EASY DIY Wood Mancala Game Board

Friday, December 8, 2017 -
diablo hole saw review carbide tip diy how to make wood mancala game board christmas

*This post is sponsored by The Home Depot. I have been compensated for my time and provided with product in exchange. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. 

My mom had to work full time when I was a kid, so my brother and I spent a lot of time together, just the two of us. Summer breaks could become pretty long and once we re-watched Ghostbusters about 5 times, we would break out the board games. One of our favorites was and still is Mancala.

Mancala is a classic middle eastern game that has been around for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. It's fun and really simple. Here's a quick video how to play

A beautiful, handmade board game makes a perfect Holiday gift. I decided to make a Mancala game set for my siblings for Christmas. I've seen DIY game boards before, Youtube has dozens of tutorials, but they almost always involve specialty tools and advanced woodworking techniques. 

I came up with a really simple tutorial, using 1/4" and 3/4" boards that only requires a drill, drill bits and a jigsaw. This is a great project to utilize scraps you have laying around, or get all the materials you need with a quick trip to Home Depot

Materials List:

  • (1) 1 x 5 x 3/4" @ 18" board
  • (1) 1 x 5 x 1/4" @ 18" board (found in the "Hobby Board" section)


1. Begin with the 3/4" thick board. Measure and mark the hole locations. 

Here's a diagram for you to see the location of each hole. 

2. You will need to drill 1-1/2" holes completely through the board. If you've ever drilled large holes before, you know it can be a bit tricky. I recommend using a high quality hole saw attached to a drill.

I've used hole saws plenty of times in the past and I hated them! They would constantly bind up and were a major pain to switch the cups. My new Diablo hole saw set is COMPLETELY different. Seriously, they are freaking awesome!

The first difference is the way you attach the cups to the drill. Old hole saws used a nut to hold the mandrel in place, which required a separate wrench to tighten. 

My new Diablo hole saw set uses a Snap-Lock Plus connection system and takes only a few seconds to change cups. 

It works just like the quick-change collet on your impact driver. All you do is pull the collar back, slide the cup fitting in, and release the collar, holding everything tightly in place. It's a total game changer!

3. I chose to pre-drill all of my hole centers so I could visualize the spacing, but that's not necessary at all. Make sure the board is secured to the work surface before you start drilling. The carbide tips on the hole saw cut easily, but occasionally the torque of the drill can spin the board around. 

Start drilling slowly to create a clean hole on the surface, then you can speed up to cut all the way through. 

4. The way the game is played requires a larger, open cup at each end of the board. You could use a router to remove the space between the last two holes on either end, or if that seems intimidating, you can simply cut two straight lines using a jigsaw, creating a long oval. 

5. Optionally, you can use a router and a 1/4" roud-over bit to smooth the edges of each cup and the outside perimeter. The soft lines really make your project look professional and actually make it easier to play. If you don't have a router, that's okay. You can soften the edges by hand sanding as well. 

6. Once the 3/4" thick board is cut and sanded, it's time to join it to the 1/4" bottom board. Brush wood glue to the bottom side of the top board, place it on the bottom board, align the edges, and clamp the pieces together. This process is called "lamination". Once the glue is dried, the two pieces will be completely fused together, almost like they are one. 

7. Sand the entire game board, making sure to smooth the seam. Then, apply the finish of your choice. I used teak oil, followed by a coat of wax buffed in. It feels as smooth as a baby's bottom. 

Grab 24 half-marbles (the kind you find in the floral section of the craft store), and you're ready to play!

I used pine wood since that's what I had, but you could follow the same steps with any species you choose. I really love how to natural wood shows off that gorgeous grain. 

I still have handmade tic-tac-toe and checker games my grandpa made 30 years ago. I cherish them. I have the small hope that maybe my siblings will keep their Mancala boards for and think of me when they play.

If I'm being totally honest, while taking photos, I kept wishing those were jelly beans instead of marbles. Can you tell I'm ready to hunker down and work on my winter bod? :)

I was able to make 4 boards in a single day. That means there is still plenty of time to make gifts before Christmas. Feel free to pin the image below the save the idea for later! 

How to make a DIY wood Mancala game board using simple tools and off the shelf lumber simple tutorial easy holiday gift idea

If you like this project, you'll love these ideas: 


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