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How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

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

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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.

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.

Click here for more speed tips from a former NASA engineer


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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:


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37 Comments on How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

  1. 534543545454

  2. i think it might work,it sounds alright

  3. BLEH I NEVER LIKE LOSING

  4. aerodynamics have absolutely nothing to do with it.

    • that actually is not true. I lost miserably when I was a WEBLOS 1 and then I changed my design for WEBLOS 2 so there was very little air resistance an won by a long shot.

    • Aerodynamics are everything in a PWD race. If it’s just a block vs. an almost perfecly flat car, who do you think wins?

  5. My son ran a tank with a turit and gun barrel…the least aerodynamic car in the race….not only did he win, he blew everyone away…i think it was due to axle alignment and graphite lube

  6. i like it

  7. so cool

  8. good idea

  9. I LIKE TO PLAY

  10. put a hole through the middle tward the back! i set the track record 2 years in a row and got first over all 4 years in a row!

    (and never even seen the book)

  11. Aerodynamics have nothing to do with it. Last year we ran a block that was shaped like a Wii controller. It not only took the pack, it set the track record at District. It was not a 3-wheeler either. Build it how you want it, just make sure the axles are aligned.

    • I got 2nd place in council by puting lead on the would. One year my dad entered the parents race with a 3 wheeler.

    • While that may seem to make sense, its not really mechanically logical to say that- “my car wasnt areodynamic and won, therefore aerodynamics dont matter”….many things go into making a fast car, aerodynamics being a very small part, but a part none the less. Since you apparently had very well polished axels and a otherwise fast car, it was enough to overcome any slight advantage of aerodynamics. Thats not to say however, that your car wouldnt have been faster had it been more aerodynamic. Part of the fun of racing a car is in the build, and a basic wedge, though aerodynamic, isnt really that fun to build unless you are going strictly for speed. Its all about having fun!

  12. One year there was a car that looked like a fat pencil on wheels.

  13. Boilermaker // July 23, 2010 at 10:20 pm // Reply

    Remember to look at your Pack rules. Most do not allow any axel modifications like grooving, lathe turning,or extending the axels. You can use graphite to lubricate the wheels and polish the axels to remove any burrs but that is the extent of it. Anything else is cheating.

  14. this stinks

  15. And “that”, means your axels.

  16. To have the most speed, use grafite to do that.

  17. arodinamics

  18. Skinny Willy // July 2, 2010 at 12:03 pm // Reply

    you want the front thin and the rear fat.

  19. I won the derby 2 years in a row for the whole pack and didn’t use a book, but I used a “speed kit”. You can find one at most craft stores.

  20. Bear Scout // June 23, 2010 at 8:37 am // Reply

    its easy: me and my dad put graphite on the wheels(classic)and grooved the axils

  21. Bear Scout // June 23, 2010 at 8:35 am // Reply

    hey, ive won the pinewood derby 2 years in a row(for my den).This year was the first one that we an overall race for everyone(before it was just bear and webelos).I placed in last in the overall,and one guy went 10 miles faster than mine because of that book.I have in the past two years built a wedge.in the first year I broke the record for fastest time down.i probaly did around 50-100 percent of building the car. in my next comment ill tell you my trick to getting first in your den

  22. raptorkid1 // June 21, 2010 at 6:02 pm // Reply

    Make your car look cool and airodinamic. It has been proven that cool cars go faster!!!!!

  23. Hadn’t tired it

  24. Scout Mom // June 6, 2010 at 7:49 am // Reply

    To try and keep our dads from building the cars completely, our Den allows parents/siblings to build and race their own cars in the Derby as well. They are computed in a separate category and aren’t included in any finals but it gives dads a chance to race against each other and do what they want to do and hopefully allows them to let their scout run with their own ideas. Polishing the axels also works for speed.

  25. I can already see that shining 1st place trophy

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