Pinewood Derby Stories and Photos from Maximum Velocity
Shop Talk - Woodworking Tips for Pinewood Derby Car Building
By Randy Davis
When I was a boy, my father was involved in several home remodeling projects. At the time I was more interested in goofing off than learning carpentry, electrical wiring, plumbing, etc. I did learn the basics, but now as an adult, I wish that I had paid more attention so I could do more of my own work.
During the work sessions with my dad, he would pass along some tips to make the job go easier. The few I remember (and still strongly adhere to) are:
- Measure twice, and cut once.
- If you are going to buy a tool, spend the extra money to buy a good one. Good tools work better and last longer. Cheap tools just make the job harder.
- Don't get ahead of yourself. Take it one step at a time.
These tips are certainly true for any woodworking project, and I try to apply them to home projects as well as pinewood derby car building. But of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg for useful woodworking tips. So, what I would like to share today are some
woodworking tips that I have learned over the years that really help when applied to pinewood derby car building.
MEASURING AND MARKING
Incra Bend Rule
- Use an accurate ruler and measure carefully.
- When marking drilling locations, make a slight indent at the drilling location with a sharp pencil.
- Use a square to draw lines perpendicular to the block (don't eyeball it).
- Generally, lines for cutting are drawn so that they remain after the cut. They can then be sanded away.
- 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.
- For holes that do not go through the block, mark the drilling depth on the drill bit with a piece of masking tape.
- 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.
- Use a vertical fence to set the offset from the bottom/edge of the block to the drilling location.
- Enter the wood slowly to minimize chipping.
- For deeper holes, drill part way through, retract the bit to clear the debris, then drill the rest of the hole.
Chiseling a Pocket
- Remove most of the wood with a drill.
- Clamp the wood block in place. Don't attempt to chisel with one hand while holding the block with the other.
- Use a hammer and chisel together 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 remove 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.
- Make sure the wood block is clamped in place before cutting with a hand saw.
- When using a coping saw, make sure the blade is tensioned tightly.
- Start the cut by making short gentle strokes. When the saw is firmly in the wood, take longer, even strokes.
- Go slowly, and watch carefully to make sure the cut is staying along the cut 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.
- To cut out a rectangle or square inside a car, drill a hole through the center of the area to be cut out, remove the blade from the coping saw, put the blade through the hole, reattach the blade and make the cuts.
(aka Four-in-One Hand Rasp)
- Make sure the wood block is clamped in place before shaping with a wood rasp or rotary tool.
- A handy tool is a Shoe Rasp (aka Four-in-One Hand Rasp).
- Rasps only cut on the push stroke, so use most of your energy pushing, not pulling.
- To keep the rasp working properly, occasionally remove the sawdust from the rasp teeth. A "File Card" or a wire brush can be used for this job.
- Use a flat rasp to shape flat surfaces and outward-curved surfaces. Use rounded rasps to shape inward-curved surfaces.
- Start with rough paper, and then progress to finer paper. A good progression is 60, 120, 220, and 400 grit.
- 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 soft 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 glued 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 a piece of broomstick).
Using the correct tools and using them properly will improve the look and the precision of your pinewood derby body. Just remember, "Measure twice, and cut once!"