How to make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

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How to make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

How to Make a Fast Pinewood Derby Car

By humble21creations

Jack of All Trades-Life Skills-Pinewood Derby-Clean Living Blog


Have you ever heard of the fire triangle?  Sure you have.  It is the three elements required to successfully create a fire.  Each side of the triangle represents a key element.  If one of the key elements is missing, you will NOT have a fire.  Humble21creations is going to apply the same technique to create a Speed Triangle for making a Fast Pinewood Derby Car.

Fast Pinewood Derby Car FIRE TRIANGLE by humble21creations


Before you can apply the Speed Triangle for a Fast Pinewood Derby Car, Humble21creations suggests that you have a reasonable aerodynamic design.  For speed purposes, avoid big bulky designs that will cause excessive drag.  Ideally, the pinewood derby builder needs to use as much tungsten or lead for the overall mass of the car.  This is why simple, extremely thin wedge body designs are so successful.  However, Humble21creations has learned that the new trend is pinewood derby ladder cars made from an extremely light balsa wood.  With the pinewood derby ladder car,  most of the wood is cut out, thus allowing more of the cars’s overall mass to be used for weight placement.  This type of car will give the builder more control of the COG (center of gravity) adjustment and other important variables.

Now You have a Fast Pinewood Derby Car design that you bought from an online pinewood derby retailer.  The pinewood derby retailer claims that this is the Fastest Pinewood Derby Car Body design in the world.  Of course this is his opinion and is not backed by any published research that has been thoroughly tested.  The online retailers use the most attractive buzz words to get us to make that final purchase.  In reality, the “world’s fastest pinewood derby car design” is purely speculation and opinion.  Humble21creations knows that you can only have the fastest Pinewood Derby car if you correctly apply the Speed Triangle for a Fast Pinewood Derby Car.


  1. Have the best prepped wheels that your rules will allow.
  2. Have the best prepped axles that your rules will allow.
  3. Know how to tune a Pinewood derby car to its fullest potential



You have read your Pinewood Derby race rules and now you are fully aware of what modifications are allowed.  If the rules are more flexible, you can really splurge and get the best.  If you have grandiose thoughts of making your own modified pinewood derby wheels, just beware, it is not an easy task.  Humble21creations knows first hand.  Setting up a CNC lathe to make properly cut, reamed, and balanced pinewood derby wheels is a project that few can successfully tackle.  It helps to have some machining background.  Also, just know that you will potentially sacrifice thousands of wheel sets before you get it right.  After the cost of material, specialized equipment, and countless hours of research, you will then understand why professionally modified pinewood derby wheels are so expensive.


You have chosen the best wheels your rules will allow and it is time to move on to Pinewood Derby wheel prep.  To make a Fast Pinewood Derby car, your wheels must be thoroughly prepped with Pinewood derby graphite.  Again, every retailer will sell the “world’s most fastest pinewood derby graphite.”  Humble21creations has tried them all.  They are pretty much the same.  This is another topic of opinion and speculation that really has not been proven.  When choosing, make sure that the container has a needle like tip for easier application to get inside the wheel.

Before you apply the fast Pinewood Derby Car graphite, you must prep the wheels with a good plastic polish.  Again, the best polish to use is opinion and speculation.  Humble21creations use Novus 1, 2, and 3.  Humble21creations has used turtle wax too.  It works fine but I have better results with the Novus.  If you are unsure of how to prep pinewood derby wheels, there are plenty of videos online that are good.  Just remember, If your car is a 3 wheel rail rider, use the most inferior wheel from your set as the high wheel. (the wheel that does not make contact with the track)



Do your rules allow for a 3 wheel rail rider which uses bent Pinewood Derby axles?  This is great news!  But first, you must prep your Pinewood Derby axles before bending.  You will want Pinewood Derby axles that have been properly straightened, deburred, and sanded with a fine grit diamond paste or wet sand paper.  The head of the Pinewood Derby axle needs to be tapered to minimize friction with the Pinewood Derby wheel hub.  After the sanding process, Humble21creations recommends using a dry teflon lubricant.  Humble21creations uses Dupont teflon dry lubricant.

Let’s talk about camber.  This is a note worthy term that is used a lot.  Camber is the angle the Pinewood Derby wheel makes with the car’s vertical axis.  In layman’s terms, it means how much the wheel leans IN or OUT.   For fast Pinewood Derby car racing, you will DEFINITELY want negative camber on your rear wheels.

Fast Pinewood Derby Car Camber explained pinewood derby by humble21creations

Negative camber will create a fast Pinewood Derby car by allowing less of the wheel surface to make contact with the track and plays a major role for proper weight transfer while the fast Pinewood Derby car is racing down the track.  To set the rear wheels for proper negative camber, you should bend the axles to a 2.5-3.0 degree angle.  Humble21creations notices many people get this wrong.  There are many Youtube videos online where people are using POSITIVE camber on the rear wheels.  NO!!  This is wrong!  These videos have thousands of views too!

Finally, you get to the steer and high wheel axle.  The steer will be 1.5 degrees and a positive camber.  The high wheel should be bent between 2.5-3.0 degrees and adjusted accordingly.



Above all, Pinewood Derby car tuning is the most important and final step of the speed triangle for making a fast Pinewood Derby car.  If you think that Humble21creations forgot about COG adjustment, think again!  The center of gravity weight adjustment falls into the tuning category.  This adjustment will vary depending on the length of the track and other variables within your fast Pinewood Derby car design.

Most people do not have the resources to tune a fast Pinewood Derby Car.  Ideally, you will want axle tuning/extraction pliers, Tuning board, and a complete Pinewood Derby track with a digital timer.  (NOTE: Another tuning option is slotted axle heads that can be adjusted with a tiny screwdriver.)

Tuning a fast Pinewood Derby car takes lots of practice and patients.  It is not uncommon to run a car down the track over 50 times before you get that final adjustment.  Humble21creations has tuned thousands of cars and knows how frustrating and exhausting it can be!  Tons of information online is available about this subject.  There are way too many details involved to explain it here.  Good luck!



The three key elements: WHEELS, AXLES, and TUNING are essential for a winning fast Pinewood Derby car.  If you do not know how to tune a car, it does NOT matter if you have the best body design or the fastest wheels and axles.  If you neglect to use the best possible wheels and prep that your rules will allow, it does not matter how good your axles or tuning ability is.  The opponent with the more superior wheels and prep will likely win.  Same goes for the axles.  If you have great tuning abilities and the best wheels but neglect to use the best possible axle prep that your rules will allow, you will likely lose to an opponent who utilized his rules allowances to the fullest extent.

Just remember the fast Pinewood Derby car speed triangle.  Like the fire triangle, if one of the elements is missing, you will not have the desired result. Fire. WINNING!!



By | 2018-09-13T16:31:49-05:00 August 24th, 2018|Create, Pinewood Derby, Woodworking|1 Comment

About the Author:

I have been making pinewood derby cars for a LONG time. Using trial and error and published physics backed research, I have come up with the proven formula that yields the fastest and most consistent results. I am fortunate to have the space and resources to build test cars on my 42ft remote activated 4 space sensor test track. After thousands of pinewood derby builds, the cars just get better. I have tested countless Pinewood Derby products and cars from various vendors and I know what works and what is the best. I am pleased to share this with you!

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