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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.

More pinewood derby fun:

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25 Comments on How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

  1. I will think about doing these tips

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

  3. these tip’s will hopefully work

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

  5. I win 1st place every year

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

  7. speed secrets are cool

  8. 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.

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

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

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

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

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

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

  17. 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!

  18. 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?

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

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

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

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

  22. I agree with tough

  23. I am very glad I read this

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

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

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