How to Design a Pinewood Derby Car - Rockin Mama™ (2024)


{This post is sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America, however, all opinions remain solely that of the author}

As a young girl, my father and I would spend several weeks transforming a block of pine into a sleek racing car. Our school hosted a pinewood derby each Spring and it still remains one of the most memorable things my father and I did together during my childhood. He always got very passionate about our cars, tinkering with designs and strategizing over where to place the weights for speed. When my son joined our local Cub Scout pack and we started planning for his first Pinewood Derby, I pulled out the cars my father and I worked on together which was exciting and nostalgic for both of us.

How to Design a Pinewood Derby Car - Rockin Mama™ (1)

The first Pinewood Derby was held by a Cub Scout pack in Los Angeles, California and has now become a tradition. Each Spring, the boys are given a Pinewood Derby Car Kit which includes a block of pine wood, four plastic wheels and four nails.

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Pinewood Derby Rules

  • Each scout must use all of the pieces included in the Pinewood Derby Car Kit.
  • The car must not exceed 5 ounces in weight
  • The car must not exceed 2 3/4 in width and 7 inches in length and fit on the track
  • Scouts may use graphite as lubricant

How to Design a Pinewood Derby Car - Rockin Mama™ (3)

How to Design a Pinewood Derby Car

Apart from the rules listed above, scouts are encouraged to use their creativity to design and build their very own car. Having constructed Pinewood Derby Cars with my father and now as a parent, here are my best tips for building a Pinewood Derby Car.

  1. Plan out the design of your car. Various designs can include the traditional racing car, a replicaof a real-life car or truck, or a car/truck used in a TV or film (my son once drew inspiration from Harry Potter?).
  2. Whittle the block of wood with a bandsaw. We found that this was less time-consuming then whittling with a hand knife or hand saw.
  3. Consider using weights to bring the car to the maximum allowable 5 ounces. Coins, lead, and steel are common weights added to the Pinewood Derby Car and can be glued into the bottom of the vehicle.
  4. Finish your design with paint and decals. Scouts can create their own unique design or draw inspiration from their favorite real or imagined vehicles.

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4Lessons Scouts Will Learn From Building a Pinewood Derby Car

My father and I shared many experiences together. But the time we spent creating my Pinewood Derby Car each year was particularly meaningful. Boys, particularly Cub Scouts, still require significant assistance with designing and building their car. Here are some of the things I was able to teach my son as we designed his Pinewood Derby Car.

  1. Planning is essential. Each year, we are given the Pinewood Derby Car Kit several weeks ahead of the pack race. This particular activity requires planning and cannot easily be completed in one day. This is a great way to show scouts that building a car that looks nice and races well takes time, patience and creativity.
  2. There is a science to the fastest car. Because the car is propelled by gravity, it is important to consider the science involved with crafting a car that races to win. While crafting the car, parents can talk to their kids about concepts like friction, drag, energy and inertia and how those factors impact the speed of the car.
  3. Creativity is celebrated. In addition to awarding trophies for the fastest cars, our pack also awards scouts for their creativity. My son won “most realistic car” last year and he was incredibly proud of the fact that his design won him that award. Building a Pinewood Derby Car should be both educational and fun. Scouts should be encouraged to use their imagination to design their own unique vehicle.
  4. Winning isn’t everything. My son learned very early on that he is not going to excel at everything. Crafting a Pinewood Derby Car can provide moments for parents to talk to their children about sportsmanship. I like to celebrate my son’s creativity and efforts. We also talk about supporting other scouts and their designs, even when we don’t win.

In the midst of homework, sports, and life, I appreciate the opportunity to spend dedicated time building a Pinewood Derby Car with my son each year. These moments of brainstorming and creating are unique. There is great satisfaction and a sense of “pride” that comes from my son’s completed Pinewood Derby masterpiece.

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The annual Pinewood Derby is just one of the engaging activities that Cub Scouts participate throughout the year. Through our pack, we’ve camped at our local lake, learned how to use a whittling knife, put together love lunches for the homeless, spent the night on the USS Midway aircraft carrier, and watched a local air show. Cub Scouts take a break during the summer, however, the Boy Scouts of America hosts a number of Cub Scout Day Camps which includenature, sports, aquatics, and crafts.

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To find a local Cub Scout Pack, visit

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Caryn Bailey

Caryn is a NICU nurse by day, blogger by night and mom 24/7. She savors the warm Southern California sun and loves to travel, shopping, baking, reading and frequenting her local tea room. Caryn created the column Lavishly Green for Peekaboo Picks Magazine to share her best tips for going green in style, she is the Former editor for Family Review Network, former OC Family Magazine online contributor, former Orange County Moms Blog contributor, former Evenflo Savvy Parent contributor, former member of the Totsy Advisory Board and former freelance writer for CBS Los Angeles.

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Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts

As an expert and enthusiast, I have access to a vast amount of information on various topics. While I have personal experiences or opinions, I can provide you with factual information and insights based on the data I have been trained on.

Now, let's discuss the concepts mentioned in this article:

Pinewood Derby

The Pinewood Derby is a racing event for Cub Scouts, organized by the Boy Scouts of America. It involves designing, building, and racing small wooden cars. The event originated in Los Angeles, California, and has become a tradition in many Cub Scout packs.

Pinewood Derby Car Kit

Each scout participating in the Pinewood Derby is given a Pinewood Derby Car Kit. The kit typically includes a block of pine wood, four plastic wheels, and four nails.

Pinewood Derby Rules

To ensure fair competition, there are specific rules that participants must follow when building their Pinewood Derby cars. Some common rules include:

  • Using all the pieces included in the Pinewood Derby Car Kit.
  • Limiting the weight of the car to 5 ounces.
  • Restricting the width of the car to 2 3/4 inches and the length to 7 inches.
  • Allowing the use of graphite as a lubricant.

Designing a Pinewood Derby Car

While following the rules, scouts are encouraged to use their creativity to design and build their own unique cars. Some tips for designing a Pinewood Derby car include:

  • Planning out the design of the car, which can be inspired by various sources such as real-life cars, trucks, or even fictional vehicles.
  • Whittling the block of wood with a bandsaw, which can be less time-consuming than using a hand knife or hand saw.
  • Considering the use of weights, such as coins, lead, or steel, to bring the car to the maximum allowable weight of 5 ounces.
  • Finishing the design with paint and decals, allowing scouts to create their own unique designs or draw inspiration from their favorite vehicles.

Lessons Learned from Building a Pinewood Derby Car

Building a Pinewood Derby car can teach scouts valuable lessons. Some of these lessons include:

  • Planning: The process of building a Pinewood Derby car requires planning and cannot be completed in one day. This teaches scouts the importance of time management, patience, and creativity.
  • Science: Crafting a car that races well involves considering scientific concepts such as friction, drag, energy, and inertia. Exploring these concepts can help scouts understand the science behind the fastest cars.
  • Creativity: The Pinewood Derby celebrates creativity, not just in terms of speed but also in design. Scouts are encouraged to use their imagination to create unique vehicles.
  • Sportsmanship: Winning isn't everything, and building a Pinewood Derby car provides an opportunity to teach scouts about sportsmanship, supporting others, and celebrating creativity and effort.

I hope this information helps you understand the concepts mentioned in the article. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask!

How to Design a Pinewood Derby Car - Rockin Mama™ (2024)


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

The wedge is a classic and probably the easiest shape (besides keeping a block) to build your Pinewood Derby car. The Wedge is the foundation of many cool car designs, and it is designed to be aerodynamic and is a one-cut wonder.

How to decorate a Pinewood Derby car? ›

5 Fun Ideas to Enhance Your Pinewood Derby Car
  1. Let your car's design shine with a light kit.
  2. Opt for glow-in-the-dark wheels.
  3. Include fun and easy-to-use peel-and-stick decals.
  4. Transform your car into a firetruck, police car, or ice cream truck.
  5. Preserve your car with a display box.

What shape should my Pinewood Derby car be? ›

It's okay to get creative with the look and design of your car. On the flip side of that, if your main goal is speed, you'll need to keep it simple. To go fast, it's all about aerodynamics, and the best shape is a simple wedge.

What is the best Pinewood Derby shape for speed? ›

No need to get crazy here, but simply having a wedge-shaped Pinewood Derby car instead of the standard block out of the box will equal a 1.4-car advantage at the finish line.

What is the fastest Pinewood Derby car time? ›

“He set the track record in NYC with a 2.93 second run, which wasn't even approached by any other car up there.” JJ's car was apparently the only car at the event to average under 3 seconds. Brewster says 3 seconds is sort of the “holy grail” of the Pinewood Derby Racing Leagues.

Should I bake my Pinewood Derby block? ›

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.

How do I make my Pinewood Derby shiny? ›

Use a final gloss clear paint coat to give your car an extra shine. Some people use car wax but clear paint gives better results. You will get better results if you give your car several light coats of paint rather than one or two thick coats. Sand your car lightly after the first coat of paint dries.

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.

Can I spray paint Pinewood Derby car? ›

Step 3: Choose a color for your Pinewood Derby car. Then apply two to three coats of enamel paint to the car's body. Spraying the model with paint from an aerosol can is easier than using a brush. If you use a brush, dip only the lower third of the brush into the paint.

Can you put Legos on a Pinewood Derby car? ›

Most pinewood derby rules limit the length of the car to 7" so don't add any LEGO pieces that extend past the front or back of the block. You can add LEGO pieces that make your car wider but the width should not exceed 2 3/4 inches. As a general rule, the height of your car should not be greater than 3 inches.

Can you put lights on a Pinewood Derby car? ›

This Head/Tail Lights kit features two white headlights and two red tail lights. Your pinewood derby car should have enough space in the front and rear to mount the lights.

Can Pinewood Derby car be less than 7? ›

Can a pinewood derby car be shorter than 7 inches? Yes, you can make your car shorter but it is not recommended. A shorter car will have a lower center of mass at the start so it will have less energy to convert into speed when going down the track.

Can a Pinewood Derby car be too heavy? ›


In most races, a Pinewood Derby car's weight is limited to 5 ounces. If your car weighs less than that, add coins or other weights.

Is a shorter Pinewood Derby car faster? ›

However, as with most facets of Pinewood Derby®, there is a trade-off between speed and stability regarding wheelbases. The shorter the wheelbase, the more potential there is for speed. However, the shorter wheelbase can also lead to instability, slowing the car.

What are characteristics of successful Pinewood Derby car designs? ›

To build the fastest pinewood derby car at competition, you need to maximize your momentum while also minimizing friction.
  • Quality Lubrication. A major way to decrease friction is by properly lubricating your wheels and axles. ...
  • Properly Prepared Wheels and Axles. ...
  • Perfect Alignment. ...
  • Maximized Momentum. ...
  • Aerodynamic.

How to make the most aerodynamic Pinewood Derby car? ›

Crafting the Design: Outline your Pinewood Derby car on paper, cut it out, and affix it to the wood block. Remember, a rectangular car is not an aerodynamic design. The most basic aerodynamic design is a simple wedge. If you don't have time to design a complex car, a wedge will work just fine.

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.

Where is the best place to add weight to 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.


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