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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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37 Comments on How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

  1. i race next week. i cant number is # 18.
    is that a good number?

  2. #18

  3. If you can find out how you shuld make 2 or more cars, I would like that

  4. making holes in your car can let air flow out the end and make your car go faster

  5. jjmanhipe // May 12, 2010 at 7:46 pm // Reply

    this stinks they only tell you how to BUILD IT!!!!!!!!

  6. cool kid2750 // April 19, 2010 at 7:52 pm // Reply

    3 wheels touching the ground only makes it faster slightly

  7. My pinewood derby design was modeled after the German Bobsleds, and has won four years in a row.


  9. star lover // April 9, 2010 at 2:54 pm // Reply

    Next year I`m going to make a star wars car.The thing is that I always rub a pencil on the inside of my cars to make them go very fast

  10. I like the secrets of pinewood derbys

  11. there is a car in my pack that cheats. it is made of putty and has no pinewood

  12. last year[2009]i got to the finals

  13. 3 best in pack

  14. nice your breaking the rules

  15. I Love Fast THINGS.

    • Hannahrules14 // April 12, 2010 at 3:42 pm // Reply

      me too i,m in awana and we have the awana grand prix and i have won something every year except for 1st and i want to win 1st with the fastest car so that’s why i got on here i cant wait thank you

  16. Gopher Rich // March 29, 2010 at 3:03 pm // Reply

    We purchased the speed book and used most, if not all, of the tips in the book. After 2 years of placing 2nd (in one year by .006 seconds) – my son’s car came in first by .003 seconds. So, without the speed tips – we would have been in 2nd again. The great thing is that he is able to do the work all himself with my guidance.

  17. cool scout // March 26, 2010 at 8:24 pm // Reply

    I just had the pinewood derby. I would have done great with that

  18. it is great

  19. pokechimp88 // March 21, 2010 at 6:48 pm // Reply

    How many designs are there created so far in the U.S.?

  20. Your suggestions violate the rules in our area which state you must use the contents given to you in the box. You can add weights but cannot change the axle positions or widen the position of the wheels or use a wooden dowel or solid axles. Please check with your local Den. I think out Den is in error but they refuse to change.

    • Assistant Den Leader // April 10, 2010 at 12:05 pm // Reply

      I know it is frustrating but the pack can set it’s rules for the race. Our pack in Ohio has the same rules. You have to use the grooves for the axels and axels provided in the kit. Basically all the speed secrets are out.

  21. cool website

  22. silvermine // March 13, 2010 at 6:37 pm // Reply

    well im in webelos 1 and i got to see who wins

  23. silvermine // March 13, 2010 at 6:26 pm // Reply

    well doing a pine wood derby car is fun

  24. most boys cheated!

    • Yeah allmost every parent has this ego thing with the pinewood derby. One parent said “So I can build it and he can sand it? Why can’t I do the Whole thing?

  25. ricomanguy // March 6, 2010 at 4:48 pm // Reply

    We bought your book after we cut out the cars and didn’t have an areodynamic car at all. After reading through the book we did all of the wheel modifications and all of the axel modifications for the ultimate car, including grooving the axils.The car was heavy because we didn’t hardly cut out any wood, it was a coupe type car.Very little weight needed to be added to the back to be 5 oz. The car came in first place over 40 other cars, alot of them wedge type that looked very fast. So thank you for the book and I would pay close attention to the axel, wheel, lubrication sections.

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