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 in 6 Steps

by , Pinewood Pro on January 3, 2018
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How do you build a fast derby car?

The simple answer for building a fast pinewood derby car is to reduce friction. Friction is the enemy of speed. If you reduce friction, your car will go faster. But there is so much more!

This short how-to tutorial guide lists friction reducers that will help you make a fast, competitive pinewood derby car. It is by no means a comprehensive list of speed secrets. As an engineer, I wrote a best selling book, Winning Pinewood Derby Secrets, that lists all the tips, tricks and the technical reasons that your car is fast (or slow), including technical notes on the physics of motion and Newton's forumulas. For more how-to information, see our excellent sources of advanced winning secrets at the bottom of this article.

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

So, here is my 6 Step Guide for building a fast pinewood derby car.

Step 1: Reduce friction to speed up your car

Your pine wood derby car moves from the pull 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. Friction DOWN, Speed UP It's as simple as that. 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.

Step 2: Lubricate your Axles and Wheels is the fastest, easiest way to Reduce Friction

The easiest way to reduce friction is to lubricate the surfaces that cause friction. Lubrication is an essential part of pinewood derby racing. Purchase a tube of dry graphite with moly and shoot it onto the axle shaft and inside the wheel bore. Spin the wheel so the graphite works in. You will immediately notice a significant improvement in the wheel speed as it turns on the axle after applying graphite.

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.

Step 3: Prepare and Polish your Axles is Essential for Speed

Your wheels turn on pinewood derby axles. If you are using the Cub Scout BSA Grand Prix car kit, then these axles are nothing more than nails. 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. The burr under the nail head will grind into the plastic wheels severely slowing your car. Be absolutely sure that the burr under the nail head and on the nail shaft is filed off. Once these areas are sanded off, polish the nail shaft and underside of the head to a mirror like finish.

Step 4: Balance and tune your Wheels to Maxiumize Speed

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 or lathed, you can actually make matters worse!

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.

Step 5: Add Weight to Increase Inertia

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 which will make it slower. Be sure your car weighs as close to 5.0 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, along with the wheels and axles is up to 5 oz. Don't wait until race night to weigh your car! When I manage pinewood derby races, everyone is always a rushed at the last minute to weigh their cars to add (or subtract) weight. If you run out of time, your car may not have the optimal weight and therefor will not be the fastest it can be.

Step 6: Steer your Car Straight (or into the rail?)

Steering your car can be tricky. Roll your car along the kitchen floor. If it veers to the right or left more than 2" over 4 to 6 feet, the axles are crooked. Just like steering a car, you need to adjust the steering on your pinewood derby Car. To adjust steering, you must adjust one or more of the axles so the car rolls straight.

There are several ways to make your car role straight.

  1. Re-drill the axle slots or drill new axle holes using the PRO Driller.
  2. Mark the 12 o'clock position on the axle head and then gently bend the axle about 2 degrees. You can then turn the axle left or right with a needle nose pliers until your car rolls straight. This technique can be tedious and it is very difficult to bend the axle so slightly and then turn it. The axle can be easily scratched or damaged and then they need to be replaced. For these reasons, we don't recommend bending your own axles.
  3. Purchase bent axles. This not only saves time and eliminates the risk of damaging your axles, they are perfectly bent in the precise spot on the shaft. Pre-bent axles are available with a 1.5 degree bend for steering your car and 2.5 degrees for canting your axles. In addition, these axles have a slot in the axle head so you can easily turn them with a screwdriver.

Consider making a Rail Rider, whereby your car is deliberately steered gently into the rail to avoid banging back and forth on the center guide rail. Once again, learn How to make a Rail Rider properly, or you can actually make your car slower! Rail riding is a proven technique but it will NOT work if you don't have a center guide rail and it will slow your car if have a wooden track. Read our guide to dertermine if rail riding will work for you.

How to win your pinewood derby race

Once again, this guide is an introduction for how to make a fast pinewood derby car. To win the race, you'll need to learn ALL the speed secrets from the Pro's. If you are serious about speed, spend a few dollars on Winning Pinewood Derby Secrets boofast pinewood derby winnerk that contains over 40 tried and true speed secrets that has helped thousands of pinewood derby racers for over 15 years.

Have fun, do your best and happy racing!

More Pine Wood Derby Help

Need more help? The experts at Pinewood Pro have been racing and managing pinewood derby races for over 15 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

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      Tips & Hints

      Spin each wheel on a polished axle with graphite and count the number of revolutions. If a wheel wobbles, try spinning it again. If it still wobbles, get another wheel that does not wobble.

      Pinewood Derby
      axles Tip

      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.

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      Winning Pinewood Derby Secrets contains all the tips you need to win your race. Updated annually with the latest tips and speed products, our book has proven results with 1000's of winners... but don't take our word for it! Read over 90 Customer Reviews and check out our Winners Gallery!

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How to Build a Fast Pinewood Derby Car