How to Make a Pinewood Derby Car with Basic Tools

Learn how to build a Pinewood Derby car with minimal tools that will stand up against any challenger.

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Next Project
Time

A few hours

Complexity

Beginner

Cost

$20-50

Introduction

When the first Pinewood Derby race was held in Manhattan Beach, CA, in 1953, one of the purest forms of competition was born. Simply put: who can build the fastest car to run down a straight track. Pinewood Derby has kept it’s integrity over the years, continuing to give kids and parents incredibly memorable moments while teaching important skills along the way. In this article, we’ll teach you the process behind building a simple Pinewood Derby car that only needs a few tools to complete and can be done in the kitchen without making too much of a mess.

Tools Required

  • 1/2-in. Forstner bit
  • Brush
  • Chisel
  • Clamps
  • Drill
  • Hammer
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Saw
  • Scale
  • Scissors
  • Tape measure

Materials Required

  • Graphite
  • Official Grand Prix Pinewood Derby Kit
  • Paint
  • Painter's tape
  • Sandpaper
  • Screw-on Tapered Zinc Weight

Below are the regulations most Pinewood Derbies follow, referred to as the “Rules in the Box.” It’s very important to follow these rules because if even one is broken, you’ll have a sad kid on your hands. Not all Pinewood Derbies are the same, so make sure to check with your local Scout District/Council rules to see if anything is different.

  1. Car Specifications: Width: 2-3/4”; Length: 7”; Weight: Maximum of 5 Ounces; Width between wheels: 1-3/4”
  2. The car must have been made during the current year (year in which derby is being held). Cannot use previous years’ cars.
  3. Wheel bearings, washers and bushings are prohibited.
  4. The car shall not ride on springs.
  5. Only official Cub Scout Grand Prix Pinewood Derby wheels and axles are permitted.
  6. Only dry lubricant is permitted.
  7. Details, such as steering wheel and driver are permissible as long as these details do not exceed the maximum length, width and weight specifications.
  8. The car must be free-wheeling, with no starting devices.
  9. Each car must pass inspection by the official inspection committee before it may compete.
  10. If, at registration, a car does not pass inspection, the owner will be informed of the reason for failure and will be given time within the official weigh-in time period to make the adjustment.
  11. After final approval, cars will not be re-inspected unless the car is damaged in handling or in a race.

If you want to make the ultimate Pinewood Derby car that is sure to win a few races, click here for the tricks and tips to a winning car.

Many of the add-ons/tools that you need for a quick Derby car can be purchased online. Click on the item below for a link to our favorite products:

Project step-by-step (7)

Step 1

Cut the profile

Pinewood Derby-01-1200Family Handyman

Before cutting, note that the axle notches aren’t equidistant from the ends of the block; the distance is further at the car’s front. Draw the car shape onto the block, connecting the side profile lines on the ends. Our car is a wedge that tapers from 5/16-in. to 1-in. Clamp the board and cut the shape with a hand saw. If your child wants to make a wavy shape, use a coping saw instead. Sand the car body up to 220-grit.

Step 2

Drill the weight location and attach the weight

Pinewood DerbyFamily Handyman

Trace the weight onto the bottom of the block with the wide end towards the back of the car. We used a screw-on tapered zinc weight that can easily be altered by breaking off sections of weight. Clamp the block to the table, using the off cut from the body to keep the block flat. Bore out the weight location with a 1/2-in. Forstner bit and drill so that the weight fits flush with the bottom of the car. A standard twist bit will do the job if you don’t have a Forstner bit. Chisel out any extra waste. Place the weight into the block. Predrill the screw holes and fasten the weight into the block with the includes screws.

Weights are THE  MOST important part to a winning races. Find the BSA approved weights right here.

Step 3

Paint the car

Pinewood Derby-03-1200Family Handyman

Mask off the axle notches with painter’s tape so that the paint doesn’t gum up the wheels. Paint to your liking.

Step 4

Engineer the wheels

Pinewood DerbyFamily Handyman

The best way to decrease wheel weight is to sand the wheels as smooth as possible, rounding any sharp surfaces. Some people buy wheels separately and match the mold number on the inside of the wheels for consistency. Others polish the inside hub using toothpaste on a pipe cleaner to remove any imperfections in the plastic.

Step 5

Smooth the axles

Pinewood DerbyFamily Handyman

The stick nail axles included in the kit have little ribs along the shank and a flat nail head, both of which cause friction. Smooth the axles by chucking them into a drill and sanding them up to 6000 grit. With the nail still in the drill, round the inner face of the nail head with a file and sand it smooth.

Finding 6000 grit sandpaper can be tough. We used this pack from Amazon that includes any grit you may need.

Step 6

Attach the wheels

Pinewood DerbyFamily Handyman

Hammer in the axle nails just tight enough so the wheels spin freely with minimal wobble. To hammer the wheels on other side, set a block under the car to raise the wheels off the bench, so you don’t inadvertently tighten them. It is difficult to hammer the nails in straight. Use a nail set and mallet to knock the wheels into alignment by altering the axles.

Step 7

Add graphite

Because only dry lubricant is allowed, the solution most people agree upon is graphite. Where do you use the graphite? Everywhere; wheels, axles, axle slots. The type of graphite doesn’t matter. Spin each wheel and puff the graphite into the wheels to help the graphite break down.

Graphite is an incredibly important addition if you want to win some Derby races. Buy the pro's favorite right here.