What is an Abacus & How to Use an Abacus in Math | Brighterly.com

How to Use an Abacus?

Have you ever used an abacus to calculate quickly? The tool is not only proven to be useful, but also can be entertaining and educational. In this piece, you will learn about abacus math and how to use an abacus, in particular, how to perform operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and percentages calculation. We will guide you step by step on the process of how to use abacus for all calculations.

What Is an Abacus?

An abacus is a counting device that consists of beads strung on wires and held in a frame. An abacus typically consists of a rectangular wooden rack holding vertical rods. Beads are strung on each rod and can slide up and down freely.

An abacus is also sometimes called a counting frame.

Each wire represents a place value, with the bead closest to the user representing ones, the next bead representing fives, etc. Users can add, subtract, multiply, and divide numbers by sliding the beads up or down.

The number of beads on a rod represents the place value of that digit. For example, the leftmost rod may have three beads, while the next rod to its right has two beads, and so on. The rightmost digit represents units, moving leftward toward hundreds, thousands, and beyond.

How many different types of abacus are there? It depends on the origin; for instance, there are two basic types of abaci, the Chinese and the Japanese. The Chinese abacus is a wooden or metal frame with beads arranged in vertical columns, while the Japanese abacus (soroban) has a metal frame with beads arranged in a horizontal line.

It is interesting to know who invented abacus. The exact origin of a math abacus is still unknown. Today, abaci feature bamboo frames with beads sliding on wires, but originally, they were beans or stones moved in grooves in sand or on tablets of wood, stone, or metal.

The earliest form of the counting abacus was probably a board with five lines and four intermediate spaces used as counters or tally marks. Abacus could be used to count animals by marking each time an animal passes through a gate.

How to Use an Abacus for Addition?

Using an abacus can be fun. It can help add numbers by breaking the problem down into columns, starting at the rightmost digit and working left. How does an abacus work? The principle of abacus counting remains the same: the right column represents ones, and each column to the left represents multiples of ten.

To use the abacus counting to add two numbers, you will need to know how many digits there are in the most extended number. It will tell you how many columns you will need on your abacus.

The columns represent powers of 10: ones, tens, hundreds, etc. That is how to read an abacus.

Let us consider a simple example where we have to add 7 and 6. First, we can place the beads for 7 in the first row. So, we will place the bead in the second column from the right, which is equivalent to 1, and place five beads in the third column, which is equivalent to 5.

Similarly, let us place a bead in the second column from the right, which is equivalent to 1, and one bead in the third column, which is equivalent to 5. Now, we can add them up by moving all beads from the third column to the fourth one since the value of the fifth column is 10.

After adding, we get one bead in each of the second, third, forth, and sixth columns from the right, which gives us the final answer - 13.

How to Use an Abacus for Subtraction?

How do you use an abacus for subtraction? Subtraction of numbers with an abacus is very easy, just like addition. You must work with the top row first and then move to the bottom one. You must set up the abacus properly to get the correct answer. The steps are as follows:

  1. If you are subtracting a number with five digits or less, place the subtraction symbol on the left of the abacus. If you are subtracting a number with 6 or more digits, place the subtraction symbol on the right of the abacus.
  2. Enter a smaller number in the bottom row of the abacus and then enter a bigger number in the top row of the abacus by moving beads away from the center bar down toward you.
  3. To subtract two numbers with equal length, move all of your top-row beads until there is only one bead left before each digit in your top row. The digit on the far left should have five beads before it. 0 should appear as "00000" (five zeros) in this case.
  4. Next, this will cause some of your top row beads to go into negative numbers.

How to Use an Abacus for Multiplication?

You can show off your skills and impress your friends if you learn the steps that you need to follow when performing abacus multiplication:

  1. Create a number equal to or greater than the number you want to multiply but smaller than 100.
  2. Pick a multiple often less than or equal to the first number.
  3. Using the multiple of ten, multiply the first number using abacus multiplication and keep track of the total on a piece of paper. This will be your running total.
  4. Take away one from the multiple of ten and add 1 to the first number. The new multiple should be one less than the last multiple.
  5. Multiply this new number using abacus multiplication and add it to your running total from step 3.

Let's take 664 x 10 as an example:

Ø  To multiply 664 x 10, first put 664 on the abacus

Ø  Next, add one more row (10s place) on top of the 664 figure and move the 3rd bead from right to left into this row

Ø  Then, move all other beads in the 1st row one place towards the left

Ø  You will get 6640 as a result.

That is how an abacus works.

The Use of Abacus for Counting

Also called a counting frame, abacus is a calculating tool that was used in Europe, China, and Russia centuries before the adoption of the written Hindu–Arabic numeral system. When was the abacus invented? The exact date of origin of the abacus is still a mystery.

There exist many types of abacus. Some have beads divided into tens and ones and are called decimal abaci. Others have beads divided into thousands and hundreds only, called digit-type abaci; one type has beads arranged in rows of tens only and is called binary-decimal abaci.

In its simplest form, abacus is an instrument for performing arithmetic processes. It consists of a rectangular frame set horizontally on a base with rods strung across the frame. Each rod has ten beads strung, five each on two sides of the dividing bar in the center. The beads are moved from one position to another to perform computations.

What is an abacus used for? The ancient abacus was an early aid for mathematical computations. Its value is that it aids the memory of the human performing the calculation. A modern abacus, purchased from a reliable source, is inexpensive and can be used to do computations with ease and speed.


An abacus is a very powerful device for calculations. To work with it, you need to be skilled, but if you master the method and practice enough, you will never have problems with solving division or multiplication problems. Overall, an abacus is a fun tool to help one learn to make calculations.