Introduction: Bao Mancala Board

Having seen this game online a few times and being a big fan of Mancala I decided to make a Bao Mancala board and thought I'd share my experience.

I have made two boards now and the more observant among you may notice that the pictures are a mixture of both of these boards.


Timber, approx 1220mm long x 140mm across x 34mm deep (although for my first board I glued up two boards 18mm boards to make a 36mm deep board)

Hinges and Clasp

Finishing: Stain and Oil of your choosing



Drill with 40mm Forstner bit

Router with 19mm Guided Bowl & Tray Router bit and 9.5mm Guided Round Over bit

Sander with multiple grade sanding sheets

Step 1: Saftey ...

As with any DIY project involving power tools, safety is paramount and I have learned from bitter experience that the sharp spiny-roundy things are always going to win against any soft squidgy fleshy things that come in to contact with them!

So always read the instructions and safety advice that come with your power tools and make sure you wear the correct safety equipment to ensure any DIY project leaves you with as many extremities as you started with.

Bear in mind, the fewer fingers you have, the harder it'll be to get the seeds out of the pits you are about to make!

Step 2: Design

For the actual board I wanted to work out how big to make each of the pits so I could easily get my fingers in to remove the seeds when playing. After a number of "test" holes I figured 40mm would work nicely, especially if I then router the tops of the pits to make the top slightly bigger and more bowl shaped and would them 50mm in total. With 10mm in between each whole and 10mm surround, this means a finished length of around 610mm for each of the two boards. The design gives a width of 130mm but and the wood I had was 134mm accross so I decided to have the extra 4mm on the outside edges as a frame.

I drew this out and printed out and from this diagram I then made a template from a piece of scrap mdf and drilled the center hole of every pit and added a third for the end pits.

Traditionally, Bao Mancala boards don't need these end pits but I thought they would be useful to store the extra seeds in during the initial Namua stage of the game.

I screwed two bits of scrap wood either end of the mdf so the real boards would fit snugly in between and not move around.

I then marked the sides where the hinge would be and also marked the hole that would be the Nyumba (house) as this needs to be a slightly different shape (square in mine) and I wanted to make sure I knew which it was on each of the boards.

I also purchased the required bowl cutting bit which had a guide above the cutter as I didn't have one of these. The router bits I used can be seen in the photo above.

The wood is pictured above, I used some left over wood that was a little damaged here and there but I didn't want a shop bought finished look to my board so this was fine - the flaws in the wood just give it character, I just kept in mind to sand any sharp edges away later in the project.

Step 3: Marking Out the Pits and Removing Much of the Excess Wood

After cutting the two pieces of wood to the correct length, I used the template to drill through every hole to give me a center position for each pit on the actual board. Using the template meant I could be sure both sides of the board were mirror images of each other.

Using a 40mm forstner bit in my drill I made a hole about 10mm deep. The center point of the forstner bit lines up with the pilot hole meaning it is really easy to get these in the right place. This give me the edge for my two other pattern/guided router bits to follow and also removes most of the waste wood quickly and easily. Although it makes a bit of a mess as you can see in the photo above.

Once I had completed all holes, including the three overlapping holes for the end pits I checked the depth. The depth was just over 11mm but as each pits needs to hold around 12-15 seeds comfortably this didn't seem deep enough and I didn't want to have to remove too much using the bowl router bit so I went back to the forstner bit and removed a bit more to make each hole around 18mm deep. I wasn't too worried about getting these all 100% perfect as they will be tidied up in the next steps.

Using a straight cut router bit I formed the sides of the end pit drawing a straight line to join the three holes and then removing the extra triangles, this was done free hand and is a little tricky to get perfect so take a little bit off at a time until it is straight. This can be done using a chisel if you don't have a straight cut router bit.

You also need to cut the corners of the Nyumba to make it squarer than the other pits so it can be distinguished from the others - again the straight cut router bit was used but a chisel is also fine.

Step 4: Forming the Bowl Shape

Switching to the pattern bowl router bit I formed the bowl shaped bottom of each pit. Setting the depth of the plunge router to be a few mm more than the current depth allows the small hole that was left from the forstner bit to be removed and the sides of the pit to curve up nicely, leaving a bowl shape.

Switch to the round over bead pattern bit and remove the hard edge at the top of each pit. The photo above shows the before and after. Adjusting the depth of the router was trial and error as I wanted as curved as possible but without a circle being cut around the top of each pit.

Again I wasn't too bothered about it being 100% perfect as I think the imperfections of wood is what makes is so beautiful and thought they would add character to the finished board.

Step 5: Final Sand and Finish

The final stage is then to apply your chosen finish.

I went with a dark oak stain, which I sanded back after the first coat, added a second coat, and then lightly sanded once again. This gives the beautiful textured look to the wood.

Danish oil applied as a final finish to give it a sheen and protect it.

I found some great hinges and a clasp on Celtic Woods which can be seen in the photo above. The screws that came with them were very small so I also applied a thin layer of superglue to the back of the hinges and clasp as well to keep them in place.

Step 6: And Finally ...

The best bit is actually playing the game.

I went for some small cream marble glass pebbles I found on ebay (approx 12mm x 4mm)

The best explaination of the rules (with examples) I could find are here ...

and all that is left is to pour yourself a drink and find someone to play against!

Hope you enjoyed this instructable and let me know if you make it!