How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car in 2024 [UPDATED]

The Pinewood Derby racing event is the racing event for miniature cars that aren’t fueled or powered and are unmanned.

And since it is a racing event the miniature cars have to be built in a way that they outspeed the others. These miniature cars are mostly built out of wood, plastic and they use metal for axles.

If you have read this far, you are probably waiting to know how to make a fast pinewood derby car!

So, let’s dive into the process.

Tools and Materials Required

  • Bandsaw and Coping saw
  • ⅜” Forstner bit
  • Measuring scale
  • Electric Drill
  • Dry Lubricant like Graphite
  • The Official Pinewood Derby kit
  • Lots of Sandpaper
  • Tungsten weights
  • Wood Filler

How To Make a Pinewood Derby Car – Step by Step

how to make a pinewood derby car

It is never wise to work with too much information. Therefore, let’s work in steps rather than just hurling ourselves into the technical bit of how to make a fast pinewood derby car.

Step 1: Bake the Block of Wood

Since the car body is made of wood, you most obviously need a block of Pinewood. Remember that wood holds moisture and the moisture can add weight and make it heavy.

Heavy wood isn’t ideal for a fast car. We will add weight to the car but later on. We will add the weight with more beneficial bits.

To get started, preheat your oven at 250 degrees, place your block and then bake it for about 2 long hours.

Step 2: Shape the Car

It is easy to be tempted into shaping your car like a Bugatti Veyron or McLaren p1 but don’t. Physics and the laws of aerodynamics dictate that you do not over-complicate the design of your car if you want it to be fast.

Keep the shape of your car like a wedge. More like spoilers of a sports car’s rear. The benefit of having a simple wedge shape it that it allows most of the air to flow over the car without causing too much friction.

This shape also helps the car to stay pinned to the ground. Once you’ve roughly shaped the car body, smoothen the edge with a sanding paper.

Step 3: Maximize the Weight

fastest pinewood derby car design

Remember I told you in step 1 that we will add weight but when it’s beneficial. The heavier your car, the faster it will race. But the weights have to be located strategically because that makes a difference.

You’ll need to find the center of gravity which ideally should be 7-8 inches ahead of the rear axle.

It cannot be too far away from this because in that case, you would lose potential energy, which has to close to 9.8mh.

This step is particularly important because you have to be very careful, the center of gravity cannot afford to be too far behind either, or else it’ll make the car pop.

You also have to be careful with the weight limit, hence, it’s a good idea to measure and weigh all parts before you put them together.

Remember you need to leave some weight allowance for the paint, stickers et cetera.

Our top rated Pinewood Derby Car Weights Right Now!

Step 4: Focus on the Wheels

wheel alignment tool

Every local derby community has its own rule, so please check the rules before you proceed with this step because lighter wheels make your car faster but it might be against the local rules.

A lightweight wheel helps to increase your kinetic energy. To make the wheel light, the standard and easiest way is to sand them until they are silky smooth.

Also, some wheels are defective as in not completely round, so another task would be to get them as round as possible or use a flawless set of wheels.

You may also purchase the wheels separately and look for similar mold numbers mentioned on the inside of the wheels.

Some hobbyists also use toothpaste to polish the inside hub that rectifies the imperfections in these plastic elements.

Step 5: Sand the Axles

The package comes with nail-like axles. These have ribs along the stem and a flat head. This structure is bound to cause friction thus slowing your car.

You will have to sand these axles up to 2000 grit but before you get to the sanding, you can ease the process by starting them off in a drill press.

When you are sanding the nail, keep it fixed in the drill press and file until you’ve managed desirable results.

Once done, attach them to the car body. Give the wheels a spin and time the duration.

In an ideally placed axle, the wheel should spin for about 45 seconds.

Step 6: Graphite is your God

According to the standard rules, usage of only dry lubricant is allowed. This is why most people opt for graphite. So feel free to use graphite and use it generously.

Coat everything with it – the axles, the joining of the wheels and the axle, on the car itself. You don’t have to invest in high-quality graphite, even the cheap stuff works fine.

Once you have coated the wheels, spin them a couple of times to help break the graphite down.

Step 7: Alignment is Important

You already know the physics from step 3 and I repeat yet again, your car needs to be aligned to run fast.

To check this, race your car on a leveled surface and check if it pulls away in another direction.

Use axle press tools to straighten the axles and you can also glue the axles in place to stop them from wiggling.

Step 8: Beautify your Creation

You worked hard, why not make it look pretty? Use enamel paints set and decal stickers to beautify and give you pinewood derby car that ultimate shine.

Just a word of caution though, do not go overboard because it can affect the weight.

Also, before the actual painting, use a good primer and especially if you are using glow-in-the-dark paints.

Bonus Tips

  • Once you have painted your car and it has dried off completely, use floor wax to give it a shine. This also makes your care more aerodynamic.
  • Another pro tip is to cover your wheels. If you keep the wheels exposed, it makes the air flow in from the front and then get stuck at the rear.
  • To cover the wheels, use fenders. To make fenders, draw an outline and mark the wheel centers on a piece of pine.
  • Drill a hole using a 1-1.4 in. Cut out the shape using a handsaw and glue it to the body of the car.

It’s Your Turn!

Follow these steps and voila you now know how to make a fast pinewood derby car all by yourself. Congratulations you speedster! We hope you enjoy this little DIY session and then happy racing.

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