How to Build a Fast Pinewood Derby Car
Guide to making a fast pine wood derby car
How to Build a Fast Pinewood Derby Carby Joe Gargiulo, Pinewood Pro
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.
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.
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 book 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!
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.
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
A lathed wheel means the wheel was turned at a high speed and "sanded" with a cutting tool. Lathed Wheels are perfectly tuned around the axis of rotation giving you the highest performance.
The axle slots that are cut into standard blocks are too tight for BSA axles that are .089" diameter. Small axle slots make it difficult to get your axles in straight. A #44 drill bit is .086", which I find too tight. Consider a #43 Drill Bit, which is a perfect match at .089" for a snug fit.
Tungsten weights are ideal for pinewood derby cars. Tungsten is about 1/3 smaller than a zinc piece with the same weight. Therefore, you can pack Tungsten weights in a smaller area to optimize your center of gravity to maximize inertia giving you greater speed at the finish gate.
Thanks a ton for all the tips and the Wheels and Axles! We beat cars that had taken district and region in Georgia! This was my last race with my two boys. Great way to end! Thanks again!
This will be my 3rd year ordering from you. This year I have an 8 year old son, a ten year old son, and my 12 year old daughter's young women group is also doing the pinewood derby. We are still undefeated – Last year we purchased your wheels and axles and won 1st place again, 2 years running!
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I have a Webelo 1 and Webelo II Scout and they placed 1st and 2nd in this year's Pinewood Derby and will now go on to compete in the regional race. Thank you for all the good that you are doing and helping make kids dreams come true.
- Craig from CA
Thank you for the tips in your Winning Secrets book. Out of 116 cars in our AWANA Grand Prix, my boys came in first in their divisions and 1st and 3rd overall. They were thrilled!
My daughter won 1st place, and my son won 3rd place. It was very fun and hope to do again next year. Thanks for your great information,
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With the help of your block, axes, wheels, and lube we went from last place 3 years running to 1st place overall. Thanks!- Roger
My son peter took first place with his car. Thanks for your products,
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We placed an amazing 2nd out of 28 cars. We only lost to first place by half an inch. Our car ran consistently all night. We won 2nd place overall! You will be our first stop next year!
Keirsten's car won first place in her troop and grand champion out of all the other troops that participated.