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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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45 Comments on How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

  1. last year, I did a banana car and got 1st placee!

  2. dragonpatrol // January 12, 2010 at 4:09 pm // Reply

    anyone ever seen a leggo-themed car?

    • Re: Legos-themed car: Two years ago my son covered his car in Legos. We cut the car wood block in half, and then covered the car with the thinnest-style Legos. We thought it looked ptryy cool, but it didn’t win any “original design” awards…

    • Danthemadhatter // January 16, 2010 at 9:23 am // Reply

      No, we did a Wii remote last year. This year we are doing a solar system with planets and a sun

    • Lego themed cars never win. Make your wheels parallel to each other and make your car aerodynamic; I used those tips and I was in a three way tie for first. p.s. now I’m a boy scout and help out at the races.

      • by the way use the spell checker by right clicking on the red underlined word. this will make it better for everybody.

    • We had two Lego cars this year. One looked like a long flat 8×2 board piece with a starwars character driving, the other was a half-pipe with Lego characters skate boarding in it.

  3. thanks alot! I really needed these tips!

  4. I don’t care about winning. I just like cool cars.

  5. why is it called “boy’s life” …im a girl..and i can assure u that im no boy!!!

  6. I find this very helpfull. My son won 1st place in den race YEA!

  7. less friction = more speed. i got 1st because one wheel never touched the track i won every race i beat the best people.

    • 3 wheelers (one wheel raised) are faster, but banned in many districts. Check your district rules first.

      • also some districts don’t allow baking or lubricating the axels so please check Your district rules before you begin making your car.

  8. TY a lot.
    These tips are very useful

  9. hay i mite trie to go

  10. my sons car won first in pack first in district and first in council finals. his car was undefeated in 2009,after we used secrets or pinewood derby cars..

  11. my car was a bannana and i got 1st place! (same trophy as the one in the video…)

  12. I really like this idea.;)

  13. This is the best idea ever.I got 2 place in the pinewood derby.

  14. chuchukies,. // October 28, 2009 at 10:51 am // Reply

    i like this.! ; )

  15. I would go with a more simple design.

  16. Heres a tip to win best sportsmanship trophy;shake everybodys hand that you race against thats how i won best sportsmanship

    • Great idea, Little Will!
      You know, you can’t make believe about good sportsmanship, so I think you must have been smiling and had a twinkle in your eye when you were shaking hands.
      Good for you!

  17. I beat my whole pack in 2008. Beat about half of District. But didn’t get any rewards.

  18. I will make mine look like a wing of an airplane

  19. PWD Enthusiast // August 26, 2009 at 6:23 pm // Reply

    Speed secrets book, Is a good book! Just keep in mind the rules for your pack’s race! (IT’S NO FUN IF YOU CANT RACE!) As some pack’s have strict rules! When it comes to the mod’s you can and cannot do to the wheels and axels and the car body! Desings and patterns book, Has a great way to walk you threw step by step, If your looking to build a cool car! The different car patterns in this book! Will have first time builders say wow!

  20. i like the tank

  21. on my car i extended the weal base and put the weights on the back and i also put grafite on the wheels (THAT MADE THE MOST DIFRENCE)

    those are my tips

  22. i just build a awsome award-winner. or i used to. im aboy scout now.=(

  23. Gustav Morticai // July 30, 2009 at 12:25 pm // Reply

    I prefer to try to make my cars look cool not just go fast

  24. in my first year in scouts (weblos1), i used similer tips and won against my whole pack!

  25. my son has won 7 races and used these tips

    • killer says // March 3, 2010 at 12:20 pm // Reply

      we have been doing these races for two years and these tips have really helped also I love your magazines

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