Pinewood Derby Stories and Photos from Maximum Velocity
Tools of the Trade
Anytime you get involved in a sport or hobby, some specialty equipment is needed to help you achieve your goals. Baseball players need a glove, bat, and ball. Skiers need skis, poles, and warm clothing. R/C airplane enthusiasts need specialty tools, fuel dispensers, radio equipment etc.
The same is somewhat true in pinewood derby racing. Fortunately, success can be achieved without spending serious money, and in fact people have successfully built pinewood derby cars for years with few tools. But having the right tools (and knowing how to use them) makes the job simpler and more enjoyable, and the results at the track are generally better.
In this article I will first describe the woodworking tools that are most commonly used for building a pinewood derby car. Next I will describe some specialty tools that were designed specifically for car building. As each tool is described, I will note whether the tool is 'Required' or 'Optional'.
For some of the tools I have included links to pictures on the Rockler Woodworking Superstore web site. Rockler sells top quality products, so naturally their prices are not cheap (likely you can find the tools locally for a better price). However, if you choose to purchase a tool from Rockler, please use the links provided to access their site, as I do get a (very) small commission for any purchases you make. Thanks!
The most versatile saw for pinewood derby building is the Coping Saw. The Coping Saw is designed for cutting curves in relatively thin material, so it is excellent for cutting the outline of a car body as viewed from the top of the car. The Coping Saw does not work as well for cutting thick material, so it is nice to have a more general purpose saw for cutting the material off of the top of the car.
Here are some general suggestions for sawing.
- Start the cut by making short gentle strokes. When the saw is firmly in the wood, take long even strokes.
- Go slowly, and watch carefully to make sure the cut is staying in line. If the cut is wandering, either back up and start again in the right direction, or start the cut from the opposite side.
- When cutting completely through a block of wood, place a scrap piece of wood tightly against the side of the block from which the saw blade will exit. This minimizes the amount of chipping at the saw exit point.
== Drill - A hand drill and some basic drill bits are required ==
I strongly recommend the use of "Brad Point" or "Forstner" drill bits. These bits are designed to cut clean holes in wood. Auger bits are nice, but the long threaded tip is not good for the precise needs of derby cars. Spade bits cause excessive chipping, and standard drill bits tend to chip and wander.
Here are some general tips:
- Clamp the wood block in place. Don't attempt to drill with one hand while holding the block with the other.
- Drill straight down with the drill no higher than chest level. If needed stand on a step stool to get the needed height.
- Use steady, even pressure on the drill. Pushing too hard can result in deeper holes than desired.
- When drilling completely through the block, put a scrap piece of wood underneath the block. This will minimize chipping at the drill bit exit site.
- To remove the drill bit from a hole, pull upwards and start the drill.
Chisels are used when creating a square or rectangular hole or cavity in a car, such as when creating a cavity in the bottom of the car for holding lead.
Here are some general tips:
- If at all possible, remove most of the wood with a drill.
- Use a hammer and chisel to make the first chisel cuts around the edge of the hole being chiseled. Tap the chisel gently, and remove a small amount of wood at a time. Taking too big of a bite can cause the wood block to split.
- Use the chisel by itself to pry and cut out any wood in the center of the hole.
- When removing a thin shaving, a hammer is not needed. Just push the chisel with steady pressure.
- Keep the chisel sharp to avoid splitting the wood, and most importantly,
- Keep all body parts away from the cutting edge!
== Files/Rasps - A fine file is required, others are optional ==
Files and rasps are used to shape the wood after it has been rough cut with a saw. Files come in several shapes including round (or "Rat Tail"), triangular, half round, and flat. Rasps are rough files that remove a lot of wood. Rasps are used for rough shaping; files can then be used to complete the job. With many car designs, a rasp is all that is necessary, as the job can be finished with sandpaper. So, if you are only going to buy one file, buy a rasp. I recommend the purchase of a "Shoe Rasp" (a.k.a. "4-in-1" or "4-in-hand"). The Shoe Rasp has four different surfaces on one tool. Two of the surfaces are flat, and two are rounded. Two of the surfaces are rough rasps, and two are fine rasps. Thus, this one tool is very versatile.
Here are some general filing tips:
- Files only cut on the push stroke, so use most of your energy pushing, not pulling.
- To keep the file working properly remove the sawdust from the file teeth occasionally. A "File Card" or a wire brush can be used for this job.
- Use flat files to shape flat surfaces and outward-curved surfaces. Use rounded files to shape inward-curved surfaces.
- A small triangular file is useful for shaping the lines of complex car bodies. This tool, or a small rectangular file, are required for removing the burrs on nail-type axles.
Sandpaper is used to smooth the surface of the wood before painting. Sandpaper is rated in "grit" with the number identifying the roughness of the paper. Smaller numbers indicate rougher paper. Sandpaper also comes in different styles, as it can be used on metal and wood. However, most styles will work on wood.
- Start with rough paper, and then progress to finer paper. A good progression is 60, 150, 220, and 400.
- For sanding smooth, flat surfaces, use a Sanding Block. This is a tool made to hold a 1/4 sheet of sandpaper. Typically it has a padded surface, which is best for smoothing wood.
- Sand back and forth in the direction of the wood grain. On the end of the car, sand in a circular motion.
- To sand inside a body hole or a small surface, use a piece of sandpaper taped to a small flat object (Popsicle stick, small ruler, etc.).
- To sand inward curved surfaces, use a piece of sandpaper wrapped around a dowel rod (or piece of broomstick).
- Between coats of paint, lightly sand the car with 600 grit paper. This sandpaper is also excellent for polishing the wheel tread (use it wet).
Glue comes in several different types. Always use the proper glue for the job.
- Use "Wood Glue" (yellow glue) or white glue when gluing wood to wood, for repairing chips and cracks, and for gluing the axles in place.
- Use epoxy when gluing non-wood parts to wood. For example, use epoxy for gluing lead weights to the car.
- Epoxy can be purchased with different drying times. The 30-minute variety is best when building the car, as it gives the builder time to make sure the parts are properly placed. However, the 5 minute variety is good when a glue job is needed at the weigh-in.
- Hot glue can be used to glue on attachments.
- Only use super glue for an emergency repair during a race.
They say that you can never have too many clamps, and building a pinewood derby car is very difficult without one or two. The main use is for holding the car in place while drilling and sawing. The other use is for clamping a hand drill in place while preparing the wheels and axles.
The The two types of clamps that I think work the best for car building are:
- Bar Clamp - These come in many different lengths. Get one long enough to clamp a hand drill to a worksurface.
- C-Clamp - These also come in a variety of sizes, so similarly, get one long enought to clamp a hand drill to a worksurface.
The wheel mandrel is used to clamp a wheel for placement in the chuck of a drill. With the drill spinning, the tread surface of the wheel can be smoothed by applying some fine-grit (600 grit) wet/dry sandpaper (use it wet) to the tread surface. If allowed in your local race, the wheel mandrel will also hold the wheel while more extensive wheel modifications are made.
- Always clamp the drill in place.
- Try inserting the mandrel further into the chuck and tighten down on the wider body portion of the mandrel. Some folks have told me that they actually cut off the thin shaft of the mandrel with a hack saw.
- Tighten the mandrel screw firmly, but don't over tighten as they could damage the wheel hub.
- Wheel Mandrels are often shipped with some sandpaper. In my opinion, that sandpaper is too coarse for use on wheels, so I suggest using it on the car body instead.
For more information on wheel preparation, see Volume 2, Issue 1 of this newsletter.
CONCLUSION Having the right tools greatly simplifies the task of building a pinewood derby car. When we first started building cars, we had a few tools. As the years went by, and our experience grew, so did our supply of tools.
So, for beginners, I recommend purchasing/borrowing all of the tools listed above as 'required', and possibly a few of the optional tools. Then next year, get a few additional tools. Before long, you will not only be an 'expert', but you will also have the 'tools of the trade.'