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Kid-Built Cars

Make a car?! Out of a block of wood?! And I have to teach them how?!!? I
was way over my head here. As a female rookie den leader with no (zip, zero)
wood-working experience I was clearly in trouble. After watching the
previous year's pinewood derby, and seeing the adult egos on the line I was
troubled. Our den had held a derby workshop and we witnessed parents taking
their kid-built cars, telling the child they had ruined it, and then
proceeding to build it their way. Other families had no paint, no paint
brushes and no clue.

I became a woman on a mission! Thankfully, my assistant den leader is a very
talented person who can work with wood. He and I decided to go for kid-built
cars. So when the kits were handed out at the pack meeting we grabbed enough
of them for our den of Bears and Webelos, and told the boys we would work on
them during the den meetings.

We bought ten coping saws and labeled one for each boy. I picked up the BSA
publication on derbies and read it thoroughly. We then began to build the

How did it go? It is very difficult for 8 and 9-year-old boys to use a
coping saw themselves, especially considering we were on my deck in the dim
light afforded by my outdoor lights, with no work benches or power tools in
sight. But we feel our decision to go with kid-built cars was the best one
we could have made. Those little boys learned how to plan and design, saw,
sand, paint, polish axles, add weight, lube, and align wheels. They built
their cars their way. They were proud!

"But how did they run?," I hear you asking. They ran fine! In the den race
no car fell apart (that's all I was asking for), and the top three cars went
on to the pack race. Did they place last? No. Did they win the pack race
against cars built by older boys, boy and parent teams, and engineers? No.
Were the kids crushed? No way! They had built their own cars and their cars
ran fine. They were proud, and we were proud of them. They were empowered,
and they were ready for next year!

Fast forward to their second Webelos year - their last year of building and
racing. Again we built the cars in the den meetings. These boys were not
bored by derbies, because they built their own car.

Guess which cars took first and second place at the pack race this year. Two
cars built by boys from my den! So, it is possible not only to teach boys
to build their own cars, but for those cars to be speedy.

NOTE: Our decision to go with kid-built cars in our den was right for us. Do
I think this is the only way to go? No! The parent-child building team works
well for some families, dens, and packs. I would not attempt this with
Tigers or Wolves. I would also not attempt this if the kids could not follow
directions well. We happened to have boys who were mature enough to follow
directions. We also had a carpenter come to the den meetings to lend a hand
with the car building. But our motto is, "I will show you how to do it, I
will tell you how to do it, but I will not do it for you. You can do it and
then you'll be able to do it again."

By the way, if you would like to know how we organize the car building
during den meetings here's the break down:

Meeting 1: The boys put their names on their boxes. All of the parts except
the block are placed in a zip lock bag and the boy's name in written on the
bag. Their name is also written on the block between the axles in pencil.
The boys then trace the outline of the block on a sheet of paper, then
design the shape of the car. The outline is then transferred to the wood
block. If time permits, the outline of the car is cut out.

Meeting 2: If needed, the sawing is finished. Then the car is sanded,
cleaned, and then painted with a sanding sealer on the top and sides. While
waiting for the cars to dry the boys take turns polishing the axles.

Meeting 3: If needed, the axle polishing is completed. Then a base coat of
paint is applied. If time permits a second coat is applied at the end of
the meeting.

Meeting 4: Painting is completed and decals are applied (I buy an assortment
of decals and the boys earn them by answering otherwise boring advancement
questions). The wheels and axles are then attached and glued. The cars are
then sent home.

By this time it is only two days to the weigh-in. If the kids want to they
can take their car to the post office to be weighed. They can then buy and
apply weight. They usually don't do this however and the car comes back to
weigh-in without weights.

Pack Weigh-In: We dig in our pockets for change and tape it on top of the
car above the rear. The car is weighed and weighted until it is near 5
ounces. The kids then apply lube, spin the wheels a few times, and impound
the car until the race the next day.

Janis Tipton-King
Fremont, California

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 2, Issue 1

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