What are graphite coated axles?

About the Author: , 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 friction to make your car faster.  Stated another way, the fastest cars have the least friction.

Why use graphite?  Graphite is easy to apply, 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 graphite coat pinewood derby 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 that keeps 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, more than enough to race your car through to your District Finals, or the Mid-America Derby Championships in Omaha or the World Pinewood Derby Championship in New York City.  How do we know?  Because we've attended both of these races as corporate volunteers.

Creating an effective graphite coating on a pinewood derby axle, however, 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 experiments that it is not simple to create a graphite coating that is smooth and stays on your axles. If the graphite coating is not done right, the surface will be rough and while you may get some speed increase, it is best to have a smooth graphite coating. 

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 like Pinewood Pro has done. 

For example, if someone who proclaims to be an expert, says they can create a graphite coated axle by simply spraying graphite on the axle, they don't know how to create a graphite coating, so they call it a gimmick and leave their readers with slower cars.    Spraying graphite does not work because it doesn't “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.
rough graphite coating on pinewood derby axle
Rough graphite coating on 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.
Bottom line, simply spraying a light coat of graphite on your axles does NOT work and it is difficult to do safely. Don’t waste your time.

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.
Bottom line, burnishing your axles with graphite is a waste of time and is not safe.

What are the best graphite coated axles to make the fastest pinewood derby car?

Pinewood Derby Graphite Coated Axles
PRO pinewood derby graphite coated axle
Yes, we are tooting our own horn, but our technique is track tested and proven winners for over 10 years.  Just read some of our hundreds of customer reviews. 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. 

Our graphite coating is proven to increase pinewood derby car speed using statistically valid, controlled experiments. We even publish our speed test results.

We proved that graphite coated axles are faster, but you don’t have to take OUR word for it! 

Read the hundreds of Product reviews on Pinewood Pro and Amazon customer reviews.  

These axles worked so well that we made BSA graphite coated axles, machined PRO graphite coated axles and bent graphite coated axles.

bent 2.5 degree BSA axles
BSA 2.5 degree bent axles with screw driver slot in head

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 will eventually wear down the 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 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, so it is important to read your rules carefully.  

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 rulesNote 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 ones 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.