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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 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.


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.


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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25 Comments on How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

  1. Why do they have to put lead under the cars? Does the weight give it better stability and speed? The first Pinewood derby race I did, they filled an entire hole full of lead, and I won first prize.

  2. can you grease the wheels when you’re making adjustments to your car?

  3. a dog a yo yo // March 25, 2008 at 10:59 am // Reply

    i looked in the book of the rules you can put there wheels. It’s just evebody thinks its not aloud but it is. My son made one and it won first in the pack and first in Arizona.

  4. yo72witha what what // March 25, 2008 at 7:01 am // Reply

    I won 2 in state go tips

  5. hey blue lightnig dude! my design isn’t blue lightnig. But it’s as fast as you say your’s is!

  6. I have a secret design no one will see it coming!

  7. Cub Master North Star // March 21, 2008 at 1:31 pm // Reply

    These are great tips! The big thing to remember is that this is for the boys. Dad’s, HELP the boys don’t build the cars for them. They must learn on there own, guide them, that is how they grow. I always sugest and have a race for dads and tag alongs! Remember to check with your district an cub masters for the rules and guidelines!

  8. thanks for the help

  9. cool kid 98 // March 13, 2008 at 7:42 pm // Reply

    I’m glad they gave hints

  10. Crystal Scouts // March 9, 2008 at 5:03 pm // Reply

    Is it legal or not to extend the lenght of your wheel base on you Pinewood Derby car? The car has grooves where the axles go when you recieve the car in the box.

    It isn’t clear in the Kit instructions?

  11. leanonspeed // March 8, 2008 at 12:35 am // Reply

    can the car be built with just 3 wheels?

  12. shadow2000 // March 6, 2008 at 7:09 pm // Reply

    Hey! I am making a peanut car.

  13. donald duck98 // March 2, 2008 at 12:28 pm // Reply

    hey i won the race going backwards

  14. I used these tips and i won 1st place speed in pinewood derby.

  15. I already know these hints.

  16. donald duck98 // February 23, 2008 at 12:35 pm // Reply

    hey i’m making a ufo for a car what are you making?

  17. Blah Blah 444 // February 22, 2008 at 8:44 pm // Reply

    That is so cool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. Hey, I got a funny storie. I went with my freind to a derby once and i had to use his car from the year before because i wasn’t even in scouts(I’m a tenderfoot now) and i won first place against him!

  19. BlueLighteningDude // February 22, 2008 at 9:43 am // Reply

    No you can’t, wizland! My cars were Blue Lightening (last year) and this year Blue Lightening II. BUT! The first car I made in Webelos 2. In my (or my little brother’s now) pack if you have a little brother in cub scouts then you can race in the “unlimited” section.


  20. I was reading and flipping the pages of Boy’s Life Magazine when I got to the page with the picture of the wooden and painted Pinewood Derby car and that reminded me that the Pinewood Derby was coming up. I noticed that the page had Speed Secrets printed on it, so I asked my dad if I could do my Pinewood Derby car right away!Luckily he said yes. When the car was finished, I waited a couple of days, until the Pinewood Derby started I got FIRST PLACE!!!and I only got in second once during the whole entire race!(not including the championship race but I was in the championship race) for Bears in 2008. You should really try these speed secrets!

  21. Where can I get several axels to choose from? Somebody help me quick!!!!!


  23. Hey, blah. You can still be counted in with Webelos 2 if you’re in boy scouts. (:

  24. Thanks for the tips. I won 1st place last year and i’m hoping to win again.

  25. awesome tips they really helped me

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