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How to make a fast pinewood derby car

Packs around the country are preparing to hold their annual pinewood derby. There are many ways to make your pinewood derby car go faster. Here are some of them.


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GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR PINEWOOD DERBY CAR DESIGN

The possibilities are endless when it comes to picking a shape for your pinewood derby car. Before you begin, consider the following guidelines:

Avoid designs with a pointed nose. A pointed nose will make it difficult for your pinewood derby car to rest on the pin at the starting gate. It may also cause your pinewood derby car to get bumped around when the pin drops, and it can create problems for electronic timing systems.

Leave enough wood in the rear of the pinewood derby car so you can place additional weight there. You will end up putting most of the weight in the rear of the pinewood derby car.

Make the maximum weight. Your car should weigh as much as it’s allowed. In most races, that’s 5 ounces. If your car weighs less than that, add coins or other weights.

Be sure that it is very clear which end of your pinewood derby car is the front and which end is the back. In many races, the race officials —- not you -— will actually place each pinewood derby car on the track. Sometimes the officials put the pinewood derby car on the track backward because they can’t tell which end is which.

Choose a design that allows the air to move over and around the pinewood derby car body in a smooth manner. Pinewood derby cars with aerodynamic profiles go faster.


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DESIGNING THE ULTIMATE PINEWOOD DERBY CAR

You don’t have to strive for the “ultimate pinewood derby car” to build a fast car and have fun competing in your pinewood derby. But if you and a helpful adult are willing to put in the extra time and effort, these tips are for you.

Bake the Block: Start with your block of wood, and before you do anything else, bake it in the oven at 250 degrees for around two hours to remove moisture and make it lighter.

pinespeed4Create the Design: Select a fast design. A rectangular car is not an aerodynamic design. The most basic aerodynamic design is a simple wedge. If you don’t have time to design a complex car, a wedge will work just fine.

Cut the Design: Draw the outline of your pinewood derby car on a sheet of paper, cut it out and attach it to your block of wood.

Make a Three-Wheeler: Raise one wheel about 1/16 inch higher so it never actually touches the track. Less friction = more speed. Rules vary from pack to pack, so make sure this is allowed in your race.

Extend the Wheelbase: The front and rear wheels should be as far apart as possible.

Determine Weight Placement: A heavier rear increases speed. Add weight to the rear of your pinewood derby car. Remember to make your car as heavy as the rules allow.

Create Glue Holes: Glue the axles firmly in their holes to ensure that they stay perfectly placed.

Sand the Pinewood Derby Car: Make it smooth to reduce friction.

Lubricate the Wheel Well: The less friction between the body and wheel, the better.


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CHOOSING AND POLISHING YOUR AXLES AND WHEELS

The quality of your axles and wheels may be the most important factor in building a fast car. Here’s how to choose and polish your axles and wheels.

derby2.jpg1. Start with a set of raw axles.

2. Can you tell the difference between the axles in the top row and the ones on the bottom? The ones on the bottom aren’t straight and will slow your car.

3. To tell which are straight and which aren’t, mark each axle with a marker about 1/2 inch from the pointed end.

4. Have an adult clamp a power drill into a vise, a device that will hold it perfectly still.

5. Have an adult help you clamp each axle into the drill at the location you marked in Step 3. Have the adult turn on the drill.

wobble-200x2006. Bent axles will wobble as they turn in the drill. Straight axles will hardly wobble at all. Pick the ones that wobble least.

7. Once you’ve selected the four straightest axles, use a file or fine-grit sandpaper to remove small burrs and mold marks that can cause friction and slow a car. These imperfections should be removed from both the axles and the wheels.

8. Use polishing compound from the auto supply store to polish the wheels and axles. One easy way to do this is to clamp the axles back in the drill and let the drill spin the axle while you polish it.

9. When you install the axles and wheels, make sure they are aligned perfectly straight. You can test the alignment of your axles by pushing your car across a smooth floor or table. It should roll in a straight line.

10. Don’t forget to add graphite or another dry lubricant to your wheels and axles.


Remember: The No. 1 rule of a pinewood derby is that it’s supposed to be fun. While you should always strive to do your best, don’t get caught up in winning. Just enjoy the ride.

Adapted from the book “Pinewood Derby Speed Secrets,” DK Publishing, $12.95 softcover.

More pinewood derby fun:

760 Comments on How to make a fast pinewood derby car

  1. I havent started and the race is tomorrow

    • No Problem, shove those wheels in the block; paint it yellow, and ya got a bus. or Red for a Fire truck. Your son should be making it anyhow. Enjoy the journey together. Have fin, YOURs in Scouting, Mike Master

  2. Should I ride the rail in the race or not

  3. PandasAreBoss2015 // January 4, 2015 at 6:25 pm // Reply

    Thanks for the tips man!

  4. Don’t get caught up in winning, just have fun.

  5. Lightning_Lucas // January 2, 2015 at 1:44 pm // Reply

    i am so confused! do i use a 4 wheeler or a 3 wheeler? do i just use a wedge? do i drill a hole into the car and put a lot of quarters in there? do i bake it or keep it the same? should i make the wheels smooth or make them bumpy so they can go over crakes or holes like its nothin? PLS ANSWER ME!

  6. Pinewood Derby // December 28, 2014 at 4:13 pm // Reply

    The spirit here is to build a car with your Scout. As they get older, they should be doing more of the work each year. I still see Webelos who have Gramps bring their cars to the Derby. While exciting for the Webelos to see their car for the first time, it goes directly against the spirit of involvement.

  7. Hope it works👍

  8. I have a race in next month.
    I’ll try these techniques!

  9. When I made my car I slanted it and it had awesome aero dynamics.

    won & now I made my own

  10. The only thing I now is to get in third place is to
    Make your car like a ramp

  11. Pinewood derby

  12. I have done well with my pinewood derby yesterday but I was position two and I won a
    Medal and I wish I do better than that next time

  13. Can I set the wheels up magnetically so they don’t touch the car n float on the axle

  14. Is a 4 wheeler or a 3 wheeler better for racing and do you pu two wheels in the front or back for more speed if the 3 wheeler goes faster

  15. I would advise against baking the block “to remove moisture and make it lighter,” for two reasons. First, baking the block may cause the wood to warp or twist, and a crooked block would make wheel alignment very difficult. And secondly, to “make it lighter” ?!! Are you kidding me?!! WHY make it lighter just to add more weight to it? This is a totally unnecessary (and potentially damaging) step. You are better off leaving the block’s minimal moisture content as is.

    • I was thinking the same thing. A “raw” pinewood derby block with wheels and axles attached doesn’t even weigh 5 oz. so why are we concerned with drying the wood to make it lighter? Not a good piece of advise at all . . .

      • The lighter you can make the body, hence material removal and drying, the more weight (tungsten & tungsten puttty is best for this in thin / light cars) that can be concentrated to the proper spots in the rear creating more potential energy. Every little bit adds up in speed, Pinewood Derby races are won in hundredths of a second.

      • Gold rush // January 6, 2015 at 12:16 pm //

        Because you want all the weight three quarters of an inch in front of the rear axle

    • VelocityRacer // December 9, 2014 at 10:23 pm // Reply

      I think the idea is to remove the water weight so that you can be strategic in weight placement.

  16. I have pre-cut axle holes in my wood.how do I do a 3-wheeler???

    • Anonymous,
      When they say “Make a three-wheeler”, they are referring to the practice of raising or bending up one of the front wheels so only three wheels make contact with the track. In theory this reduces friction thus making the car go faster.
      Again, as with most of these speed tips, check your Pack and District rules first to see if these practices are allowed! It would be a shame to have a scout’s car get disqualified at check-in/registration because of an illegal procedure learned from this website!

    • for the guy who asked how to make a three wheeler. it is easy. you use a drill to make one hole higher. :-)

  17. Extending the wheelbase may not be allowed. Check the rules from your Pack and District first!

  18. Scouts and parents, please remember to check your own Pack’s rules about the wheels. Our pack requires all four wheels to touch the track which is also true at the District level of racing. I would hate to see someone put so much time into there cars and design the wheels with just three touching the track, only to be told they have to fix the fourth wheel before race time. Making adjustments to the wheel just before race time is risky.

  19. To add weight at the back of the car cut an hole roughly the size of an quarter and put as many quarters as you need to get to the weight limit.(Do not pass the limit of weight I your pack for example in pack 422 the weight limit is 5 ounces in 2014)

  20. we have a derby on saturday so good luck to me and good luck to all.

  21. you want the car to be heavy but you also want NO edges, all curves and a thin body

  22. Thaaaaaaaanks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  23. Thanks you awnsered all my questions but one. If I want to put candy on my car can I?

  24. I’ve heard that worrying about aerodynamics is a waste of time with such a small car and short track… The real key is to reduce as much friction as possible.

  25. What’s a good aerodynamic design bedsides the wedge? Maybe something like a Aston Martin design or something.what would be a good design??

  26. den chief wolfs pack 157 // November 18, 2014 at 5:03 pm // Reply

    I think that these tips are great, but my troop does pinewood derby races for our troop to race in so I don’t see why are troops can’t race.

  27. scouting for food says // November 17, 2014 at 8:48 pm // Reply

    i will(might)win thanks allot

  28. You really need to make a video of how to make a really good pinewood derby car i’m a kid .

  29. EG Cub Scout // November 7, 2014 at 6:06 pm // Reply

    Wow Thancks I can use this next year hope I win!

  30. I found that if you put most of you weight at the back half, that you car seems to pop up in front and come off the track. I like my weight just front of center line, works best that I have seen.

  31. I made a car that got second place but next year I’m going to use one of your ideas.

  32. awsome

  33. Great advice

  34. Check your local rules. Changing the wheel base may not be allowed.

  35. helpful info

  36. I’ve been bad at pinewood derby and now that I looked at this website I think I might make a better pinewood derby car.

  37. Anonymous // June 4, 2014 at 1:26 pm // Reply

    how do u make a cool pinewood derby car

  38. I have a race in 2 weeks and I love your advice.

  39. it is awesome

  40. thanks for all the information. (:

  41. that’s cool thanks

  42. I made a car with a long flat bottom it was real good

  43. I have a derby race soon I hope I win 1rst 2nd or 3rd.

  44. hermanwong // April 7, 2014 at 6:52 pm // Reply

    i made my car real flat in the front and the car still went slow i keep on getting second place in the competition

  45. why do you drill holes

    • gib,
      holes may be drilled to insert the axles or to insert weight into the car body. I hope this answers your question.

  46. If you’re going to drill your own holes for the axles, what is the surest way to drill them straight?

  47. what kind of weight did u use?

  48. I used weight distribution and made sure the weight was distributed amongst all tires. plus the wieght was put on the bottom by drilling into the car and putting the weight into the car. The car won first in all races. It was not designed with a wedge shape. It was more of a pyramid shape with the top point cut off. so much for the three wheel trick eh?

    • You might consider making the same car with just the three wheel contact. Do everything else exactly the same, as best you can, and compare them to each other. If your results are like mine, you should blow your first car away with the second. Keep improving your design for next year.

      • He is using equal weight on all tires and you are stacking on rear and making a front one lift. Would be a good race to see- I think the rear weight would fall behind initially then pull ahead at end

  49. I have a derby race next week! So hope this works thanks for the tips man.

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