Apr 20 2014
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pinewood derby

How to build a fast Pinewood Derby car. It's as easy as ABC!

Example of pinewood car derby

Our blocks are cut to official pinewood derby specs and the axle slots are precision cut to minimize wheel alignment problems. See our blocks

We have the same wheels that come in your pinewood derby car kit but they have been cleaned up to go faster. See our wheels

See our axle polishing kit

Our axles are the same that come in the official pinewood derby kit.  We remove all imperfections and we give them a super polishing.  See our axles

We have a variety of car designs with templates and full instructions. See our pinewood derby car designs

You can save time by using one of our pre-cut pinewood cars. All you need to do is sand and paint. We can even install the weights for you. Over 25 designs to choose from. See our pre-cut pinewood derby blocks

 

Another way to make your pinewood derby car is to cut the block into a wedge shape then add our plastic accessories to create a variety of designs.  See our plastic accessories

A coping saw is the best hand saw to use for cutting your car. See our Coping Saw

 

 

 

 

See our Wood Rasp

 

 

 

 

 

We have a large variety of easy to use weights designed for Pinewood Derby cars. See our weights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choose from our 17 colors of water based paint. Easy to use and easy to clean up. See our paint

See our decals

See our racing stripes

You can also glue drivers, engines, roll bars and other accessories to your car. See our car accessories

 

 

 

 

See our graphite

 

 

For more details on building a fast pinewood derby car, see our "How To" books

Basic Pinewood Derby Car Building Instructions

This page is for first time Pinewood Derby car builders with a few tips that experienced car builders might also find useful. These instructions were written to make building a Pinewood Derby car as easy as possible and, if you follow all of these steps, you will also end up with a fast car that just might win the trophy.

The right side of this page suggests tools and supplies that can be ordered from us to make your car building experience easier.

Please follow these safety guidelines:

Wear protective goggles, gloves and a dust mask to protect your eyes, hands and lungs

Lead is often used for weight. If you use lead, wear gloves and wash your hands after use. Do not melt lead. It is toxic.

Children should not use power tools without adult supervision

If this is your first time building a car, I suggest starting out with a simple design requiring only a few cuts of the block.

If you were given a pinewood derby kit then you can start with the first step on this page. If you do not have a kit or if you do not want to cut the block, we have several varieties of pre cut blocks, a variety of prepared wheels and polished axles that are legal in all pinewood derby races and can save you time in the building process.   You will need one block, four axles and four wheels as a minimum to build a car.

First Step - Check the Pinewood Derby Car Parts

The first step is to inspect the block, wheels and axles. If a part is defective, it is far better to replace it than to try to fix it.

Pinewood Derby Kit

The block

1. Inspect the block for cracks and chips. The block should be replaced if you find cracks near the axle slots or chips on the slots. You should also replace the block if there are any cracks that won't be removed when you shape your car.


Check for warped block2. Check for a warped block.  Place the block on a flat surface such as a kitchen counter. Push down on each corner of the block in turn with your finger. The block should not rock. Turn the block on its side and test the corners again.


Axle Slot Alignment3. Check that the axle grooves are perpendicular to the block side. Place a credit card on the bottom of the block. Line the long edge of the credit card up with the side of the block then compare the short edge of the credit card with the axle slot. The credit card edge should line up with the axle slot. Check the other slot. If either slot isn't perpendicular with the edge of the block, your car won't roll straight. Either get another block or drill axle holes (if your rules allow).

The Axles

Example of bad pinewood derby axle1. Inspect the axles for defects. Reject any that are bad.



Spin the axle 2. Axles should be straight. Mount each axle in a drill and spin it. If the head wobbles, the axle should be replaced or you can use our Pro Axle Press to straighten the axle.




Pinewood derby axle3. Pinewood derby axles have burrs and crimp marks that should be removed to give your car more speed.




Remove axle burrsTaper the axle head 4. Use a jeweler's file to remove the crimp marks and burrs.  Do this by mounting the axle in a drill then spin it while holding the file on the axle. First, place the file on the crimp marks until they are flush with the axle shaft. Then move the file to the inside of the axle head and remove the two burrs. Next, tilt the file a few degrees and press the file against the axle head to give it a slight taper. This will reduce the contact area between the axle head and wheel giving you more speed.


The Wheels

Wheel Spin Test Mount each wheel on one of the axles that you prepared in the above step then spin the wheel. Reject it if the wheel noticeably wobbles from side to side or if it only spins for a few seconds. Roll each wheel on a flat, dry, clean surface. The wheel should roll in a straight line and not wobble. Reject any that follow a curved path or that wobble.

You can make the wheels faster by sanding the tread area to remove high marks and other imperfections and by removing the step from the outer hub. We have wheels with these modifications already made to them. See our wheels or you can do it yourself with our tools. Remove the step from the outer hub with our Pro Hub Shaver. Sand the wheel tread with our Pro Wheel Mandrel. Polish the wheel hub bore with our Pro Bore Polisher and wax the hub bore with our Pro Bore Wax.


You are now ready to start working on your car.

Design your Pinewood Derby Car

The first step is to have fun thinking up a car design. Don’t limit your imagination, but keep in mind that the more complicated the design, the harder it will be to shape your car. Almost all races won't allow a car longer than the standard 7" block length so don't add anything to either end of the car. Your car should be under 4" high to clear the finish timers at the end of the track (some rules restrict the height to 3"). Check your rules for other restrictions.

Pinewood derby car accessoriesAn easy design is to cut your car in a wedge shape then add our plastic parts to design your car.

Befor cutting your car, try different designs on paper until you have one that you like then trace the design on the block.  First, make several outlines of the side of the block on a piece of paper and make marks where the axles will go.  Now you can draw your car designs inside the tracing. You will notice that the axle slots have different spacings from the end of the block. The axle closest to the end of the block should be the rear axle.


A few general design guidelines:

Pinewood Car DesignsIf you plan on inserting weights in your car (most cars will need additional weight), design your car with enough wood in the back to accommodate the weights.

Leave at least 1/4" of wood on both sides of the axle slots to prevent cracking when inserting the axles.

The front of the car should not come to a sharp point. Leave at least a 1/4" flat area on the front for the starting pin to rest against.

Curves look nice but they are harder to cut. If you only have basic tools, it is better to use only straight lines.

Here are a few sample designs to get you started. Download and print







Transfer design to blockWhen you've decided on a design that you like, cut the design from the paper. Place it on the side of the block (make sure that the axle marks on the design line up with the axle slots in the block) then trace around the design. Move the design to the other side of the block and trace it again.

Cut your Block

There are several ways to cut the block of wood. The easiest is to use a band saw. If you don't know anyone with a band saw, you might be able to bring your block into a hardware store and ask them if they will cut it for you on one of their demonstration saws.

The following procedure is if you will be using a hand saw. I recommend securing the block of wood in a vise or to a bench with clamps. This is not only safer, but it will be faster and easier for the saw to go through the wood. For a single, basic cut, any handsaw will do. For more intricate cuts, use a coping saw which can cut curves for detailed cuts.  When cutting the block, hold the saw so that it cuts straight through the block and the cut follows the trace marks on both sides of the block. More information about using a coping saw.

Shaping your Block

After your block is cut, you can further shape it and round the corners by using a wood rasp. A rasp is a great tool for shaping your car. See How to use a rasp. Once again, be sure to wear protective gloves and a face mask so you do not inhale saw dust.

To smooth your car, you can use a metal file and different grades of sandpaper. Start with a course grade of sandpaper - around 80 grit - and finish up with a fine grade of 160.

Adding weights to your Pinewood Derby Car

Adding Weights to Your CarThe heaver your pinewood derby car is, the faster it will go so you want your car to weigh right up to the 5oz limit. You can use just about any metal object for weights. We sell a variety of weights designed to be used for Pinewood Derby cars. You can glue the weights to the outside of the car or drill holes and insert the weights inside the car. It is best to add the weights near the back of the car for an extra speed boost. The height of the weight will not make a difference to your car's speed. If you drill holes in the car for weights, you can use wood putty to seal the holes. Wood putty will require several hours to dry. If you are in a hurry, you can use a hot glue gun or super glue.

Pinewood derby weights
Examples of weights for pinewood derby cars
You can put weights under your car as long as there is still at least 3/8" clearance under the car.

If you don't have an accurate scale, you can take your car to the post office and use the scale there. If you plan on gluing parts to you car, be sure to weigh the parts with the car.

More details on adding weights to your pinewood derby car.

Painting your Car

You are now ready for the final touches…painting, decals, and decorating. First, make sure that the car feels smooth to the touch. Sand it if it doesn't.

Don't paint around axle slotsThe first coat of paint will soak into the wood. Try to not paint the area around the axle slot as shown to the left. This area will be coated with graphite later. After the first coat dries (about one hour), sand it lightly with 200 or 400 grit sandpaper. Next add one or two finishing coats to get a clean, polished look. Do not sand between the finishing coats.

Finishing Touches

After the last coat of paint dries, you can add decals, racing stripes or paint designs on the car. You can also glue on pieces of toys, like toy soldiers, car parts and so on. It's a good idea to use a final clear coat of paint if you are using racing stripes or decals. Paint the clear after the extra items have been added to the car.

Adding Wheels and Axles

You are now ready to add wheels and axles to your pinewood derby car. First, you should lubricate the car and wheels with graphite.

Graphite First we want to reduce the friction between the wheel hub and the car block. Sand the area around each axle slot with 400 to 1000 grit sand paper until smooth. Pour a small amount of graphite on a clean sheet of paper. Grind the end of a pencil eraser in the graphite (you can also use a Q-tip). Then apply the graphite to the car body by grinding the eraser into the area around each axle slot as show above. Add until the area is saturated with graphite.

Add Graphite To WheelsNext are the wheels. Add more graphite to the sheet of paper if needed then rub the wheel hub into the graphite until you have a shiny ring of graphite around the wheel hub.




Add graphite to wheel outer bore

Rub the Q-tip in the graphite then rub on the wheel outer bore until the area around the bore is shiny.






Next you want to work as much graphite into the wheel bore as possible. 

Clean wheels with pipe cleaner1. Clean the wheel bore (hole). Run a clean pipe cleaner through the hole several times. Do this for each wheel. When done, Sprinkle some graphite on the pipe cleaner and run it through each wheel several times adding graphite often.

Add graphite to the wheels2. Stack the wheels on top of each other.


3. Plug the bottom wheel hole with your finger then pour a few puffs of graphite into the top hole.



Coat inside of wheels with graphite 4. Plug the top wheel hole with your thumb then sake the wheels several times.


5. Pour any loose graphite out of the wheel holes.


spin the wheelAdd Graphite to wheelInsert axle in wheel6. Insert an axle part way into a wheel. Pour a few puffs of graphite into the other end of the wheel. Slowly push the axle up through the hole while shaking and turning the wheel to work as much graphite as possible between the wheel and axle.


Add Graphite to wheel7. After the axle has been pushed all the way through the wheel, work more graphite between the wheel and axle by pouring more graphite between the wheel and axle, moving the axle up and down and spinning and taping the wheel.

Wheel on Axle Installer BaseMount the wheels on the car. The axles should be inserted as high in the slot as possible and should go straight in perpendicular to the block. Push the axle in until there is a credit card thickness gap between the wheel and block.  Install the axles the right way with our Axle Installer.

When all four wheels are on the car, push the car forward on a flat surface. It should roll within two inches of straight for a three foot run. If the car doesn't roll straight, one of the wheels is pulling the car to the side. Remove one of the front wheels. Roll the car again. If it rolls straight then you know that the removed wheel is causing the problem.

by Dave Murry

Pinewood Derby Speed SecretsThis completes the basic cub scouts pinewood derby car building steps. You can find more detailed car building instructions in the books that we offer.

 

 

 

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Hey guys I would like to say your product is great. We used your block and axles and won the pack 131 nationals for 2005 and we used your oil. Your product's are great and we will be back. Thanks guys you made my son's day. pack 131 champion
We bought your products and he got 1st place and set a track record.   again, thank you 
chris and matthew
I just had to say thank you for the quick turnaround on my order. I ordered late Friday and imagine my surprise when I came in the office this morning after being out yesterday to discover the car was already delivered.  Fantastic job!  Thank you. Kathy C
I wanted to thank you for your prompt service, great products and winning tips.  My son Joshua, a first grader and a first time racer, placed second last night in his Cub Scout Pack's pinewood derby race.  He was so proud when his name was called and he received his trophy.  I placed my order online, received your products in just a few days and then scoured your website for tips on how Joshua and I could build a fast car.  You've got it down!
Thanks again,
Rob and Joshua
I just wanted to send you a quick email to say thank you for your web site. I volunteer with a boy scout troop here in New England. Currently we are somewhat snowed in from the storm we are getting so we are working on a project about what makes pinewood derby cars work. Your site had some great stuff that I was able to share with the kids. Just wanted to say thanks for all the help!
Jack S.
Used your Ultra Lite wheels and polished axles - And the results....
1st place in speed girls grade 3/4 group
Fastest car in all girls groups.
Fastest car over all boys entries.
Set new track record.
So, we are off to regionals in two weeks.
James P.