Pinewood Derby Car Assembly (2024)

Once your wheels, axles, and car body are completed, it’s time for Pinewood Derby® car assembly!

Determine your desired weight balance/distribution (see Weighting article). Next, attach the wheels and axles to the car; however, do not insert the axles all the way.

Pinewood Derby Car Assembly (1)

PRO RACER TIP FROM Reece Racing: Use a second or spare set of wheels and axles to work out your weight distribution. This keeps accidental damage to the actual race wheels/axles to a minimum. Also, the axle holes/slots may need to be relaxed a bit and a spare axle is a good choice for this.

Arrange the weight on the car in the approximate final location (easiest to do with a flat/thin car). Place the car on your preferred balance tool (scales or straight edge). Shift the weight until you hit your desired weight distribution/balance point. Affix the weights using two-sided tape or glue. Cover over the weight with foil tape. Cover all holes and pockets in the car that could trap air, slowing it down. Cavities can be covered using packing tape, vinyl, or another similar material.

Pinewood Derby Car Assembly (2)

Insert the wheels and axles all the way. For rail riding setups, you will want the right front axle head of the bent axle to point downward.

Pinewood Derby Car Assembly (3)

Setting the Wheel Gaps

When inserting the wheels into the body, you want a small gap between the wheel’s inner hub and the body itself. Too much gap and the wheels will move back and forth on the axles, causing the car to wiggle and lose speed. Too little space and the wheel will bind against the body. Set your gap so there is enough room for the wheel to move back and forth slightly on the axle. Four sheets of standard copy paper can be used for setting the gap. Insert the paper between the car body and the inner wheel hub, push the wheel/axle into the body until tight, then remove the paper. Alternatively, a gap tool used by league racers is available here. League racers like small wheel gaps of 0.01 inches or so.

Pinewood Derby Car Assembly (4)

Raised Front Wheel

The wheels are a significant source of potential energy drain on a Pinewood Derby® car. Raising the non-steer wheel (typically the front left) so it does not contact the track reduces the amount of energy used to start the wheels spinning.

Pinewood Derby Car Assembly (5)

There are different methods to raise the front wheel:

  • The bending of the front steer axle and the tilting of the steering wheel are often enough to lift the non-steer wheel off the track. This is the preferred method for league racers.

  • The non-steer wheel axle hole can be drilled slightly higher than the steer wheel axle hole. This is a good option for Race Teams. The standard (smaller) version of the Turbo Jig has the non-steer front hole set 0.01” higher.

  • If bending axles is not prohibited, then the raised wheel axle can be bent and rotated, so the wheel does not contact the track.

When installing the raised wheel, push the axle in tight so the wheel is pinned against the car body. You do not want to risk the wheel spinning, creating vibrations.

Tuning/setting steer

You’ll need to adjust your steer if running a rail rider setup. To do so, you will need a way to measure how much the car steers over a given distance. Any flat surface that is 5-6 feet long and can be slightly elevated at one end and leveled side to side will work. A board, shelving, coffee table, a full-length mirror, etc., are good options to use as a tuning board.

Measure two to three inches from the side at both ends (see graphic below). Put a piece of tape running down the board so it is straight and parallel to the sides. The tape running down the board is your center line. Next, measure 55 inches (48 inches plus 7 inches for the car) from one of the ends and put a piece of tape across the width of the board. Mark the second piece of tape in increments of one inch starting from the longer strip of tape.

Pinewood Derby Car Assembly (6)

Place the board on a flat surface and slightly elevate the start end. You want just enough slope so the car will run down the board slowly but consistently. Check that the board is level side to side and shim as needed to level it. Make sure you have a helper, pillow, blanket, or some way to stop the car when it rolls to the end of the board. Placing your board on the floor helps prevent your new car from rolling off the board and the table!

Place the car at the top of the board, align the outside of the wheels with the tape, and let the car roll down the board.

Using a flathead screwdriver, adjust the steer by turning the axle. Clockwise will turn the car to the right (decreasing steer), and counterclockwise will turn the car to the left (increasing steer). The steer can be very sensitive, so minor adjustments are needed. Make changes until you have the car steering your desired amount. The proper steer amount is usually 4-6 inches.

Setting steer is a balancing act between the amount of steer and the weight on the front wheel. If you have more weight on the front wheel, the car will need less steer; less weight will require more steer.

Pinewood Derby Car Assembly (8)

If you do not have access to a track to tune on, a good car setup would be 16-17 grams (0.56-0.60 oz) on the front wheel and 4-5 inches of steer!

PRO RACER TIP FROM DWS Racing: It’s FAR BETTER to have a little more steer than you think you need than to have too little that results in an unstable car!

Wheel Gap ToolBuy Now
Turbo Jig - HybridBuy Now

Articles in this series (click to read):

- Learn Pinewood Derby from the fastest racers in the world!

- Purpose of Pinewood Derby

- The Foundations of Pinewood Derby Speed

- The Keys to a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

- Pinewood Derby Rules

- Anatomy of a Professional Pinewood Derby Rail Riding Car

- Pinewood Derby Wheel Preparation

- Preparing Pinewood Derby Axles

- Proper Pinewood Derby Car Weighting

- Pinewood Derby Car Alignment

- Pinewood Derby Car Aerodynamics

- Pinewood Derby Car Body

- Pinewood Derby Car Lubrication

- Pinewood Derby Car Assembly

- Questionable Pinewood Derby Information

- Pinewood Derby Race Day

- Pinewood Derby League Racing

Pinewood Derby Car Assembly (2024)


Which wheel should be raised on a Pinewood Derby car? ›

Raised Front Wheel

The wheels are a significant source of potential energy drain on a Pinewood Derby® car. Raising the non-steer wheel (typically the front left) so it does not contact the track reduces the amount of energy used to start the wheels spinning.

How far to push in Pinewood Derby axles? ›

Push until the wheel touches the car body. The base is designed to leave the proper gap between the wheel and body. 5. The axle will need to be glued if it slips easily into the car body.

What is the best way to build a Pinewood Derby car? ›

5 Tips to Building the Fastest Pinewood Derby Car
  1. Lubricate the wheels with graphite.
  2. Bake the wood block.
  3. Use axle guards.
  4. Smooth the axles.
  5. Choose the right car shape.

Should I glue Pinewood Derby axles? ›

Slide the axles and wheels onto the car and glue into place. Use an epoxy or nonresin glue, and make sure you don't get any on the surface of the axle where the wheel rides.

Should I sand the wheels on a Pinewood Derby car? ›

Starting with about 300 grit sandpaper sand the wheels. Work up to as fine of grit as you can find. Only sand enough to remove imperfections and make the wheel round as possible.

Should you bend Pinewood Derby axles? ›

You will want to bend your front axle a PRECISE AMOUNT for maximum speed, ensuring the car is level front to back when racing.

Where is the best axle placement on a Pinewood Derby car? ›

The axle holes (and, therefore, the wheels) must be at the same height, and precisely aligned to each other. The rear wheels must be parallel to each other and the car body. Additionally, the wheels must be located directly across from one another.

Should weight be in front or back of Pinewood Derby car? ›

The Pinewood Derby rules limit the weight of each car to 5 ounces. So where should you place weights to make the car heavier (faster)? Most PWD experts believe a car is faster when the weight is predominately placed towards the rear of the car.

What is the fastest shape for a Pinewood Derby car? ›

To go fast, it's all about aerodynamics, and the best shape is a simple wedge. Just like a spoiler on the rear of a sports car, the wedge shape allows as much air to flow over the top of the car without hinderance while keeping the car pinned to the track.

Do fenders make Pinewood Derby cars faster? ›

Fenders can help efficiently direct the air around the wheels resulting in more speed. There are a few different types of fenders: Leading Edge Fenders: These fenders are placed in front of the wheels and help direct air over them, leading to a faster car.

What is the best wheelbase for a Pinewood Derby car? ›

For example, on a smooth aluminum track, a wheelbase of 4.75” offers a good balance between speed and stability. For a rougher track where instability could be a concern, the Race Team might consider going with a 5.0” to 5.25” wheelbase. New axle holes must be made to move or extend the car's wheelbase.

Where to drill axle holes in pinewood derby? ›

Extend the mark from the bottom of the block to the top of the block using a square (or measure and mark near the bottom of the block and near the top of the block, and then join the line with a pencil and ruler). Holes for extended wheelbases are typically positioned 5/8" from the end of the block.

What do you seal a pinewood derby car with? ›

Seal and protect it by spraying the entire car with clear gloss paint. Some clear paints might make the numbers curl. To make sure yours works, test it on a decal or number stuck to scrap plastic before spraying your car.

Where do you put graphite on a pinewood derby car? ›

Apply graphite and tap the wheel to spread the graphite into the inner hub and between the wheel and the car body. Turn the car so the wheel faces up and spin it several times. A soft bristle paintbrush works well to push graphite under the axle head and onto the inner hub.

Which axle is the front on a Pinewood Derby car? ›

Which end is the front of a pinewood derby car? Either end can be the front of the car but the end of the block farthest from an axle slot gives you an advantage if it is the front of the car. The reason for this is that you can put weight farther back on the car if the rear slot is close to the end of the block.

What are the rules for wheel placement in Pinewood Derby? ›

The axle holes (and, therefore, the wheels) must be at the same height, and precisely aligned to each other. The rear wheels must be parallel to each other and the car body. Additionally, the wheels must be located directly across from one another.

Where is the best weight placement on a Pinewood Derby car? ›

Best Location to Weight Your Pinewood Derby Car

When deciding on where to weight your car, you should try to reach a final balance point of the car 1 inch or less in front of the rear axle. To achieve this, place 2/5 of the added weight behind the rear axle, and the remaining 3/5 in front of the rear axle.

How to raise one wheel on Pinewood Derby car? ›

Place your car on a flat surface then press down on each of the front corners of the car in turn with your finger. If the corner moves down as you press then the wheel on that corner is higher and it should be the wheel that you raise.

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