How to Build a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

Guide to making a fast pine wood derby car

How to Build a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

by , Pinewood Pro
fast pinewood derby car picture

How do you build a fast derby car?

Answer: To build a fast pine wood derby car, you need to reduce friction. Friction is the enemy of speed. Reducing friction, increases speed. It's as simple as that!

This short tutorial guide gives you is a list of friction reducers that will help you make a fast, competitive pinewood derby car. It is by no means a comprehensive list of speed secrets. For more how-to information, there are several excellent sources of winning secrets listed at the bottom of this article.

Since pine wood derby block dimensions are all the same, these speed tips apply to Cub Scouts, Awana Grand Prix, PineCar, Kub Car, Royal Rangers and Girl Scouts powderpuff pinewood derby cars.

Friction DOWN, Speed UP

Your pine wood derby car moves from the force of gravity and is slowed down from friction. Friction acts like brakes. Reduce friction and your car goes faster. Increase friction and your car slows down. Finding the sources of friction and finding ways to reduce it is the tricky part. Here are some ways to reduce friction and increase speed.


How to reduce friction? The easiest easy way to reduce friction in your pine car is to lubricate the two surfaces that are causing friction. Lubrication is an essential part of pine wood derby racing. Purchase a tube of dry powdered graphite and sprinkle a little on the axles and in the wheel bore. Spin the wheel so the graphite works in. You will immediately notice a significant improvement in the wheel speed and number of revolutions as you turn it.

Another good lubricant, if your rules allow it, is Nyoil II. Nyoil is a highly refined thin-film oil. Only one or two small drops on your axles reduces friction throughout your race because Nyoil stays on your axles long after graphite has dropped off in the later heats. See more details on this new lube idea in Graphite and Lubes.

Derby Axles

Your wheels turn on Pinewood Derby Axles. One of the biggest sources of friction is where the axles and wheel surfaces meet. It is important to make your axles as smooth as possible. Be absolutely sure that the burr under the nail head is filed or sanded off. Once that is sanded off, polish the nail and underside of the head to a mirror like finish.

Derby Wheels

Imperfections in your Pinewood Derby Wheels cause friction in many areas. Sanding your wheels, however, can be tricky. If the wheels are not precision sanded, you can actually make matters worse. Turning your wheels on a lathe are the best way to remove imperfections and get a uniform, balanced and finely tuned pinewood derby wheel. The wheel is secured in the lathe and spun at a high speed, then it is sanded or shaved with a tool attachment.

Wheel imperfections can also make your car veer left or right. Once again, lathed wheels will remove mold imperfections so each wheel rolls perfectly straight.

More Weight, More Inertia, More Momentum

Your car moves down the track from the force of gravity. If your car is too light, it will have less inertia in the flat part of the track. Be sure your car weighs as close to 5 oz as possible. Find someone with a scale, purchase an inexpensive scale or weigh your car at the Post Office. Add weights until the car block, along with the wheels and axles, is up to 5 oz. Don't wait until race night to get this right! When I managed our pinewood derby race, there was always a scramble just before the race to weigh cars and bring them up to 5 oz.

Making your pine wood car go straight

This can be tricky. Roll your car along the kitchen floor. If it veers to the right or left too much, the axles are crooked. Just like steering a car, you need to adjust the steering on your Derby Car. To do this, you must adjust one or more of the axles so the car rolls straight.


You can do this by re-drilling the axle holes with the PRO Driller Tool and re-inserting the axles, or you can gently bend the axles, but this is extremely tedious and can easily damage your axle.

How to win your pine wood derby race

To win the race, you'll need to learn the speed secrets from the experts. If you are serious about speed, spend a few dollars to download our Winning Pinewood Derby Secrets boofast pinewood derby winnerk that contains over 40 speed secrets or...start the long process of trial and error.

Have fun, do your best and happy racing!

Pine Wood Derby Help

Need more help? The experts at Pinewood Pro have been racing and managing pinewood derby races for years. As an engineer, I have designed the most complete list of speed secrets in my #1 selling book, Winning Pinewood Derby Secrets.

Most people pick up the basic hints from friends or searching the internet but to be a winner, you need to know all the secrets...

Winning Pinewood Derby Secrets book image
Winning Pinewood Derby Secrets

If you are a beginner, consider our beginner's book, Pinewood Derby in Six Steps, which takes you through the car building process step by step, in a clear, concise manner, with complete illustrations.

It also provides a bonus section on Speed Essentials to show you how to prepare your axles and reduce friction so you have a competitive car. It even includes three simple cut-out car design templates so you have everything you need to build your first competitive car.

Pinewood Derby In Six Steps

Finally, our Science of Speed book and DVD explain some of the principles behind speed. The DVD contains a nice segment on how to make your pine car go straight.

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      Tips & Hints

      Just like the pistons in an engine block, you want your axles to be tight fitting in the wheel bore, to reduce wheel wobble. If your Rules allow, use one of our slightly oversized Speed Axle or PRO Super Speed Axle.

      Pinewood Derby
      painting Tip

      When painting with children, it is better to use a paint brush rather than spray paint because spray paint can cause vapors. If the child is spray painting, be sure to use a breathing mask and be in an open area.

      Pinewood Derby
      rules Hint

      BSA Rules are different from Awana Rules, which are different from Adult Race Rules, etc. Check our Pinewood Derby Rules page to download Pinewood Derby rules for different kinds of races.

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    • father and son race winners

      Using the tips on your website, Daniel's car won every race for his den, and won the district races. It seemed that his car got faster with every run. We have memories that will last.
      - David

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      - Roger

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      - Lloyd from NH

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      - Phil from CA

    • girls win grand prize fastest

      We won every race we entered as well as the grand prize for the fastest car! Thanks for your help and interest.
      - Debra

    • This is my son's first Derby car as a Tiger Cub Scout. We had a lot of fun working on this together. Even though he didn't place it was a rewarding experience. Next year we plan to build something even more unique and perhaps a little more challenging. Thanks for a great web site!
      - Shawn from CA

    • My son--a first time Pinewood Derby participant--won his Den, Pack, and District championships thanks to Pinewood Pro! Also won design and workmanship awards. Thanks, Pinewood Pro!
      - Mike

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      Hey Joe- Just wanted to pass on the good news- and a few nice pix. We ended up in 2nd place out of 63 cars racing. Not too bad, and we'll be at district in a few weeks.
      - David from IL

    • pinewood derby trophy winners

      We ran our 3 cars at a local pack meet, and what a great time my kids had. Both of my two boys prepared their cars with your tooling. My boys were given first and second place.
      - Brian from DE

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      My son's car won every heat it raced. Thanks again Joe. Your info is the best out there!
      - Gina

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      - Chris N from NJ

    • cub scout holding pinewood derby trophy

      Wow, we did it! Dad, I'll never forget this night.
      - Steven Gargiulo
      Trumbull, CT

How to Build a Fast Pinewood Derby Car