Pinewood Derby – A Favorite Father Son Activity

Nick’s cars for his Pinewood Derby career

I’m feeling very nostalgic today. Last week, I noticed that eHow featured an article I wrote last year, on one of my all-time favorite father & son activities – Pinewood Derby.  I remember my Dad coaching and encouraging me in our chilly Michigan basement, as he taught me how to use a table vice and coping saw to cut car shapes out of the tender pine. I remember the smell of the garage, the cold handle of the table vice and the thrill of working with my dad. I remember being impressed and, at the same time, intimidated by his big hands and fat fingers as he showed me how to assemble the little nail and plastic tire in the wood. I recall really enjoying the job of sanding the wood. A little model paint and a lot of patience, and my car was ready for race day.

As a young Cub Scout, I remember this being the World Series of Scouting. Funny, all these years later I couldn’t tell you what, or IF, I ever actually won anything, but I can tell you that I raced. That’s what I remember: the work we did together on this ‘manly’ project with my Dad (Insert Tim Allen‘s “Argh, argh, arrrrgh” here) and racing against my buddies.

Call it karma, blessings, kismet; whatever’s clever, but I have had the good fortune to be able to create these same memories with my two boys: Zach and Nick. And this brings me back to my original point about being nostalgic. Both of my boys have grown up, and aren’t racing anymore. Collectively, we’ve built and raced a half-dozen cars together over the years. And I miss it. I miss it like I miss the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Little League Baseball. Time has a way of cruelly marching on.

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So, for all those fathers and mothers with young Cub Scouts, if you need a quick lesson or a cheat-sheet to designing your own car, here is the eHow article I wrote on the “nuts and bolts” of designing a Pinewood Derby Car. And there’s some good links to additional tips and useful hints at the bottom of this post.

One million Cub Scouts and adult volunteers build and race custom Pinewood Derby cars each year, just as they have done since the spring of 1953 at the inaugural Pinewood Derby in Manhattan Beach, California. While material construction hasn’t changed since that first race – four wheels, four nails and a 3.5 oz. block of wood – car design has changed. Boys customize and design their cars, reflecting trends and styles unique to each generation.

Things You’ll Need


1.   Trace and Rough Cut

  • Trace your design in pencil onto the side of the Pinewood Derby car body. Expect to tweak your drawn design, until you get it just right.
  • Cut the block of wood with a coping saw, using the pencil lines as a guide. Don’t forget to put your safety glasses on. You are left with a rough cut of the car body. The design is now taking shape.
  • Inspect the car body from all angles, and make final small cuts, to bring symmetry to the design. Careful cuts at this stage will make sanding and finishing easier.

2.   Smoothing and Sanding

  • Apply a rasp back and forth across the roughest parts of the car body, to provide an initially smooth surface. If notches, grooves, cuts or striations are part of the design, add them now.
  • Start with a course-grit sandpaper and sand the entire body of the Pinewood Derby car.
  • Exchange the course-grit for a finer-grit, and sand the car body again. If needed, use a third and final super-fine sandpaper to finish smoothing the car.

3.   Paint

  • Apply a base coat of spray paint or model paint in the color of your choice. Choose a base color that will best emphasize the design you have chosen for your Pinewood Derby car. Allow the initial coat of paint to dry.
  • Finish painting your car, keeping your chosen design in mind. For fine detail and a lighter application, use small model brushes to apply thin coats of paint. Allow the paint to dry completely.
  • Apply decals and accessories to accentuate your Pinewood Derby car design.
  • Assemble the axle and wheel assembly. Then apply any needed weight, to bring the car to the desired weight limit.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you want to add speed to your design, pay careful attention to axle care and wheel preparation.
  • While rough cutting the chassis, be careful not to damage the axle grooves that are pre-cut into the wood block.
  • Read the rules and standards of the Pinewood Derby before you decide on a final design. There are specific limitations governing what you can do to your car.

How to Prep Pinewood Derby Wheels Denise Bertacchi, eHow Contributor

How to Adjust Pinewood Derby Car WheelsChuck Douros, eHow Contributor

Pinewood Derby Cars Retailer S&W Crafts, Mfg. Introduces New Tungsten Weights & Lubricant (

What’s the longest pinewood derby in the world? Guess again (

Boston Boy Scouts Break Pinewood Derby World Record (

Editor's note: Photo, courtesy C. Douros

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