pinewood derby graphite coated axles
What are graphite coated axles?
About the Author: Joe Gargiulo, Pinewood Pro Founder
Powdered graphite is an excellent lubricant to reduce friction on pinewood derby axles. Why do you want to reduce friction on your axles? It’s simple physics; reduce axle friction and it will increase your car speed.
Graphite is easy to apply to your axles, it is inexpensive and it is an excellent pinewood derby axle lubricant. Our graphite speed tests have shown a .544 second increase in car speed just by applying graphite to the axles. This is why graphite has been used to lubricate pinewood derby axles since the very first races in the 1950’s. The problem with powdered graphite is that it doesn’t stick to metal. The graphite falls off your axles each time your car races down the track. After only a couple of runs, the graphite is gone, friction increases and your car slows down.
Why use graphite coated axles?
Pinewood derby race rules do not allow racers to add additional graphite to their axles between heats. As a result, the graphite blows off the axle with each run down the track. As the graphite blows off, friction increases, and your car slows down.
If you can keep graphite on your axles, your car will maintain its speed while the other cars slow down. Pinewood Pro invented a special graphite coating technique to keep graphite on the axle throughout the entire race. We know our graphite coating technique works because we tested it and published our track test results. In addition, our graphite coating showed no appreciable loss of speed in over 25 runs.
However, creating an effective graphite coating is not easy. We spent months perfecting it. Below we examine two graphite coating techniques that don’t work and conclude with the one that does work.
Graphite coating techniques that don’t work
We’ve learned through much trial and error that it is not simple to create a graphite coating that is smooth and stays on your axles. If it is not done right, it will not work.
Some websites have discredited all graphite coating techniques because they simply don’t know how to do it correctly! They try something simple, can’t get it to work and then discredit the entire idea of graphite coating. Their process is based on incorrect assumptions and guesses, rather than statistically valid, controlled experiments.
For example, if someone claims they can create a graphite coated axle by simply spraying graphite on the axle, run the other way! It is not that simple because graphite does not “stick” to metal.
The following graphite coating techniques don’t work and they are not safe to do. We don’t recommend them. We present them to dispel the myth that creating a graphite coated axle is simple and we explain why they don't work.
Spraying a light coat of graphite on your axle doesn’t work
Here are the reasons a light graphite spray does not create an effective graphite coating.
- Graphite spray easily rubs off your axles because graphite doesn’t stick to metal. The coating will be rub off or fall off after only a few runs down the track.
- Graphite spray leaves a rough coating.
- Graphite spray will not create a uniform coating. It is extremely difficult to get a uniform coating on a 0.87” diameter pinewood derby axle.
- Our testing showed that simply spraying graphite on your axles can actually slow your car down, due to the rough finish that is not a uniform.
- Spraying graphite is not safe. Spraying graphite will cause particles to fly into the air. If you decide to experiment, please wear a breathing mask and goggles. Again, we do NOT suggest spraying graphite.
- In addition, aerosol sprays can include unwanted chemicals.
Burnishing your axles with graphite doesn’t work
To burnish your axles with graphite, spin the axle in a drill or drill press and then “rub” powdered graphite into the axle by applying a cloth with graphite to the axle as it spins. Burnishing does not create an effective graphite coating. Here are the reasons burnishing doesn’t work.
- Burnishing will not reduce friction any more than simply adding graphite to your axles and spinning your wheel by hand (or with a Dremel) on the axle. The graphite simply blows off the axles. This doesn’t create a coating at all, once again, because the graphite flakes will not stick to metal.
- It is not safe! Powdered graphite will fly all over the place when you try to apply the graphite powder. This means you MUST wear a breathing mask, goggles and gloves. For safety reasons alone, please don’t attempt to burnish your axles.
What are the best graphite coated axles to make the fastest pinewood derby car?
Yes, we are tooting our own horn, but facts are facts. Pinewood Pro’s graphite coated axles required months of experimentation and hundreds of tests before we were satisfied with the final product. The final graphite coating technique required a multi-step, manual process. Our process is unique. Naturally, it is a trade secret so I can not disclose the exact steps required to make them.
Our graphite coating is proven to increase pinewood derby car speed using statistically valid, controlled experiments. The speed tests results are published on our website.
We proved that graphite coated axles are faster, but you don’t have to take OUR word for it!
Should you add powdered graphite to your graphite coated axles?
Absolutely! When it comes to graphite, more is better. Add PRO Graphite with moly additive to your axles just before your race and spin your wheels by hand (don’t use a Dremel as this defeats the purpose of creating a smooth, graphite coating on the axle). If you have grooved axles, then just before your race we recommend squirting more graphite into the wheel bore and not spinning your wheels. The extra graphite gets stored in the axle groove and will disperse as the car travels down the track.
Are graphite coated axles legal?
If your pinewood derby race rules allow graphite as a lubricant, then graphite-coated axles are legal because we use the same powdered graphite to coat the axles…we just found a way to make the graphite stick!.
If your race rules do not allow graphite, then you can not use graphite coated axles. Some rules only allow oil-based lubricants. Other rules may not allow any lubricant at all.
If your rules only allow an oil based lubricant, then a proven race winning oil lube is Nyoil, a thin-film oil lubricant. Do not mix oil and graphite lubricants.
As always, read your race rules! Note that each pinewood derby race has their own unique set of rules. If you have rules questions, ask your race manager because only your race manager can answer rule questions for your particular race. They wrote the rules and they are the one interpreting the rules.
I hope this article helps explain why graphite coated axles will make your pinewood derby car faster, while dispelling some of myths.
Have fun and Happy Racing! As always, please contact the Pro’s at Pinewood Pro if we can help.