How to Build a
Pine Wood Derby
Before we get into the nuts-and-bolts if building your pine wood car, let’s remember the
goal: The car and the race are just excuses for your and your child to spend time
together. You’re making a relational investment in each other that will strength your
family. You’re making a memory. The car you create should look like it was made in
partnership between the parent and the child. You should absolutely provide help (and
lots of help if your child is young), but please don’t take over.
It takes between four and six hours to build a race-worthy car. So give yourself a lot of
time to build the car, broken out over several evenings.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started:
1) Plan the shape of your car. Take some time to sketch out your design on a
piece of paper. Or visit http://home.simplyweb.net/bosworth/template.htm to
check out the template that this scout troop came up with. But remember, your
car can’t be longer than 7” or wider than 2.75. (You can add wood to make the
car as tall as you’d like). Use your imagination; you can shape your block to look
like a car, a boat, a rocket, or a cartoon character. But the more complex your
shape, the harder it will be to cut it out.
2) Gather Tools and Materials. You’ll need a car kit (available at the bookstore, a
coping saw (or a scroll saw), a small file, tracing paper, sand paper or assorted
grit, metal polish, weight (available at the bookstore), wood putty, wood primer,
and finish paint.
3) Cutting the Basic Car Shape. Transfer your design that you created to the car.
You can cut out your template, tape it to the pinewood and trace around it, or use
carbon paper. Next use the coping saw to cut the shape from the wood. Consider
using a vice to keep the block from sliding as you cut.
4) Wheel Mount Preparation: The wood on the car kit has slots pre-cut for axles.
Some car builders are convinced that more distance between axles makes for a
faster car. You are welcome to cut your own axle slots to improve performance,
just remember your car can only be 7” long. If your wheels stick out past 7” then
the race won’t be allowed to race. I’d recommend this step for only the more
5) Adding weight: Your finished wood block with the wheels, axle, and trim will
weigh about 2.5 oz and your finished car is allowed to weigh 5 oz. Don’t skip
adding weigh or your car won’t be competitive. The easiest way to add
weight is to use the taper weights available at the book store. You can break off
the weight you don’t need and fasten the remaining weight to the bottom of your
car. Some car builders prefer to use a router or a drill to make holes in the thick
part of the car. You can then fill through holes with bb’s or fishing sinkers, or zinc
weights. Please don’t use lead due to safety concerns.
Add weight until your car is at about 4.5 oz. If you drilled holes, you’ll be adding
the putty filler. The paint will add weight as well.
6) Seal the holes: If you drilled holes for the weights, seal them with wood putty.
The wood putty takes a lot of time to dry, and you might need multiple
applications. So budget time. If you are in a hurry, Bondo (a car body putty)
7) Sanding and Sealing: Sand the wood body to remove the blade marks as well
as any small blemishes on the wood surface. Start by using 100 or 120 grits
paper. Then use 220 grit paper to smother the sanding marks. Finally use 400
grit sandpaper to get an excellent finish. (IMPORTANT: Don’t wet-sand
8) Painting and Sealing: A bare wood surface will act like a sponge. If start out
painting, it will take you several coats. Instead, apply a wood sanding sealer to
the wood. Sand the primer coat with 400 grit sandpaper and then apply the paint.
Use fast-drying enamels.
9) Wheel Work: Feel free to sand and polish the wheels. Make sure that there are
no plastic burs that on the surface of the wheel that would slow the car down.
10) Axle Polishing: You have a choice of using the nails or the axles to fasten your
wheels to the car. Use sand paper to remove any burs. Feel free to apply metal
polish to make the surface of your axles smoother.
11) Lubrication: Use a graphite based lubricant. You can get a tube cheaply at
Michaels. Avoid Petroleum products like motor oil, WD-40, CRC, and 3-in-1 oil as
they have the potential to soften the plastic on your wheels over time.
12) Wheel Attachment. Carefully press your wheels in the axle slots. Keep them in
place with glue or epoxy.