How to Build a Pinewood Derby Car: The Basics

Your First Race? No clue what to do with the block of wood you’ve been handed? Here are the basics you need to make your Pinewood Derby Car get to the end of the track without being embarrassed. First, read the basic BSA rules, then follow these basic tips:

1. Design a car. Let your child help imagine a design. Don’t limit yourself to a "car" design. We’ve seen Pinewood Derby Cars shaped like Sponge-Bob, Pianos, Tennis Courts, Battle Ships, Space Ships, cell phones, bath tubs, and more. If it’s your first time, then pick something that’s not to intricate to carve. There are pre-carved chassis that you can use if your troop allows. You can also start with a pre-carved and carve it more. After carving lightly, sand the car to a smooth finish.

2. Painting. You’ll need to seal the wood first, or else the paint will just absorb into the wood, leaving a stained finish instead of a solid color. It’s simple: apply 2 coats, sanding lightly in between. Now paint. If you’re just doing 1 color it’s quicker and easier to spray paint the car. If you’re doing multiple colors or detail work use brush-on paints. Once the paint is dry, use some gloss coat to give the paint a shiny finish and keep fingerprints off of your pinewood derby car.

3. Install the pinewood derby wheels. You simply nail the axles thru the wheels into the slots on the chassis. Try to get the wheels pointing perfectly straight. Drive the axle in so that the wheel has enough space to spins free but not enough space to wobble on the axle.

4. Weigh your pinewood derby car. First purchase some weights. All cars need weight added. Your local post office may allow you to use their scale. Bring the weights with you and set them on the scale with your pinewood derby car until your car gets to 5.00 ounces without going over. The weights are best applied under the car (all of the screw-on weights we carry fit under the car without rubbing the track or violating rules.) The further towards the back of the car, the better.


When you get to the race, your car will be weighed and impounded. Some troops do this up to a few days before the race. Bring some extra weights with you in case your scale reads different then your troop’s scale. Be prepared to remove weights also. Just before handing in the car, you need to apply graphite lubricant to the inside of the axles, just where the wheel makes contact. Spin the wheels to work it in. This is a must to be competitive.

Now enjoy the race! Check out all of the other pinewood derby cars, and get ideas for next year. Remember, the point of the race is to teach your child building skills and sportsmanship. HAVE FUN!