ʻOhana Craft Party: Make A Wooden Kōnane Board

Kōnane, the traditional Hawaiian game, is simple enough that you only need a board and some rocks to play it, but complex enough that scientists use it to teach computers how to think.

Making your own kōnane board is somewhere in-between.

Tools and Materials You Need

  • Flat piece of wood that’s at least six inches on each side, and at least one inch thick
  • Power sander, or sandpaper and lots of patience
  • Ruler, standard size
  • Pencil
  • Plunge router, or a hammer and chisel and lots of time
  • Wood finish
  • Clean rag

Directions

  1. Sand the wood until it is smooth, and you can’t see any previous layers of paint or varnish.
  2. With the ruler and pencil, measure and mark the holes. They should be aligned both vertically and horizontally, and marked at least 1 inch apart.
  3. With the plunge router, make the holes (it’s not hard).
  4. Wipe the board with the wood finish of your choice.

Tips for Making a Kōnane Board

Just some thoughts/tips based on prior experience to make your board party go better.

Wood

There is no standard size for a kōnane board, but the more holes the board has, the longer a game will last. (Think about how long a checkers game would last if the board had 16 squares.)

Any dry piece of wood will do, if it’s thick enough and flat. Old tabletops, slabs cut from tree stumps, or something you buy at the lumberyard. You can use a jigsaw to turn a dull rectangular piece of wood into a live-edge masterpiece.

Sanding the Wood

This will take off any existing paint or varnish, and smooth out the wood so you won’t get slivers every time you play. It also primes the wood to take on varnish at the end. Don’t forget to sand the edges too!

A power sander will save you a lot of time here. If you don’t have one, you can rent one.

Marking the Holes

The holes must line up horizontally and vertically. Why? Because diagonal moves aren’t allowed in kōnane. If your hole arrangement is haphazard the game will be impossible to play.

marking holes for a konane board

Making the Holes

The old-school method would have been chipping each hole out by hand with a hammer and a chisel. We went with the plunge router. Happily we have a family member who owns one. It’s a key tool for woodworking, so you may know someone who has one-if not they go for around $99.

As noted above, you need a plunge router, not a fixed-base router. Fixed-base routers only cut edges and can’t cut into the top of the wood like we need to do here.

making a konane board drilling the holes with a plunge router

The Finish

If you have any scrap pieces of wood, test the finish on those first to make sure you like the color. Or test on the back side of the board. We went with a dark stain that made all of our different types of wood look like rich koa, but you may want a more rustic driftwood-y look, or a bright painted color. It’s your board!

putting the finish on a konane board

How To Play Konane

This video by the Kōnane Players Association is very clear, and explains some of the strategy as it goes along.