Posts tagged Pinewood Derby

This Year’s Derby Cars


I think last year’s Derby cars pretty much tapped out both kids in the creativity department. I also didn’t have much interest in fashioning fancy cars for them yet again. I told the boy that he would be doing all the cutting for his own car. I knew I’d have to help the lass one more time this year, but I told her she had to pick something simple.

It worked out well for both of them. Having done this for 4 years now and having helped with 8 Derby cars, I have to say I’m always pleasantly surprised by the end results. They don’t always look great when the cutting is done, but somehow a little paint and those 4 wheels consistently pull the cars together. This year is the first year neither kid went in for stickers either.

The boy did in fact construct his car this year. He intentionally went with a modified wedge design because he knew that would be easy for him to cut. He even drill out the holes for the weights we added to the rear of the car. I just had to help him put the wheels on.

We’ve already taken the time to make the cars track well, so now it’s just a matter of running the wheels in over the course of the week. Race day is Saturday. We’ll see if we have any overly happy kids then.

Time for a Drink


After a morning filled with hockey, we had an afternoon filled with Pinewood Derby cars. I’m aware that it’s likely a bit tedious to keep hearing about this stuff, but the Pinewood Derby is the event for Cub Scouts. Every family turns out for it and how well it’s perceived to run is kind of a judgement on the competency of the leadership group. As I stated in my previous post, there’s a lot to account for and, correspondingly, a lot that can go wrong.

I’m happy to report that, even though it wasn’t completely smooth sailing, we passed with high marks today. We were ahead of schedule by 20 minutes after the first heat- we allotted 30 minutes for the heat and we were done with it after 15 minutes. The assigned inspection times actually worked out better than expected- all the cars for all of the heats were signed in with time to spare. My guess is the combination of knowing there was a time limit caused people to make sure they were prepared. Couple that with limiting the number of kids for each time slot and it just worked.

That’s not to say there weren’t a few surprises. The first one came during the first inspection. One of the kids had extended the wheel base of their car. The boy was a Tiger Scout, and I didn’t want his car not to run so I opted to allow it to run, but it would automatically be assigned a 3rd place finish- in short it was technically disqualified. I explained it to the Mom and she was OK with it. There really wasn’t an excuse for it as I had sent an extensive email explaining the rules for car design. I was very explicit about this in that email.

There was also the race where I accidentally impeded a car after starting the race. But I immediately declared a do-over, even before the cars finished, so it wasn’t a problem.

We even ended up having 4 qualifiers for our finals this year, instead of 3 like we typically have. Fortunately, I’d already thought of that possibility and we simply included the 4th car in the finals competition. Even though it was a first, it was a non-problem.

When it was all said and done, the boy made the semi-final round with his coffin car. I thought he overachieved, frankly. The lass tied for first in the sibling race with her parrot car. The boy showed signs of maturity, pouting for a bit because he didn’t make the finals, but getting over it pretty quickly and he didn’t snipe at his sister. A bonus was that everybody loved their cars, particularly the boy’s, which was quite unique.

There were some other cool cars as well, including a couple of Batmobiles, a Spiderman car, a Phineas and Pherb car, a salamander car complete with googly eyes, a hum-vee and Herby the Lovebug. For all the unique designs though, the top places were all basic variations on the wedge shape, which is a classic in winning Derby designs.

Our only issue during the race was stopping the cars. When we’d set things up, we used a carpet to with an incline to try and stop the cars. It worked well with our test cars, but not at all with the actual entries, which were much faster than the test cars. That’s something we’ll have to figure out for next year.

But first, I’m going to have a drink.

There Will Be Only One


So, tomorrow is my first Pinewood Derby that I’m in charge of, responsible for, however it’s best to think about it. I’ve helped out with two in the past, but others took care of all the planning. Right now, looking towards it, I can say I’m looking forward to it being done.

As much as the event itself is basically dropping cars down a ramp, it turns out there’s a lot more that goes into it from a preparation perspective. There are the trophies that have to be ordered. There are room arrangements that have to be made. There are people that have to be coordinated before the event for setup, during the event for running it, and after the event for cleanup. We have to come up with car rules for everyone to build their cars according to. We have to come race rules to handle fuzzy cases like ties or cars jumping their track (it does happen.) I’ve probably missed a few things, but it’s pretty obvious that dropping cars down a ramp is the easiest part of the whole day.

We have a smaller Pack this year, only 20 or so, so I decided to try an experiment that we hadn’t done in the previous Derbies I’d helped out with. We decided to pre-assign the kids to certain heats and then schedule times for them to get their car inspected and when their heat will race. In past years, we’ve simply opened up the event with the inspection and then waited for everyone to complete inspection prior to starting the race. There was a lot of down time with this method, and we still had multiple heats to run.

The goal with pre-assigning heats this year was to reduce the congestion at the inspection line. It’s one thing for a set number of people to weigh their cars and try to tune the weight as close to the 5 ounce limit as possible. It’s another for everyone in the Pack trying to do it. The line gets long and some people go back up multiple times attempting to “make weight.” By limiting the number of people who can submit their cars for inspection, we can limit the line length and, hopefully, keep things moving.

Further, once we get the first heat squared away, the second heat will be able to get their cars inspected and ready for their heat. Thus, we create a diversion of sorts that will serve to make the race day seem shorter because there will be something going on almost constantly.

Aside from that, we’ll also have a DVD running showing Herbie the Lovebug or Cars or something like that. Plus, there will be pizza which is always a hit.

I’m fortunate as well in that I’ve got a core group of people who are all capable and more than willing to help out wherever help is needed. No grousing or complaining. That alone makes my job a helluva lot easier.

Come this time tomorrow night, the Derby will be well over with. At least, it had better be. There will be one very happy Scout with bragging rights over everyone else. And there will be one tired Cubmaster, relieved to have it behind him.

Finished Cars


Pinewood Derby Cars


I’m tempted to say “normally”, but I think that conveys a longer time period than 2 years. Or, at least, it implies that I’ve participated in more than 2 Pinewood Derby’s, or is it “derbies?” To tell, you the truth in all the excitement I just forgot… Maybe it’s because I’ve been building 2 Derby cars each of the past 3 years and that makes it just seem longer. Then again, maybe I’m just strung out from sniffing pine all day. You can huff pine, right? Parents these days…

So today, I did not watch any playoff football. Rather, well, I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now.

HEY!! How ’bout a picture?


If that looks like a coffin care and a bird car, pat yourself on the back. If it doesn’t, then what the hell is wrong with you? Of course it’s a coffin car and a bird car. Seriously, what else could they be? Wait, no. Don’t answer that. They just need a paint job and wheels is all. Hey, coffins are hard to carry. And birds get tired flying around. It can happen. Especially after huffing pine all day.

Here’s another angle…


I should have taken a few pictures of the bird car during construction. More specifically, it’s supposedly going to become an African Grey Parrot car, but first it needs a lot of paint. Luckily, we have the lass.

The basic shape I cut out on the band saw, including a fair amount around the head and shoulder area. But the beak and neck shaping I accomplished with my chisels. Thank God it’s pine, because it smells sooooooo good. I could just sniff it all day. And it’s soft, but not like a baby’s bottom. After the rough shaping, the sandpaper smoothed everything out and improved the look. It took me most of Friday afternoon to get that much done.

Today, I spent working on the boy’s coffin car. He saw a picture on the web of a skeleton coming out of a coffin for a derby car design and decided that’s what he wanted. Because I’m a fool, I didn’t talk him out of it.

So to the point pictured so far, most of that is cut by hand. The coffin shape I managed with my dovetail saw, making the down cut first and then coming in from the side second. I clamped it in my bench vise for all these cuts. After that, I used the bandsaw to slice the top, which would eventually become the lid for the coffin. Those slots on the to-be-lid are the original axle slots that the blank has. I drill holes on the opposite side for the axles, so the original bottom becomes the top. In a normal car, those slots would get cut off and discarded.

This is not a normal car.


So at this point I’ve hollowed out the coffin and also rabbeted the lid for a nice, custom fit. I actually accomplished the hollowing with a 1/2 inch upcutting spiral bit for my router that I mounted in my drill press. I hogged out the majority of the wood with that, then cleaned up the edges with a chisel. As for the lid, I scribed the rabbet depth with my marking gauge then used a 5/16 inch rabbeting plane. I just cut the rabbet down until those slots juuust disappeared when viewed from the edge.


At this point, I added some hinges to the lid and then a chain on the at what would be the top I suppose though in the picture it’s the bottom. It’s all so confusing. Where’s some pine?

The hinges I found at Michael’s for a buck, the chain is a piece of a chain necklace I also found at Michael’s. I used a nail from a picture hanger since it was small enough to fit through the links of the chain. It gives it a nice look. I’ve also got some other decorations for the outside that will have to wait for the paint job.


I think that’s Mini-Me. Or maybe a distant cousin…

Best moment of the day?

The boy is working on the axle nails, filing down the ribs near the head so the wheels won’t have something to bind up on- it’s one of those speed tricks you pick up on competing in Derby’s. Anyway, the nail is mounted in the chuck of my drill press, spinning away at roughly 600RPM and the boy is using a piece of that silicate wet sand paper with, like 1500 grit. He’s working on his 3rd or so nail and he says to me “Making a Derby car sure is a lot of work, huh Dad?”

I didn’t answer ’cause I was too busy sniffing pine.

Derby Wrapup


The short of it is, no winners. The longer version is we had 3 very fast cars that didn’t track true enough to win.

The boy had the best showing, cruising into the semi-finals. He won all three of his preliminary races making him one of 4 cars that were undefeated going into the semi-final round. But his axles loosened up or something and his car got squirrelly in the semi-final round and that cost him against the other fast cars that ran true.

The lass probably had the fastest car of the 3 of us, but also the most squirrelly. Her car led at the bottom of the ram in all three of her races, but the bouncing back and forth allowed her to be overtaken in the final stretch each time.

As for mine, I got a lot of compliments on the looks, but it didn’t run as good as it looked. I don’t think I got the weighting quite right, in retrospect. Also, it definitely could’ve tracked better.

Once again, lessons learned. I wrote this last year after the race and this year did nothing to change my mind: weighting and tracking are the keys to victory to the point of swamping out all other factors.

Zooming out a bit, it was a good afternoon of racing. Long, but good. We had a bunch of tight races, including a race with a tie where the cars tied again in the runoff. We finally got a winner on the 3rd match between the two. One of the other Dad’s told me it was the best batch of racing he’d seen in 8 years of bringing his kids to Scouts.

Despite the successes, the kids were still disappointed and acted the part, but it was more obvious to me that a good deal of it was an act. Since I was busy running things and the Wife was busy figuring out awards for the cars and taking pictures, neither of us had time to humor their act. It worked out for the better- turns out not feeding the monster kept it at bay. They tried it a bit on the Wife while they waited in the car to leave, but she called their bluff by telling them “Well, we just won’t race next year.” Neither one liked that idea and that was the end of it.

So ended this year’s derby. Despite enjoying the afternoon, I’m glad I won’t have to worry about it for another year.

Finished Derby Cars


So, here they are all finished up and ready to race. The boy’s is called “The Black Mobile”; we’re calling the lass’ “Lady Liberty” and I’m haven’t decided on a name for mine. I’ve got some candidates like “The Green Streak”, “Green Stiletto” and “Pea Soup”. Yes, the last one is a reference to, well… I’ll leave it to your imagination.

The lass still has to learn moderation where stickers are concerned. In her world, “more” equals “better” when it comes to that stuff. But it looks like a kid did it.

On that score, the kids were both involved in the final assembly and paint jobs, and stickers. I helped them as much as necessary for them to finish it up. Attention span was the biggest problem, since the work is quite tedious. Like polishing the wheel hubs, or lubricating the axles. The Wife and I alternated masking off for the paint job on the lass’ as well, but she operated the spray cans.

Tomorrow, weather permitting at this point, the race is on.

Derby Update


No updated pics yet, but the boy has started painting his, mine has 3 coats of paint and the lass’ is almost ready to paint. Once again, I underestimated the weighting game.

Cutting out the car shapes and polishing the wheel axles are piddling compared to weighting the car. You’d think that hitting something near a 5 ounce mark would not be so difficult. I mean, really, 5 ounces isn’t that much. How much weight can it possibly take? So far, the answer is “More than you expect, even after a test weighing.” It’s compounded by the difficulty in knowing how much weight is removed from the car after drilling out the bore holes for the weight to go into. Sure, there’s a net gain once the weight is in their, but it’s not the same as putting the weight on the scale along with an untapped car. I think a rough gauge is that you’ll need an extra 3/4 of an ounce of weight. But that varies with the car shape as well.

Even drilling out the car isn’t straight forward, since the amount of drilling is determined by the amount of weight needed. If the initial estimate is off, then it becomes a game of figuring out where the heck else the darn thing can be drilled.

Oh, and don’t forget that the car needs to be balanced so that it won’t pop-a-wheely out of the starting gate. Guaranteed loser then.

At this stage, the boy’s car has posed the fewest problems. Mine needs more weight, but I have no room left on the top, so I intend to epoxy some weight onto it at the race.

The lass’ has been very difficult. The car itself, prior to drilling it out, weighed less than 2 ounces (that included the wheels and axles). By the time I was done drilling it out so I could fill it in with the weight, there’s probably less than an ounce of wood left. When I added the weights, I also filled them with glue to gain as much extra weight as possible. Additionally, her car design puts so much weight towards the rear that I’m afraid it will want to do a wheely out of the starting gate. I put a some weight in the front, attempting to minimize the possibility, but I don’t know if it will work. The big bummer here is she couldn’t help a lot because the setup for the drilling was tedious and beyond her current capabilities. Though, in retrospect, I probably should have had her watch and explained what I was doing. Live and learn, as they say.

The kids took turns polishing their axles on the drill press. That included putting the nails into the chuck and then filing them as well as polishing them with wet/dry sandpaper. Additionally, the boy drilled out the bore holes for his car’s weight, used the hacksaw to cut the weights to fit, helped seal up the filled holes and did the painting. A big step in the right direction from last year, where he wasn’t nearly as involved in the actual construction.

All in all, a decent weekend of derby work.

New Pinewood Derby Cars


A new year, a new crop of cars. Our Cub Scout pack is having 3 races this year: the Scout race, a sibling race and a parent race. Thus, the third car is my own.

From top to bottom, the cars are the boy’s, the lass’ and mine. Not sure how we all ended up designing similar cars. I came up with mine on my own. The kids chose theirs from a book we got about the Derby.

I cut the blanks again. The cutting was a breeze by comparison with last year, for which I was glad. Some other Scouts came over and I cut out there cars as well. Tough to beat a bandsaw when it comes to Derby car work.

Unlike last year, the kids traced their design onto the blanks and then did all the sanding themselves. So they’ve already contributed more to this years project than last year. They’re looking forward to the painting and they’ve started picking out stickers as well. The lass is going for a patriotic theme and wants to paint her car red, white and blue like the American Flag. The boy wants his jet black. I’m just figuring on painting mine using some of the left over paint. Probably blue.

The Derby isn’t for a couple of weeks though. So we’ve got time to get them done. Should be fun.

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