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How to paint a pinewood derby racer

SAFETY FIRST: Ask an adult to help with tools you haven't used before.

Sandpaper and paint can turn a pinewood block into the sleek body of a pinewood derby racer. The trick is knowing how to use your supplies and your skills.


  • Coarse, medium-grit and fine sandpaper
  • Liquid Sanding Sealer
  • Enamel paint
  • Decals or self-stick numbers
  • Testor’s Glosscote clear gloss paint
  • Floor wax paste


Support Your Sandpaper

Begin by wrapping sandpaper in a block of wood 1 inch by 3 inches. Without a block of wood for support, sandpaper can leave dips and gullies in the pinewood body.

Round the corners of the pinewood with coarse sandpaper. For the squared-off look of an antique car or a modern Indy 500 car, sand the edges lightly. If you want the shape of Sprint or older Grand Prix cars, sand until the pinewood has an oval or elliptical shape.

Change to medium-grit paper for smoothing rough edges. Finish with fine sandpaper to remove any sanding marks.

Hide the Grain

Just painting the pinewood won’t hide the wood’s grain. Apply two coats of liquid Sanding Sealer (sold at hobby shops). Let the sealer dry overnight before sanding it lightly with fine-grit paper.

If the grain still shows, apply two more coats of sealer. Let it dry overnight and sand again. Repeat the process until the grain disappears.

Choose a color for your racer. Then apply two to three coats of enamel paint to the pinewood body. Spraying the model with paint from an aerosol can is easier than using a brush.

If you use a brush, dip only the lower third of the brush into the paint. Use single, smooth strokes instead of dabbing the paint on the model. Blend the strokes so they can’t be seen.

Pick a Number

Place a race number on the car. Buy self-stick numbers at stationery stores or decals at a hobby shop.

Seal and protect the race number by spraying the entire model with Testor’s Glosscote clear gloss paint. Other clear paints may make the numbers curl. Test the clear paint on a decal or number stuck to scrap plastic before spraying your racer.

Let the clear paint dry for at least a week. Then cover the model with floor wax paste and buff to a high gloss. The wax will protect the car and give your pinewood derby racer the look of shining steel.

More pinewood derby fun:

34 Comments on How to paint a pinewood derby racer

  1. great idea

  2. Kub Leader // May 15, 2010 at 10:33 pm // Reply

    I value the advice. Thanks alot.

  3. After the first smooth sanding, wipe the block with a damp cloth to raise the grain and then sand again.

  4. A smoother finish may be had by sanding in the direction of the wood’s grain, instead of against the grain.

    • Anonymous // May 4, 2011 at 8:59 am // Reply

      how can i make my car faster

    • CubScoutMama // December 3, 2011 at 8:06 am // Reply

      Good point about sanding with the grain. I think that a lot of people would assume that people already know this, but depending on how much woodworking someone has had, they might not. I learned it myself when I was 11 in Orioles. But no one ever told my husband. If I hadn’t known then our boys wouldn’t have known. It’s like cutting meat “across the grain” to make more tender cuts of meat. It seems obvious, but unless you’ve been told then you don’t know it.

  5. good idea.

  6. Any advice is nice! Thanks,

  7. i can use this in a lot of ways my awana car and for fun

  8. me likey

  9. everybody knows these steps! even boys that are my age know this! >:(

  10. i not like it

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