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.
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.
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.
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.
you should cut your car into a “boat shape” (cut into the bottom of it). It’ll save you fractions of a second.
I can’t wait until the race on Saturday!!!!!! It is my first year racing. Do you have any tips?? I am going to win!!
Tiger Cub dad here…not mechanically gifted. rounded the axles (took off burrs), rounded wheels put some tungsten weight in the back, graphite…eyeballed the alignment, son did ton of the work and worked together each step of the way. I was just hoping that he would compete. To my astonishment, he did end up winning his pack. Craziest thing I have ever seen. Districts are 3/21/10, I thought it would be funny to see how far it could go. I think we will go just to see.
I never went for speed I always go for most original because it is easier than speed.
Who says that plain looking “fast” designs can’t be crafted well and be both fast and “cool” looking?
I made a bananna car, and one first place! it was very surprising.
Are model rocket engines legal if the car still weighs under 5oz ?
No sorry the only propolsion you can use is gravity.
tip for you:dont have your car primered and painted like a real car i did that and i only won a participant ribbon
beat up your car and it will win 8 races i did
how do you make it go 759mph
how did you make it go 795 per hour
I know the answer to this one. Strap a GE jet engine to it. It will go 759 MPH.
wrong it will breeak the sound berrier and make you death
its all about axle alignment in the end, make a test track ( a piece of drywall works great) raise one end with a 4×4, ensure your car rolls straight and true.
I think its about axels and weight. we had our weight in the front then we put it in the back and won by alot more.
i used this tips and won 100 races in a row
I used the speed secrets last year on my sons car and he won first place in his den, first place over all and first place at the district race. I also wanted to let evcery one know that attention to detail is what wins the race. we did a test with 3 cars without graphite and with graphite, with graphite all three cars picked up 1/10 of a second in time. Graphite makes the differance.
Good luck to all racers and have fun.
how do you add graphite to a car this is my first one
already have speed secrets i am getting design book
A person told me awhile ago if you want to win speed then go with a wedge and get it as close to the weight requirement as possible. That was the best advice ever. All the other ideas are tweaks but, if you put together a boring old wedge you will be top 3 at least, with pretty much no axel polishing, straightening etc. Another great tip for weigh in is thumb tacks. Easy to place and move off or on. The cars right at the weight do the best everytime.
This will depend on how competitive your Pack is. My Pack dads are engineers and builders. If you don’t polish axles, you won’t be a speed contender. Then again, we give certificates for good looking cars, goofy looking cars, and the most obviously boy-made car. It’s about fun.
i cant find stickers
Hobby Lobby and Michaels have the stickers
My son just won for the 2nd year in a row. Kept axle space the same per local rules. used tungsten weights which are much heavier and also used a COG kit to balance the car. We made a Batmobile and even put red LED lights in the front. We also won the most orginal design trophy
Last year I went for looks with a sweet looking 1933 Ford Coupe design;AND WON FIRST PLACE!!!!! This year is my first to go for speed points, and my Dad recommended these tips to me.
Axels are not to be moved from the origional markings. And 3 legged cars are not allowed in our rules.
We had a scientist dad in our Pack whose son is now in Boy Scouts that built their own track at home, and made hundreds of minute changes to their car to develop a very fast car. They did this every year and won every race in the Pack and District. The book is simplistic compared to this guy’s secrets. I just wish he had written a book. But if you’re not in an overly competitive pack with alot of kids, it’s great.
Encourage the parents who win EVERY year to leave some room for everyone else. My son won 2 years in a row. The third year we made a fun, goofy car that was fast enough for him to win a few heats, but not enough to win overall. Its good to let everyone have a taste of victory.
these tips are the best my son one first place when he raced his first year
We came in first the very first year we entered the race. Every year after that we were dead last. I’m going to try the tips.
i am excited to race in my first race this saturday, my car is black and sleek, I hope i do well
These tips are really helpful! But i thought it would be much better instead if putting more weight in the front than the back.
The longer gravity can push your car, the greater the final speed when your car exits into the flat portion of the track. Gravity; placing the weight near the rear of the car will place it high on the track, providing a longer drive or push into the bottom. Simply stated, having the weight at the rear means it has further to drop. Allowing gravity to push your car a little longer than if the weight where at the front.
last year, I did a banana car and got 1st placee!
anyone ever seen a leggo-themed car?
Re: Legos-themed car: Two years ago my son covered his car in Legos. We cut the car wood block in half, and then covered the car with the thinnest-style Legos. We thought it looked ptryy cool, but it didn’t win any “original design” awards…
No, we did a Wii remote last year. This year we are doing a solar system with planets and a sun
Lego themed cars never win. Make your wheels parallel to each other and make your car aerodynamic; I used those tips and I was in a three way tie for first. p.s. now I’m a boy scout and help out at the races.
by the way use the spell checker by right clicking on the red underlined word. this will make it better for everybody.
We had two Lego cars this year. One looked like a long flat 8×2 board piece with a starwars character driving, the other was a half-pipe with Lego characters skate boarding in it.
thanks alot! I really needed these tips!
I don’t care about winning. I just like cool cars.
why is it called “boy’s life” …im a girl..and i can assure u that im no boy!!!
Why does baking it to make it lighter help you will add weight later anyway.Also it is called “Boy’s Life” because it is for boy scouts.
Baking to make it lighter helps because then you can control where to place the weight you add.
“Baking” it makes it so all of the mosture is completly out of the car.
what is that sopose to mean
put it in the oven at 250 degrees for 2 hours
it isnt just for boy scouts i’m not one
I find this very helpfull. My son won 1st place in den race YEA!
less friction = more speed. i got 1st because one wheel never touched the track i won every race i beat the best people.
3 wheelers (one wheel raised) are faster, but banned in many districts. Check your district rules first.
also some districts don’t allow baking or lubricating the axels so please check Your district rules before you begin making your car.
TY a lot.
These tips are very useful
some of these rules do not meet the standard rule requirments.
hay i mite trie to go
my sons car won first in pack first in district and first in council finals. his car was undefeated in 2009,after we used secrets or pinewood derby cars..
what are your secrets? Please tell me. I NEED THEM.
Please turkey boy and everyone who reads this
go with a wedge design
my car was a bannana and i got 1st place! (same trophy as the one in the video…)
I really like this idea.;)
This is the best idea ever.I got 2 place in the pinewood derby.
i like this.! ; )
I would go with a more simple design.
Heres a tip to win best sportsmanship trophy;shake everybodys hand that you race against thats how i won best sportsmanship
Great idea, Little Will!
You know, you can’t make believe about good sportsmanship, so I think you must have been smiling and had a twinkle in your eye when you were shaking hands.
Good for you!
I beat my whole pack in 2008. Beat about half of District. But didn’t get any rewards.
I will make mine look like a wing of an airplane
Speed secrets book, Is a good book! Just keep in mind the rules for your pack’s race! (IT’S NO FUN IF YOU CANT RACE!) As some pack’s have strict rules! When it comes to the mod’s you can and cannot do to the wheels and axels and the car body! Desings and patterns book, Has a great way to walk you threw step by step, If your looking to build a cool car! The different car patterns in this book! Will have first time builders say wow!
i like the tank
on my car i extended the weal base and put the weights on the back and i also put grafite on the wheels (THAT MADE THE MOST DIFRENCE)
those are my tips
i just build a awsome award-winner. or i used to. im aboy scout now.=(
I prefer to try to make my cars look cool not just go fast
in my first year in scouts (weblos1), i used similer tips and won against my whole pack!
my son has won 7 races and used these tips
we have been doing these races for two years and these tips have really helped also I love your magazines