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Using a coping saw to build a pinewood derby car. It's as easy as ABC! 

Example of pinewood car


How to Use a Coping Saw to Build Your Pinewood Derby Car

Band saws are the best tool for cutting a Pinewood Derby car block. If you don't have access to a band saw, a coping saw will do.  Coping saws are economical and can cut unusual shapes and curves.

Coping Saw

Coping Saws are intended for cutting curves in thin material but they can be used for cutting your Pinewood Derby car.  The thin blades on coping saws make the saw tend to drift away from the desired cut so you need to carefully watch the cut. You will have better results if you are cutting a straight line it you use a Keyhole or Compass saw.

Never use a saw with teeth that are bent, broken, or dulled or a handle that is loosely attached. Nothing is more aggravating than working with a beaten-up or dull saw.  Most saws cut when you push the blade into the wood but coping saws cut during the pull. This prevents the thin blade from buckling.

Before cutting your block, you will need to decide how your car will look. Draw some shapes on a piece of paper until youi decide on the shape that you would like to use. Now you can make a template of the outline of your car.

First, trace the outline of your Pinewood Derby car block on a blank piece of paper with a sharp pencil. Be sure that the axle holes are facing up. Mark the position of the axle holes on the paper as dots.

Next draw the outline of your car inside the block outline that you just made. Be sure that the outline stays at least  1/4 inch away from the axle holes.

Now carefully cut out your car outline and place it on the block. Be sure that the axle marks on the paper line up with the axle marks on the block. Then use a pencil to trace around the edge of the paper onto the block.

Traced design on a Pinewood Derby car block

The result should look like this.

Next, turn your paper template over, place it on the other side of the block and trace its outline on the block. Make sure that the front of the car is on the same end of the block for both sides.

Example of curved cut
Example of a curve cut by a coping saw.
To begin a cut, set the saw blade down where the line you marked meets the edge of the block. Keep the saw at a right angle to the block so that it cuts through both sides of the block equally. Push the saw away from you. It shoud make a little groove in the wood. Lift the saw up and move it towards you and set it into the groove. Then push and pull the saw back and forth.

Keep a little pressure on the blade but don't bend it. Watch the blades progress along the line. It should follow the line on both sides of the block.  If the blade starts to wander, twist the handle of your saw to glide it back.

Some general suggestions for sawing:

Starting a cut

It is hard to start a cut at a steep angle. It will be much easier if you use a file or rasp to begin the cut then finish it with the saw.

  • Using a coping saw is a test of skill as it can be difficult to control and requires practice. You might want to make a few cuts on a piece of scrap wood before cutting your Pinewood Derby car block.
  • It will be easier to cut if you clamp the car block to the work surface. The line you plan to cut should hang over the edge of the surface.
  • Start by making short gentle strokes. Take longer cuts when the saw is a quarter inch or so in the wood.
  • Go slow, and watch carefully to make sure the cut is staying on the line. If the cut begins to wander, either start the cut from the opposite side or come in from a different angle.

by Dave Murry

More about how to use a coping saw

A high quality coping saw is available from our Tools Page.