Although Pinewood Derbies are traditionally an activity in the Cub Scout organization of the Boy Scouts of America, they can be an excellent activity for all sorts of groups of youth or even adults. While it can be taken to extremes, most people just enjoy working together on a wood project/painted craft/well-oiled machine.
The best way to cut a Pinewood Derby Car is with a band saw, followed by Dremel tools for shaping, sanding, or drilling out any cutouts. These tools are all you need. If you don’t have access to a band saw, these other saws will do the job:
- Band Saw
- Scroll Saw
- Coping Saw (Hand Saw)
- Neighbor or Home Depot
There are lots of options for roughing out the shape of your car. This article explains what methods are best for the rough cuts and then what to do for the more precise work.
Cutting Out a Pinewood Derby Car
The first step is to rough out the shape of the car that you have chosen. Next, trace the shape along one of the sides with a pencil. Carefully feed the block through the band saw, using another piece of wood to push the end through so that you don’t risk cutting your fingers.
The nice thing about a band saw is that it cuts a straight line through the wood very easily. The dimensions of the blade mean that it cuts really fast and you don’t need to push very hard at all- you pretty much just slide it through along the line.
Once you have the rough shape of the car it is time to really get creative. Most cars are smooth and aerodynamic (because aerodynamics are VERY important!). Others, like one my brother did one year, are boxy and bulky.
The best tools to use for smoothing out a car or carving out cutouts or other features are Dremel-style rotating tools. The sandpaper attachments work through soft pine pretty quickly. You can also sand by hand and achieve your desired result.
Be especially careful around the wheel slots if you plan on using them. If you damage them then you can blow a wheel on race day.
If you’re serious about competing in the Pinewood Derby this year, or want to save yourself a lot of headache as you learn through trial and error, my Pinewood Derby Handbook is exactly what you’re looking for. It is an immediate digital download that answers questions about graphite, weight distribution, and wheel preparation. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time a new group decides to do a Derby!
Check it out on Amazon: Pinewood Derby Handbook
How do you cut a Pinewood Derby Car without a Band Saw?
If you don’t have a band saw you can use a scroll saw or a jig saw to cut a Pinewood Derby Car. If those aren’t available and you are unable to use someone else’s tools, an inexpensive coping saw can be used. Coping saws require a lot more patience, but will get the job done.
To use a coping saw, trace the shape you want to cut out and then clamp the block of wood to a table so that you can use both hands to cut. Carefully line up the saw blade at a 90 degree angle to the block so it is straight, and go back and forth to create a groove. Saw back and forth frequently checking both sides of the blade to ensure it doesn’t wander.
Coping saws and other handsaws like keyhole saws and compass saws are difficult to keep in a straight line. It’s important to pay close attention to them wandering away from your pencil line. As long as you go slow and check often you can cut out whatever shape you want in the soft wood.
Can you use a Jigsaw to Cut a Pinewood Derby Car?
A jigsaw works well for cutting out a Pinewood Derby car if you can successfully clamp down the block of wood so that nothing impedes the blade or guide. Jigsaws are pretty affordable and aren’t a pain to store, so it is a common method for cutting out Pinewood Derby Cars.
When using a jigsaw, the hardest thing is clamping the small piece of wood in a way so that the clamps don’t interfere with the guide of the saw. The nice thing about using a jigsaw rather than a hand saw is that you can get a perfectly straight cut across because of the guide.
Tips for using a Jigsaw to cut out a Pinewood Derby Car
Make sure the jigsaw blade is long enough to go all the way through the wood. If it doesn’t go all the way through, or only goes all the way through when the blade is fully extended, you’ll need to use something else.
Clamp one side of the block of wood at a time and cut halfway through. Then switch the clamp to the cut side and finish the job. This way you can hopefully use clamps that you already have.
Pretty much any jigsaw blade will cut through soft pine. Since you’re going to sand it down later, a rough cut is just fine.
Can you use a Scroll Saw to cut a Pinewood Derby Car?
A scroll saw is one of the best methods for cutting out a Pinewood Derby car. A band saw is quicker, but is less precise. Scroll saws are safe when used properly, but are not as universally useful as other types of saws and power tools.
Tips for using a Scroll Saw to cut out a Pinewood Derby Car
Patience is key. A scroll saw isn’t as fast as a band saw, so you need to be careful not to push too hard and mess up the blade. Let the saw do the cutting- you just need to keep it on track.
You can cut out a lot more intricate of a shape with a scroll saw since the blade is so fine. If you get too tight though, things will break. Hopefully nothing a little wood glue can’t take care of!
Cutting out a Pinewood Derby Car without a Saw
Not everybody has access to a wood shop or tool shed, nor the know-how of how to use saws. Odds are you have that one neighbor on your street with a garage full of tools that he rarely uses. In my experience, most people are more than willing to show off their shop and either let you use the tools or do it for you.
This can be a great way to get to know your neighbors better and bond over a shared hobby. If you live in a place without garages or people with tools, there’s still hope. Big box stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s will usually turn on the band saw for you and cut out your car.
If you bring your kid with you to the store, they’re even more likely to help out! Sometimes an employee will say no, but I think it’s worth asking a few others until you find one who is willing to help out. People are nice.
The Secret Sauce
If this is your first time doing a Pinewood Derby and you just don’t know where to start, or if you think you have a pretty good idea of what to do but want a guide to things like weights and graphite, you need to check out my Pinewood Derby Handbook (available on Amazon). The book has sold tens of thousands of copies, and does exactly what you need it to do.
This book encompasses more than 50 years of derbies including tips and tricks that have helped me bring home many first place trophies and many awards for ‘most unique,’ ‘most creative,’ and ‘most bizarre.’
How Fast do Pinewood Derby Cars Go? Pinewood Derby Cars go between 10 and 20 miles per hour. The speeds are usually measured in centimeters per second or feet per second based on the time from the top of the track to the bottom divided by the length of the track. The speeds would be around 200 miles per hour if scaled to a regular-sized car.
Do Heavier Pinewood Derby Cars go Faster? Heavier Pinewood Derby Cars go faster than lighter ones, which is why derby races have a weight limit. The weight should be allocated down low near the rear of the car in order to go fastest and reduce wobbling.
What is the point of a Pinewood Derby? The point of a Pinewood Derby in scouting is to get boys and their dads to work together on a project that requires creativity and effort. The point of the race is to defeat the other cars in your heat and advance through the rounds. There are also usually awards for the best paint job, most creative, etc.