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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.

Basic 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 placing 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, a Pinewood Derby car’s weight is limited to 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.

Click here to see photo galleries of hundreds of Pinewood Derby car designs.


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Designing and Building a Winning Pinewood Derby Car

You don’t have to strive for the fastest Pinewood Derby car to 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 place more weight to the rear of the Pinewood Derby 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 Pinewood Derby 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 to check your pack’s Pinewood Derby rules to make sure three wheelers are 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 Pinewood Derby 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 Pinewood Derby car as heavy as the rules allow. In general, it’s best to place weight to the rear of your car because a heavier rear increases speed.

Click here for scientific Pinewood Derby 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 or having the fastest car. Just enjoy the ride.

Adapted from the book “Pinewood Derby Speed Secrets,” DK Publishing, $12.95 softcover.


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57 Comments on How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

  1. What is the total time, on average, to make a Pinewood Derby car, start to finish?

  2. apple farm productions // April 23, 2018 at 11:41 am // Reply

    wow

  3. apple farm productions // April 23, 2018 at 11:39 am // Reply

    it did not help?

  4. wow it is amazing

  5. does the 1/16 of an inch work well?

    • Bloodninja // March 12, 2018 at 4:06 pm // Reply

      Yes! If your Council allows it, you should raise one wheel and then make the car steer slighting to that side (making the wheel that’s touching the track rub up against the rail).

      Doing this allowed my son’s car to go 0.11 seconds faster at the District race than he did at the Pack race. (same exact track). He got 1st in Wolves at the pack race, but did not place overall. At the District race, he place fist overall!

      We’ll see how he does in a coupe months at the Council race.

  6. MY CAR IS AWSOME

  7. Three wheelers and changing the wheel base are not allowed. Just sayin.

  8. Been doing these for years and my boys still bring home 1st in den and pack every year. Two more to go till youngest moves on. Like they say wheel and axle prep is everything.

  9. around here slow and steady does not win the race

  10. You need to run the car a time or two after applying graphite to remove the excess.. Also after prepping your axles and wheels, burn your wheels in by putting the wheel on the axle and put in a drill. Run the drill and dump the graphite on. Hold the wheel a little to allow the axle to spin in the wheel.

  11. fast is the winner

  12. These tips will defenetly help me, thank you!

  13. ileagle to raise the wheel

  14. pollycracker20 // February 20, 2017 at 3:27 pm // Reply

    I did mine like a wedge

  15. irish wrist watch // February 14, 2017 at 6:36 pm // Reply

    this is gonna help hopes up 🙂

  16. My son lost!!!

  17. once the car has been posted, where can we go to see it on line?

  18. i won first in my den

  19. raise the third wheel so it doesn’t touch the track

    • I’ve done that before. My car (called broken thunder) had one of it’s wheels dislodged, but it didn’t get fixed ’til after the 3rd race. After that, I didn’t lose a single race.

  20. Anonymous2003 // January 10, 2017 at 7:06 pm // Reply

    Great Advice!!!

  21. nicknamebuster // January 7, 2017 at 7:46 am // Reply

    never tried this, gonna tonight

  22. I won my pack in 2nd place 🙂

  23. i should use tires

  24. Mario is awesome // November 23, 2016 at 2:14 pm // Reply

    Never forget the wheels on your car!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  25. Mario is awesome // November 23, 2016 at 2:13 pm // Reply

    I did pretty much all this and I came in 1st for my pack and in 5th for the district races. It was just my first year and my dad had a friend who did this when he was in scouts.

  26. Lst yr I won first prize in the sibling race(when my Dad was cutting my car frame,he accidentally cut it too thin).

  27. I did 2 races and i won both with the same design.

  28. Make it smooth and slick.

  29. GOATS ARE COOL // April 26, 2016 at 1:07 pm // Reply

    I will use this and make an ultimate goatcar

  30. does the car have to have 4 wheels or can it race with 3

  31. does the car have to have 4 wheels or can it race with 3

  32. putting wheels and weights on just a block is actually really fast. believe me. One just won our derby.

    • harry potter fanatic // October 11, 2016 at 3:33 pm // Reply

      liar

    • I have done the same. Made a Minecraft block with the square wooden block. Polished the axles and wheels as per regs and put graphite on the axles. Came in first for speed in my Den and third for speed overall

  33. Canted wheels reduce friction (bonus: rail riding is good not bad)

  34. nice going try using wood glue

  35. put an engine in it

  36. put a rocket on it

  37. put wheels on it

  38. number 3

  39. ya baby zoom zo // February 23, 2016 at 4:05 pm // Reply

    this is the best 2nd pine wood derby here i come

  40. Gramzon Dragon // January 27, 2016 at 4:15 pm // Reply

    make it look like a racecar, like the general shape, thats what i did and i won first place.

  41. BigTimeReader // January 21, 2016 at 6:44 pm // Reply

    first pine wood derby, so this will help a lot!

  42. duck tape works very well on a car

  43. tires…are what wins the race

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