Pinewood Derby Tips « Cub Scout Pack 1776 (2024)

Pinewood Derby Tips

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Pack 1776 Scouters-

For those of you that are new to scouting or those who just need a refresher course, here are some planning steps that may help in making a Pinewood Derby® car. Remember, while Pinewood Derbies® gives a Cub Scout and an adult a project to complete as a team, we should encourage each scout to do as much of the car building as possible.

Step 1: Design the Car's Body

Choose your favorite design. Outline it onto your paper template or graph paper. Remember to maintain a width of 1-3/4 inches where the metal axle is to be inserted. Then outline the bare block of wood onto the paper. Keep the design simple enough to avoid overly intricate or detailed cutting.

Step 2: Shape the Car's Body

  1. When deciding how detailed you want your car to be, keep in mind the tools you have available: saws, drills, sanders, etc. Consider safety as well. Usually, the adult makes the major cuts with the power tools and then lets the youth file and complete the sanding.
  2. Check the axle grooves to ensure that each is at a perfect 90-degree angle to the car body. A car with untrue axles tends to steer to one side or the other, causing it to rub up against the side of the lane strip, slowing it down.
  3. Cut away the large sections of waste wood to get close to your etching of the final design. This makes it easier to shape and detail your design. It's much harder to add wood if you overcut your original design.
  4. Do not forget to have a place for weight if you need it. Weight may be placed anywhere as long as it is not taped on and does not exceed the specifications.

Step 3: Inspect the Wheels

  1. Only the official wheels are acceptable.
  2. Wheels can be sanded to remove surface imperfections, but the treads must be left flat.
  3. Inspecting the wheels is important. Make sure all wheels roll freely and smoothly around the axle. Get a drill bit that fits just inside the wheel where the axle fits. This cleans out the roughness and burrs that cause wheels to not spin freely.

Step 4: Insert Axels

  1. Check each axle for a burr on the underside of the head.
  2. To let the wheels run as freely as possible, place an axle in a hand-drill chuck to hold it steady, then smooth the burrs with a fine emery cloth or file.
  3. To fine-tune your axles, polish them with jeweler's rouge or fine emery paper. These items can be purchased at a local hardware store.

Step 5: Paint

After shaping and sanding your car to your satisfaction, prime it, sand it with fine sandpaper, and add additional coats of paint or a "skin". Do not glue details on yet.

Step 6: Install Wheels and Axles

Put the axles and wheels on the car, but don't glue axles on at this point. Weigh your car, being sure to place the car and the accessories (driver, steering wheel, roll bar, etc.) on the scale.

Step 7: Add Weights

  1. The car may not weigh more than five ounces. Get your car as close to that weight as possible.
  2. If you do not have a scale, the U.S. Postal Service or a supermarket might weigh your car for you. Our Pack 1776 Pinewood Derby® Committee has an official scale for you to use at the weigh-in the day before the race.
  3. Weight must not be taped on. The car may be hollowed out and weight inserted to build it up to the maximum weight. Make sure it is securely attached or built into the body of the car so as to not fall off the car and onto the track.

Step 8: Test the Car

  1. Once weight is securely mounted, slip wheels back on. Place car on a long, flat surface, such as a floor, and give it a gentle push. The car should travel in a straight line for a reasonable distance (five to ten feet).

Step 9: Lubricate the Car

  1. Lube and mount the wheels permanently. Dry, fine powdered lube works best. Dust a little powdered lube in the hole of the wheel where the axle is inserted, some on the axle where the wheel rides, and a little at the axle head.
  2. 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.

Step 10: Accessorize the Car

Make sure accessories are securely mounted on the car. Add stripes and decals if desired.


To ensure the highest level of success and fun in your Pinewood Derby® experience, make safety your top priority. Here are some useful guidelines for maintaining safety:

  1. Gather your safety essentials: dust mask, goggles, and latex gloves.
  2. Wear eye protection at all times.
  3. Monitor Cub Scouts' use of tools.
  4. Wear dust mask when appropriate. You can buy 9320 masks online so they're easy to get hold of.
  5. Work in a well-lighted and well-ventilated area.
  6. Consider wearing gloves when using sharp tools.
  7. Do not wear loose-fitting clothing.
  8. Do not melt lead; handle lead with care.
  9. Follow all safety rules and precautions listed on the tools and products you use.
  10. Keep your work area clean and organized.

Most of all, have fun with your scouts! Activities like this will make memories of a lifetime!

Yours in Scouting,
Cubmaster Emeritus Ed

Pinewood Derby Tips « Cub Scout Pack 1776 (2024)


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.

What is the most important thing to make a Pinewood Derby car faster? ›

Much has been written about the physics of pinewood derby cars, and this is one rare case in racing where heavy = fast. Aerodynamics have little effect in such a short race, but weight does and putting the weight at the back of the car will make your car faster on the flat of the track.

How far to push in Pinewood Derby axles? ›

Hold the Axle Guide in place with your thumb then gently press the car body straight down on the axle. Push until the wheel touches the car body. The base is designed to leave the proper gap between the wheel and body.

Should you bake your Pinewood Derby car? ›

Baking your Pinewood Derby wooden block helps to remove the moisture so that you have more wiggle room to add extra weight at the end. Remember, every little bit of weight in the right place makes a difference! Bake it in the oven at 250° for about 2 hours.

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.

Can you put too much graphite on a pinewood derby car? ›

Applying too much lubricant will slow your car down. How to use: Put one drop of lubricant on an axle. Tip the axle so down and let the lube flow to the end of the axle.

What is the best angle for Pinewood Derby axles? ›

The rear wheels should be set at a 3-degree angle (camber). This angle reduces friction as only a tiny portion of the wheel makes contact with the track. Plus, the angle makes the wheels migrate outward on the axle, rubbing against the axle head rather than the higher friction-prone body.

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.

Is it legal to sand Pinewood Derby wheels? ›

Wheels may be sanded/lathed/filed to smooth out molding imperfections in the tread area. The contact surface of the wheel must be flat as it sits on the track. Beveling, tapering, significant rounding, pointing, shaving, concave, wafering, etc. of the wheel contact area is prohibited.

Where is the best place to put weights on a Pinewood Derby car? ›


Science says the heaviest part of your car should be about 1 inch in front of the rear axle. The idea is that the farther back the weight is, the more potential energy you have because your center of mass is higher up on the track.

What is the most aerodynamic Pinewood Derby car shape? ›

Pinewood Derby Car Shape: The Wedge

The Wedge is the foundation of many cool car designs, and it is designed to be aerodynamic and is a one-cut wonder.

What to use to polish pinewood derby axles? ›

Use polishing compound from the auto supply store to polish the wheels and axles. One easy way to do this is to clamp the axles back in the drill and let the drill spin the axle while you polish it.

How to improve pinewood derby wheels? ›

Lubricate the Wheels with Graphite

Too much friction slows the car as gravity helps it race down the track. To reduce friction and ensure an ultra-fast car, lubricate the metal axles. However, ensure you follow the rules so your Scout isn't disqualified!

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