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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.


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.


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


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.

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25 Comments on How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

  1. last year i won a award

  2. donald duck98 // February 3, 2008 at 1:30 pm // Reply

    i made a car last year and it popped a whelie because i had too much weight in the back but it backfired and caused MORE friction because the back of the car touched the track so don’t place too much weight in the back of the car

  3. One of the secrets is against a rule; Raise one tire 1/16 off the track.

  4. i would use these tips but i am going to boy scouts before that.

  5. Puting the wait in the back really helps. thanks BoysLife!

  6. pinecar is a good company for decals car building hints and pre made cars (i don’t like the pre made cars but you might) they also have books and dvds full of tips and hints to make a great car you can find them in the hobbie section of most hobbie lobbys ps they are bsa aproved unless it say other wise

  7. As a Den Leader we try to follow the BSA rules, and as such I have an issue with the numbers, 5 and 6 on the secrets list, they say to make it run on 3 wheels, and to extend the wheel base, both of which are against the BSA Rules. I would hope that all you scouts out there will not think about cheating just because these tips are on this site. Have a great race.

    Pack 16, Athol, MA.

  8. derby master // January 28, 2008 at 11:33 pm // Reply

    Be sure that any of the hints to make your car faster don’t make your car illegal. For instance, our council doesn’t allow a pointed front (must be flat for 3/4 of middle), nor can we extend the wheelbase, it must be factory cut. Not all speed tips are equal or a good idea. Check the rules before you run with it! Good luck racing.

  9. Every cub’s dream is to have a cool looking car and have it fast. Are they both possible at the same time though? With these tips it can be.Tip 1: model your car after a race car. The real thing goes fast, so why shouldn’t your derby? Tip 2: like the packet above says you need lots of weight in the back. Try drilling a hole in the back and filling it with lead. (Make sure you get it weighed first.) Tip 3: Think of cool models that look good aerodynamic. One year I had a rocket that had a point at the front ,after that it slanted up to go fast. It almost won before it broke during the race☻. Tip 4: Try using metallic spray paint for a nice shine.

    MAKE SURE TO HAVE FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. The critical point in making the car fast is to be absolutely sure, or at least as sure as you can be, that the wheels are running true and smoothly. Polish the axles where the wheel rides on them to remove all burrs on the axles, polish the insides of the wheel hubs with pipecleaners and smooth the tread surface of the wheels to remove all mold marks. Be absolutely sure the axles are perfectly aligned with a 90 degree angle from the track surface and precisely perpendicular to the axis of the car body. Use plenty of dry, powdered graphite to lubricate the wheels and get the weight of the car just as close to the maximum allowed with weight inserted in holes drilled in the rear of the car and fastened low on the sides of the car between the front and rear wheels.

  11. I just remolded the batmobeil and i am on to finals

  12. the wheels matter

  13. It’s Awesome tips, my cars sure to win!!!

  14. Thanks I hope I’ll win this year.

  15. I Never Knew THAT! THANKS!

  16. Awsome!!!

  17. thanks for the tips

  18. I am a WeblosII and I am so sad because today was my last pinewood derby.

  19. scout 375937548 // January 11, 2008 at 3:49 pm // Reply

    Cool tips!

  20. thanks for helping me .I made the fastest car!

  21. they work well.

  22. i can’t wait it is fun working with my dad and mon on my car

  23. WeblosIIMOM // January 8, 2008 at 4:46 pm // Reply

    Does it matter which wheel is off the ground, if we are doing the three wheels?

  24. Mroverweight // January 7, 2008 at 2:56 pm // Reply

    Awesome. i never won at all but i got 2nd in design 1 time with this ill be like, TEH_PWNAGE!!!!!lol

  25. this is awesome!

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