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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 nationwide are gearing up for their annual Pinewood Derby. There are a variety of ways to make your Pinewood Derby car go faster. Explore the following tips to optimize your car’s performance and gain a competitive edge in an upcoming race.


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 Pointed Noses: 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 at the finish line.

Weight Distribution: Leave ample wood in the rear of the Pinewood Derby car so you can place additional weight there. Concentrate the majority of the weight in the rear for optimal performance.

Maximum Weight: Aim for the maximum allowable weight, typically limited to 5 ounces in most races. If your car falls short of this weight, strategically add coins or other weights to meet the requirement.

Clarity in Orientation: Clearly distinguish the front and back of your Pinewood Derby car. 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.

Aerodynamic Design: Select a design that facilitates smooth airflow over and around the Pinewood Derby car body. Pinewood Derby cars with aerodynamic profiles go faster.

See photo galleries of hundreds of Pinewood Derby car designs.


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 your Pinewood Derby car project by baking the wood block at 250 degrees for two hours. This removes moisture and lightens the block, allowing you to place more weight at the rear of the car where you actually want it.


2. Crafting the Design: Outline your Pinewood Derby car on paper, cut it out, and affix it to the wood block.

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.

Download a Pinewood Derby car template PDF to help you create your design.

3. Rough Cut the Design: Use a coping saw or enlist the help of a responsible adult with a power tool to cut out the rough shape of your Pinewood Derby car.

4. Shape Your Car: Smooth edges and shape your car using sandpaper. An adult can assist with a rotary tool or other shaping tools.

5. Sand and Paint Creatively: Reduce friction by smoothing the car’s surface and paint an awesome design to make it look great.

How to paint your Pinewood Derby car to give it a shiny finish.

6. Axles and Wheels Alignment: 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.

— Consider 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: Maximize the distance between front and rear wheels. Again, make sure this is allowed in your race.

Learn about polishing Pinewood Derby axles and wheels to reduce friction.

7. Secure Axles with Glue: 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. Strategic Weight Addition: 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.

Learn scientific Pinewood Derby speed tips from a former NASA engineer.

9. Use Graphite: Add graphite or another dry lubricant to reduce friction. The less friction between the body and wheel, the better.

10. Have fun! And finally, remember the most important 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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62 Comments on How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

  1. District Pinewood Derbier // January 11, 2016 at 3:39 pm // Reply

    If you only have 3 wheels touching in our race you are breaking the BSA rules that are IN THE BOX!! You won’t race!! What happened to be trustworthy !!

  2. Three wheeled cars are cheaters in our area.

  3. I will work hard

  4. I have never baked the block. My son won the Derby last year, but only by a small amount. Axles & wheels make all the world of difference! Push the weight to the limit and keep it as far back, towards the rear, of the car.

    Happy racing!

  5. Diamond_0Gamer // September 30, 2015 at 6:08 pm // Reply

    I want to go so bad.

  6. Diamond_0Gamer // September 30, 2015 at 6:05 pm // Reply

    This is cool.

  7. “You do not want your car to be perfectly aligned, rail riders are much faster!” Will Someone please explain that comment? The idea seems to include friction, which would slow it down, not make it faster.

    • You were being sandbagged.

      • Total novice that reads // December 23, 2015 at 3:03 pm //

        The extra friction cause by riding the rails is less than the extra friction caused by the car moving back and forth on the track. The only downside is if the track is not smooth. If that’s the case, then a rail rider could jump the track or bounce.

  8. easleygymldr // August 6, 2015 at 2:45 am // Reply

    The thing to help balance the car is to also match the tires. Each tire has a mold number on the back of the tire. Matching all four tires will give good balance to the car. Avoid using mold number 13 as it has a nick on the inside of the tire which causes the car to wobble. We’ve had tire swaps in our pinewood derby clinics in our Pack. Lots of fun finding matching tires.

  9. Adamawesome // July 11, 2015 at 7:04 pm // Reply

    Hey does anyone know a practical application to this?
    I wanted to do a science project on this for school, but I have trouble finding a practical concept or use for pinewood derby racing. Help? I thank you for reading this, but replying would be more helpful!

  10. You do not want your car to be perfectly aligned, rail riders are much faster!

  11. this is the best

  12. foxtrot 4511 // June 10, 2015 at 12:21 pm // Reply

    so the pine wood derby car i mad was a truck but it came in first three times

  13. Anonymous // May 27, 2015 at 9:05 am // Reply

    that was so cool I like how you got that thing to make your car go faster that was so cool

  14. Cool

  15. not bad

  16. i dont know how

  17. cool

  18. I love this website.

  19. Drew the Dude // // April 23, 2015 at 7:21 pm // Reply

    The quality of your axles and wheels may be the most important factor in building a fast car. SO TRUE!

  20. Drew the Dude // April 23, 2015 at 7:17 pm // Reply

    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. SO TRUE! I WON the race that way!

  21. The Minecraft mania // March 28, 2015 at 3:23 pm // Reply

    Bake it after making it

  22. im making a derby car in science class this week

  23. littleeinsteins // March 11, 2015 at 7:50 am // Reply

    I’m going to make the best car ever vroom vroom let go get ’em!!

  24. Nice job guiding me on how to make a PWD car I won first place because you showed me how to do it good.

  25. moo moo cow // March 6, 2015 at 4:54 pm // Reply


  26. I’m Going to make a fast car

  27. NO. Bake it before you do anything else to the car.

  28. I am going to make the best car ever.

  29. I ruined my car because i baked it first 🙁

  30. helpersare99 // February 20, 2015 at 6:38 pm // Reply

    this is my third derby, and I haven’t been on the winner stand. I always get fourth

    • Put less wheel on the track tilt 3 wheels were you have as little wheel as possible touching the track less friction

  31. Great article & tips. I’m making my own car for a fundraiser. These tips will make it more fun!

  32. awesome dude // February 16, 2015 at 9:02 am // Reply

    thanks for the tips, i am in webelos 1.

  33. this is really helpful i’m building a car in school to race and it needs to be really fast

  34. Where do I start, all it is now is a block of wood!

  35. These tips are very useful. Thanks

  36. thanks I’m working on a pinewood derby car and I’m a cub scout.

  37. thanks for the tips

  38. Please play roblox // January 30, 2015 at 7:01 am // Reply

    I want to get first instead of second because I get second every time but my pinewood derby is in about 4 or 5 days!!

  39. Please play roblox // January 30, 2015 at 6:58 am // Reply

    I won second place every time but now I’m aiming for 1st place

  40. the pinewood derby cars are awesome

  41. I don’t know how to build one

  42. How long is block for the pinewood derby car?

  43. Vroom vroom

  44. Vroom vroom

  45. Awsome tips

  46. love it.frozen car

  47. Frozen car

  48. love it

  49. doctor duffy // January 14, 2015 at 11:14 am // Reply

    I relay don’t know if I should bake it or not! Pit Boss puts up a good claim but boys life is… well… boys life!!!!!HELP! My pinewood derby is in a few weeks! Also who is this pit boss???

    • IMPORTANT!!! Bake it AFTER the car is fully shaped, drilled and sanded (to remove the most moisture weight from the remaining wood and replace it with weight at the rear of the car, until you reach the 5 Oz overall limit).

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