Types of Abacus, How to use, and Abacus for Kids

In the Flash Anzan event at the All Japan Soroban Championship, champion Takeo Sasano was able to add fifteen three-digit numbers in just 1.7 seconds.

Isn’t it fascinating that a simple device comprising of a frame with wires and grooves can be used to crack complex arithmetic’s? Math has always been, and still is bitter gourd soup for masses till date. But as luck would have it, math is a part of our everyday lives and we are forced to deal with it.

Join me fellas, while I take you through the entire detail book of the epitome of human invention in Mathematics – The Abacus!


Abacus is a calculating tool used in various countries of the world, invented centuries back, before the emergence of the written Arabic numerical system. It can be used to perform basic math operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Counting decimal places, extracting square and cubic roots, calculating sums having negative numbers can also be done using the Abacus.

From the initial days of business and trade in the human evolution history, till date, abacus has become a worldwide accepted tool because of its impeccable ability to play around with the mind math.

ABACUS – The second best ancient human inventions after knife and Pencil



The earliest Abacus was invented 5000 years ago. Historians believe it was the Chinese minds that invented the Abacus around 500BC, with beads strung on wires, during the Ming Dynasty.With the abundant fame of success for abacus spreading, countries like Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia and Japan were smitten by the abacus fever following this, as the primitive way of calculating.

However, since there are no facts that support the confirmed statement about the invention of the abacus, its origin still remains unknown.

The earliest form and etymology

The earliest form of abacus was a reckoning table covered with sand or fine dust, in which fingers were drawn using a stylus, and erased with the same, when necessary. This description gave rise to the Greek word ‘ABAX’ from which abacus sourced its etymology.

The advent of Romans into Abacus 

 As numbers and calculations emerged as the vital part of trade and commerce, the Romans developed an easier way to use the abacus. Instead of rows and strings, a stone table was constructed with movable stones sliding up and down.

Also, the Romans invented three different types of abacus.

  1. The Dust Abacus
  2. The Line Abacus and
  3. The Grooved Abacus

The rows represented the place value of numbers accordingly.

The Chinese Suanpan Abacus

The ancient Chinese abacus, called as SUANPAN, was developed in the twelfth century and did not attain fame till the fourteenth century.

However, this invention was quite a complication to the calculations since it had two beads on the upper deck. It was eventually a failure because of its construction.

Towards the end of the 16th century, the Modern numbering system based on Hindu-Arabic mathematics was widespread. That is when the Chinese termed abacus as the “ball arithmetic” and started using it as the main mode of calculations.

The Japanese Soroban Abacus

The Japanese obtained the form of Abacus from China, through Korea, around the sixteenth century. In the Japanese way of construction, the operational methods of abacus underwent some advancements. It was simplified by the nineteenth century and obtained its current form around the 1920’s. Undoubtedly, the present form of Soroban looks much more elegant and appealing.

The East-Asian Stschoty Abacus

The Stschoty has been the calculating device in Russia for centuries together, till date. It is 28 cm wide and 46 cm in height. Smaller Stschotys for students use are available in 13 x 18 size.

The iron rods are in horizontal position and the beads had to be moved along the left to manipulate the numbers. The Stschoty has almost 10 to 14 rows with no separation bar in between them.

One row in the entire Stschoty is provided with 4 beads and was used to calculate fractions.

The Vietnamese Abacus

This Abacus from Vietnam has 5 beads in both the upper and the lower decks. It measures 160 mm X90 mm.

Each column represents a power to 10.

The horizontal beam that separates the structure has no special function and this complex structure still remains a question.

Lee’s improved Abacus

The Lee’s improved abacus was invented in 1950 by Lee Kai Chen in Taiwan. Measuring 33 cm by 20 cm, it is a combination of the Chinese Suanpan (5+2) and the Japanese Sorobon (4+1) structure. This invention was considered the most efficient form of abacus as it was used to calculate complex processes including extraction of the square roots.