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How to make a fast pinewood derby car

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.

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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.


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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


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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:

762 Comments on How to make a fast pinewood derby car

  1. Awwww :( I just became a Boy Scout and now i can’t do pinewood derby anymore.

  2. I got 2nd place in my pinewood derby

  3. Interesting

  4. Cool! I’ll try that ALL out!

  5. COOL

  6. Really helpful, thanks

  7. I GOT FIRST PLACE 4 TIMES BECAUSE I PUT GAS ON MY WHEELS.YOU SHOULD TRY THAT IT REALLY HELPS!!!!!!!!

  8. it does not work // December 19, 2013 at 8:09 pm // Reply

    it works

  9. Three wheeler is illegal.

  10. Great! Everybody should try it. But I think you should design you own.

  11. Is this 100% ture?

  12. CosmicGamer2003 // November 9, 2013 at 12:56 pm // Reply

    Amazing tips-Fantastic! Just fantastic! One more word… Fantastic!

  13. Minecraft master // November 4, 2013 at 9:41 pm // Reply

    Your good.

  14. Wow! Nice tips! This is some good stuf!

  15. MrBongoClown // July 5, 2013 at 4:06 pm // Reply

    My son and I both enter cars and we go for the coolest design awards. Every year he comes in second or third for speed too. It’s about having fun building.

  16. The web page should have more tips:(

  17. SomeThing Else // May 14, 2013 at 11:56 am // Reply

    Spoilers and Aerodynamic profiles only take affect if traveling 50 mph. Most derby cars will never reach this. My Block car always placed first.

    For the fastest car, maximize weight. Also make sure that your well lubricated with graphite.

    • Supercool man // February 1, 2014 at 11:37 am // Reply

      In my race some of the cars got up to 158 mph so if your packs cars are going 50 mph your packs cars must be really slow.

  18. veteran derby car maker // March 14, 2013 at 8:52 pm // Reply

    I won two Years in a row 1st overall by putting weight on rear and making car a heavy as possible don nail wheels in all the way.

  19. ScoutingRocks! // March 9, 2013 at 4:37 pm // Reply

    What are the dimensions?

  20. ScoutingRocks! // March 9, 2013 at 2:41 pm // Reply

    Does spoiler help?

  21. awesome

  22. mustangman32 // February 10, 2013 at 2:46 am // Reply

    this year was my sons first race. He designed the car. I don’t have a saw at home so I took it to work and cut it out. My son did everything else but paint. He wanted it to be chameleon green to gold, he put on the primer and base coat. I painted the green with a airbrush. I would say that he did 90% of the work which was my goal. It is his event after all. I will work on getting a band saw and drill press so he can do all the work himself next year.

    • A Grand Pa // March 4, 2013 at 11:43 am // Reply

      I helped (And I mean HELPED) my grandson build his first pine box derby car. Much to my disappointment, the “contest” was which adult could build the best car.

  23. We bought the wedge at the scout shop, drilled the 3 holes on the side for weight, the kids did the sanding. We did nothing to the axles or wheels, did not use graphite, and still had the fastest and third fastest cars in the meet – with about 64 cars competing, including adults. My Webelo has already started planning for next year, shopping for axles, etc. My Tiger (who took second overall) intends to build a fire truck next year.

  24. Is it against the rules to cover your axles so they don’t show

  25. These look helpful.

  26. First rule should be: Your child physically makes at least 95-100% of the car. These tips (such as weight in the back and such) serve to help junior finish the race in a respectable time. And winning is also great, but if junior watched while ‘Dad’ smoothed the axles, graphited the wheels, chose the aerodynamic design, etc., then the point of this event is lost! It is why I love the rain gutter regatta, the boys win based on their performance. Keep the boys as the focus, not your own pride. And use these tips to help guide a winning experience.

    • I agree, the boy should do the majority of the work. One year our pack had a derby clinic and the boys and their parents built their cars together. It was great fun but it would be difficult to do if the pack had a lot of kids and there was not a meeting place with the right tools. Some people are also secretive which is okay if everything is kept legal. The raingutter regatta is fun and so is the space derby. Great comments on your part keep it up. Derby Goof.

  27. i’ve gotten 8th on my first try and 1st on my second try

  28. is it better to put the weights in the back of the car or underneath this is our first time making the car and trying to figure this out. and how are the weight held in??

    Thanks

    • need for speed // January 29, 2013 at 12:13 am // Reply

      Ifound that putting your weights on top in the rear of the car.We run a flat car put our weights in the rear put some putty on and then we sand the car the way we want it to look. The hard part is making sure when its sanded that when you add the tires,axles and paint the car that its not over 5 oz.

    • does slanting the hood down help?

  29. I need to know how much graphite to put in my wheels. I have a pretty aerodynamic design, but there is a small ridge at the top. All my weight is dremeled in throughout the car or balance, and I have my weights put in, but I still need to know how much graphite to pull the ace off, I’m a webelo 2, so this is my last year. Oh my car is already weighed so that could help with how much graphite I have to put on.

    • need for speed // January 29, 2013 at 12:29 am // Reply

      dont use to mutch graghite. Last year we put graghite in at least once a day. my boys took 1st and 2nd my wife and I took 1st and 2nd in the adult class. my boys had there regionals a month later and they were puting graghite in every day some times twice a day and they were slower at regionals. Idont know if thats why.

  30. Can you still bake it if you just did the initial cut? Not painted yet. I just forgot to bake when it was just a block !! ??

    • frodo baggins // January 22, 2013 at 7:07 pm // Reply

      Yes you can

    • Be careful if you decide to bake the block. Some of the kits are not using kiln dried wood and you may end up with a warped gooey block if you try to bake the block. Weight placement, polished derby axles an alignment are much more important than shaving off the miniscule amount for weight by baking the block. My son has never baked one of his blocks and he holds our track record on a 42′ aluminum best track of 2.914 seconds. He built the car and made sure it was properly aligned. Don’t bake the block.

  31. Grand Champion, my sons first year. Someone helped us cut the car, we did everything else. It was very little skill on our part because we really did not know what we were doing. Got the wheels right, the car was fast. I loved the look on my husbands face, when we brought home the trophy !

  32. your real name // January 14, 2013 at 8:41 am // Reply

    Making the yellow car on the cover of speed secrets

    • Webelos Leader // January 15, 2013 at 6:31 pm // Reply

      CAUTION!!!!
      Check your local race rules. Many of the tips given in this book will be ruled illegal. Although they sell this book in the BSA store, it is misleading as to what is allowed at the District race. BEWARE.

  33. carpenterboy // January 11, 2013 at 10:12 pm // Reply

    I think alignment is really important its hard to get right. Use a dremel tool to lubricate your wheels. Look it up

  34. Put any added weight as far back on the car as you can.

    • Chris in NoVA // February 8, 2013 at 4:01 pm // Reply

      But not so far back that the front starts lifting off the track. (Should ensure that there is more weight in front of rear wheels than behind.)

  35. Hope to get first from these tips!

  36. Is 5 ounces the weight?

    • Yes 5 ounces

    • For standard rules at the regional race is 5 oz. Try not to go over that cause you don’t want to be drilling out weight if you make your car a little to heavy and are able to go to the regional race.

    • Add several bb’s so the actual weight is 5.1oz. Then on race day break off those bb’s with pliers until the scale switches to 5.0. Then your car will weigh a fraction more than 5oz, like 5.049. Every fraction counts on these digital timed races.

  37. which end of car is better to be front , the one farther or closer from axles, I typically put shorter in the back, was just wandering if it really made a difference?

    • You want the short end in the rear of your car, and the long nose in front.

      Now I’ve also seen scouts, who’ve built Firetrucks, and other larger big rig vechicles
      Now those type of vechicles, it is wise to go short up front and longer in the rear

    • short in front

  38. I could use ALL of these tips. Last year, the best I got was 2nd place.

  39. Pinewood Newbee // December 19, 2012 at 7:03 pm // Reply

    Question: What do I use to weigh the car so I know how much weight I can add?

  40. last year my axles broke so i got new ones but they didnt fit so i put duck tape over them! it actually worked! i prayed and prayed and prayed!!

  41. Last time, I kept gettn’ 2nd place? Yup I did.

  42. got first and in .01 seconds

  43. I buffed my axles then got it exactly on the weight limit and put duck tape over the bottom to make it smooth then i got 1st place

  44. Cut it in half top and bottom than make the top a wedge got
    4th that way

  45. If you have weights in the back will it slow it down?

  46. fossil master // October 14, 2012 at 6:52 pm // Reply

    got third

  47. CubmasterHAC // October 12, 2012 at 8:49 am // Reply

    The 3 wheel trick is illegal in our Council and District. All 4 wheels must touch and roll. Make sure you check your rules before you use some of the tips. There are also rules about the wheelbase, clearance, etc. Just a warning to check your council rules and regs before you build your car so you don’t get disqualified at check in.

  48. awesome!

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