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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 general 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 and Building 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.

1. 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. This will allow you to add weight to the rear of the car where you actually want it.

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2. Create 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.

Remember, 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.

Click here to download a Pinewood Derby car template PDF to help you create your design.

3. Rough Cut the Design: Use a coping saw to cut out the rough shape of your car. You can also ask a responsible adult to make these cuts using a power tool.

4. Shape Your Car: Use sand paper to smooth your car’s edges and shape it to your design. An adult can also use a rotary tool or other tool to help you.

5. Sand and Paint the Pinewood Derby Car: Make it smooth to reduce friction and paint an awesome design to make it look great.

Click here for tips on painting your Pinewood Derby car to give it a shiny finish.

6. Install 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 smoothly in a straight line.

— 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. Again, make sure this is allowed in your race.

Click here to learn about polishing axles and wheels to reduce friction.

7. Create Glue Holes: Glue the axles firmly in their holes to ensure that they stay perfectly placed, but make sure you don’t get glue on your wheels.

8. Add Weight: Remember to make your car as heavy as the rules allow. In general, it’s best to add weight to the rear of your pinewood derby car because a heavier rear increases speed.

Click here for scientific speed tips from a former NASA engineer

9. Lubricate the Wheel Well: Add graphite or another dry lubricant to reduce friction. The less friction between the body and wheel, the better.

And finally, 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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50 Comments on How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

  1. Finally, I'm the fastest kid // March 29, 2009 at 4:23 pm // Reply

    Used tips in Speed Secrets book to win 1st & 2nd & 4th at family reunion against 20+ cars. Other adults’ cars, including machinist and doctors, got humbled by the flying wedges. Solid information throughout the book helped me and my 12 yr old son build three cars into winners. Only used stock BSA parts from the scout store and kit. My axles beat ‘pro’ axles because of the speed tips.
    Had a great time w/ my son building and racing the cars.
    Also SHARED the tips and book w/ everyone. Helped my brother and his son take third.

  2. Shape the inside of the wheel’s hub to a cone. Less friction against the body of the car.

  3. Pinewood Dad // March 19, 2009 at 8:01 pm // Reply

    David Meade’s book, Pinewood Derby Speed Secrets, is FANTASTIC!!
    It explains the science and how to have fun, learn and do well.
    He explains over and over again several key points that many racers ignore.
    Check the local rules PRIOR to making radical modifications.
    Good Luck!

  4. Mammoth007 // March 1, 2009 at 5:49 pm // Reply

    Wheel and axle preparation is the key to speed followed by low profile car design. I have won first place for 5 years and fastest overall for 4 years and placed in the top 10 in District for 5 years.

  5. Me and my dad just finished the finnal touches for my derby car. I hope these touches will get my car the win.

  6. This stuff will hopefully work for my race.

  7. pinewoodderbyracer // February 27, 2009 at 7:57 pm // Reply

    Me and my dad just did the finishing touches on our winning car (hopefully). The district races are tomorrow at 10:00 AM. We followed the wheel adjustment and the weights in the back idea so I hope this will be the key winning feature. I willget back to Ya’ll tomorrow after the race BYE!

  8. FIRE ARROW (BENTON AR,) // February 25, 2009 at 12:32 pm // Reply

    Buy Good Wheels/axles!!!! (A must) The weight a little in the middle, a lot to the rear of the car. Drill new holes for the axles and extend as far as you can. lift the right front wheel up just a little. A little graphite goes a long way. Soak your wheels/axles in grahite untill the race. Use a low profile car design and win the race.

  9. Nascar driver // February 17, 2009 at 3:25 pm // Reply

    On gPH cars There are almost flat wheels and have wooden axles. Any tips or secrets

  10. Nascar driver // February 17, 2009 at 3:22 pm // Reply

    Hey tjhawk I have GPH cars. Any tips. Yes i put graphite on and sanded the wheels.

  11. Make sure your Axles are free of burrs. When the Axels are made there are small, extra pieces of metal around the axel head. Have an adult place the axel in a drill and use a small file to remove this excess metal. Not doing so will allow the metal to cut into your wheels and slow the car down. You can use emery sand paper to polish it then. Go a step farther and use steel wool.

  12. pine wood derby is the best

  13. I have never heard of the baking idea.

  14. concentrating the weight(lifting one wheel) will slow you down….spread the friction(all wheels balanced well) and make sure your axels are firm in the wood …no chance to move at all out of perfect 90 degree angles to the body…good paint to cut air resistance(sand and re-paint alot)then go right to the max. weight…use a method that centers easily removed washers(you can bring the weight down a little at a time to qualify at race time..graphite and a little prayer and HAVE FUN!

  15. i won 1st last year

  16. shadowrocks1o1 // February 6, 2009 at 7:11 pm // Reply

    these tips are SWEET!!!!!!!

  17. i love pinewood derby.

  18. thats why i named it eagle wing

  19. the fastest derby car i have made had an air channel underneath the car to lift the car off the track meaning less friction.(i got fourth out of about fourty kids)

  20. Which hot wheel gos faster.

  21. i once was playing as a guest in a pwd and got second place with a friend!

  22. i only got 4th this year

  23. Raising one wheel is cheating and not fair to the other racers.
    So race fair and have fun!!

  24. good info
    should try it

  25. I like speed tips because its awesome.

  26. I will think about doing these tips

  27. We don’t get to do the pwd once you get past Cub Scouts.

  28. these tip’s will hopefully work

  29. thanks for the secrets,I can not wait to try them

  30. I win 1st place every year

  31. i am SUPER good at pwd ask me for help

  32. speed secrets are cool

  33. check your rules b4 lengthening wheelbase some packs and districts require the
    factory axle grooves be maintained as is.
    Also some p&d’s require only dry lubrication be used ie:graphite powder,available at most hardware suppliers.

  34. I never took time to read some thing so intresting and fun.

  35. I allready did this it got me !st place!! (try it)

  36. i can never actuly win in a pinwood derby but know i think i have a chance

  37. these tips are good. I thought a pointed car would be faster.

  38. In my son’s pack if you extend the wheelbase, raise a wheel, modify the wheels (other than sanding off the imperfections) you will be disqualified. Before you start building, check your pack’s Pinewood Derby rules. Pay attention to the axles’ straightness and file/sand off imperfections and polish them. Graphite them well. Let the boy do as much work as he can.

  39. I usually get 4th 5th or 7th place but next year I will get 1st 2nd or 3rd place by using these instructions. Iknow it!

  40. i have raced for 3 almost 4 years and my cars have gotten me 4th place, 5th place,and 6th place so if you follow these rules you will have a fast car.

  41. My son used these tip last year and came in 4th. This year the only change is we are buying good wheels and axles.

  42. Here’s a tip: angel your cars whels so only the rim is toutching the track. Angle as
    litle as possible not more than 3 degrees.
    Warning!!!: make sure the bumps on the rim do not toutch the track it will slow your car down drasticly!

  43. Last tigerscout // January 22, 2009 at 6:59 pm // Reply

    I was wondering if anyone had any ideas on what kind of wax to use on the finish of the car to make it slick?

  44. Don’t forget to file down and grind smooth the raised burr on the nails too, these create friction and slow down your car.

  45. show stopper // January 19, 2009 at 5:54 pm // Reply

    We’re currently tuning our car for this Saturday’s race

  46. I wish I read this earlyer because my Pinewood Derby race is tonight at 7:00!!!!!!!

  47. I agree with tough

  48. I am very glad I read this

  49. sounds like good stuff. i’ll try it.

  50. I am very bad at makeing fast cars and I hope these tips work

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