in, I drilled the pilot holes to size. It worked perfectly—the holes were just as aligned on one side as on the other.

After sanding and applying a finish, I pushed the wires through and threaded the beads.

I cut each wire shorter than the width of the bracelet so that it would be inset in the holes, then filled the holes with a paste made from super glue and sawdust from the bracelet (for matching color). When that was dry I sanded down the excess so it only remained in the holes, smoothed it, and applied more finish to the edges.

Here you can see the edge where the holes were. They’re still visible, but don’t jump out at you.

And here it is, finished and ready for all your on-the-go calculation needs!

[form form-1]

31 Comments on "The Abacus Bracelet"

  1. Jeff says:

    Nice piece. Where’d you get the bubinga veneer?

  2. Joe J says:

    I would love to see a zoom-in of the edge — I am wondering how well the sawdust/CA fill looks.

    I imagine, with such small holes, it’d be unnoticeable.


  3. michie says:

    I would love one of these….. if you were to make them to sell, what would you price it at?

  4. Mike Rosales says:

    Cool, where i can place an order ????

    I’m from Mexico. =)

  5. Kevin W says:

    Hey this is just too cool for words.

    Had a question: what type of glue did u use to glue the veneer?

  6. andy blake says:

    love the abacus wooden and bead bracelet! How much to make me one and post it to the UK?!

    • Nathan says:

      Thanks Andy! I’m not selling any right now because I still need to figure out a more efficient & cost-effective way to make them. I can send you a note when I eventually do.

  7. Lois says:

    Very cool piece. Wouldn’t mind having one if you decide to sell them.

  8. Linda says:

    My daughter, a math major, would love this. Please let me know when you have one available for sale.

  9. Sharon says:

    please let me know if you put them on Etsy too. thanks!

  10. Tammy says:

    This is gorgeous!

  11. afshin haimirzaei says:

    very nice. How can one be.Thank

  12. Tim Trumble says:

    Would like to buy one

  13. Kevin says:

    Excellent piece of art work..

  14. tonya sheets says:

    I want one…not great craftsmen, so please let me know if you go into production…will so buy!!!

  15. twospirits says:

    I love this design. How do i get added to the notification list if and when you start selling the item.

    • Nathan says:

      Thanks! It looks like popular demand is going to force me to make some more of these! When I do, I’ll email everyone who’s left a comment expressing an interest. If I can find some spare time I’ll try to figure out how to add a webform for it too.

  16. Greg Etopio says:

    Just saw this, pretty cool! Since it looks as if you may make more I figured I’d add a comment. Let me know if you decide to make more!

  17. Rachel Leung says:

    This is very amazing but really hard for people with nothing to start with…. please make some for sale! This is so skilled! :) already submitted! Good work!

  18. Karen Hobson says:

    Add me to the list of people who want to hear it if/when you start selling them! All together too cute!

  19. therese says:

    I just submitted my name as interested in your abacus bracelet. Question: do you only make the Chinese 2 over 5 version, or would you do a Japanese Soroban 1 over 4 version? Thank you.

  20. Marleen says:

    Love the design
    Very much admire the craftsmanship
    and I imagine too funny to wear in an office surrounded by sales cowboys impressing each other to bits with their latest smart watches…
    Please let me know when you have a bracelet availalbe for me to puchase.
    Thank you!

  21. 36NiCrMo16 says:

    Sometimes, when I watches that types of manufacture, I cannot believe, people can do gadgets, like this. In Our country name of talent person is Gold hand, heheh 😉

Trackbacks for this post

  1. Enséñame a contar, muñeca | Calmagráfica
  2. Great Gifts for your favorite Geek |

Got something to say? Go for it!