By Andrew Olsen
Feb 27, 2014

A Chip Off the Old Block: How to Make Great Pinewood Derby Cars

I have always loved the Pinewood Derby Race! In fact I think it is one of the greatest events in all of Cub Scouting. When I was a Scout here in the Utah National Parks Council I had some great experiences that helped shape the rest of my life. Scouting was a way for me to learn new skills and hobbies, spend quality time with my family, and develop a greater understanding of God and testimony of the gospel.  Now as a husband and father, I am glad that I am still involved with Scouting and seeing what it can do for our youth.

a few cars

Cheese Wiz (Swiss cheese car), Canoe, The Big Bang (bundle of dynamite), and Hot Dog. Plus this also shows the start of the Lightning Bolt and a speedy looking race car we made.

Okay, so I will get back to the topic of the Pinewood Derby. Over the last several years my wife and I have taken the time to make a Pinewood Derby car or two just for fun. In fact in some of the areas we have lived in have had an “open class race” for everyone else to race. This is such a great idea and it makes the Pinewood Derby just a little more crazy and exciting. This makes it so the dads who want to relive the glory days of making the best car in the world and winning first place can have a shot at it. Also each dad that enters the open class race can proudly take full credit for making the car all by himself without the help of his son cutting it out or painting it. In addition to all the dads making and racing cars there are always a bunch of moms, sisters and brothers participating in the fun and making it a huge family event. I would recommend creating an open class to your Pinewood Derby Race if you can.

lightning bolt

Check out the Lightning Bolt and speedy looking car (this one doesn’t have a name, but it looks really good) as well as a good example on how to make the wheels of your car unique using just a dab of paint and cotton swab. Click here for more details.

When I make Pinewood Derby Cars, l like to make them look fun rather than just making a typical car. I enjoy brainstorming different ideas on designs and then make it happen. I have made cars that look like Swiss cheese, hot dog, canoe, bundle of dynamite, bolt of lightning, daredevil fishing lure and a speedy looking race car.

If you are interested in making nifty cars here are some tools that will be helpful for you to find…this may be a good excuse to go and buy a new tool for the garage/workshop!

  • Bandsaw– Table top is just fine
  • Belt sander– I have a large belt sander that I inherited from my dad (who is a great woodworker). The sander is big, but works wonders.
  • Dremel (some sort of rotary tool with bits)- Hint: I like to use the dermal for rough shaping as well as fine details. The bits are about $5 each at the store, but I have found that dental bits work well for the fine details and they are free. A couple of years ago I asked my dentist if I could have some of his old bits that were no longer usable for teeth, but plenty sharp for wood. He sterilized them for me and was glad to get rid of them. I have used them for years now and they work great. You will want to ask for the largest bits they have, because most of the bits for teeth are very small.
  • Drill and or Drill Press– I used my drills for my Swiss cheese car with a variety of bits (forstner bits, holesaws, and regular drill bits).
daredevil comparison

Comparison of the scale of the daredevil lure.

Once I decide on what shape or object I am going to make my car look like, I draw it to scale on paper with a side, top, front and back view. Then I transfer the drawing to the block of wood and start carving away.

To see more pictures of my cars and more details on making them, check out my family blog.

In the next Chip Off the Old Block article I will show the plans and details on how I made my latest pinewood derby car…the nifty daredevil lure. This car was raced in Eagle River, Alaska in 2013 at our Ward Pinewood Derby race. We had some special rules that allowed for extra weight, which made for some fun racing. So I made the car regulation weight, then had barrel sinkers that I could add on for the extra weight when needed.

Andrew Olsen


Author: Andrew Olsen | Development Director, Utah National Parks Council

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One thought on “A Chip Off the Old Block: How to Make Great Pinewood Derby Cars

  1. Andrew Olsen

    I forgot to mention another good tip in this article that helps keep the wheels in place. We have always put a bead of hot glue in the groove where axles are to ensure that the nails stay in place. Just be sure you don’t get any glue near the tires 🙂 Just stop about 1/4 inch away from the edge.


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