Pinewood Derby Stories and Photos from Maximum Velocity
The Ultimate Finish - How to create a beautiful paint job
By Kevin Baugher
Have you ever seen a pinewood derby car with a paint job that looked
like it must have been done by a professional auto painter? Didn't it
look great!? Wouldn't you like to create a paint job that looked just
Hi, I'm Kevin Baugher, and I used to own and operate an auto collision
repair and painting shop.(1) In this article I will outline how you
can create a professional-looking paint job on your car. It isn't as
difficult as you think!
Before painting, complete the shaping of your car, fill any dents with
wood filler, and then sand the car. Start with 150 grit, and then
progress to 220 grit. If you follow the steps below, you don't need to
use finer grit sandpaper at this point.
Figure 1 - Sanding Complete
Priming is the key to the paint job!! Don't skimp on this.
The absolute best primer is a two (or more) part urethane primer used
for automobiles. It is thicker than most other primers, so it will
fill small surface flaws. It will also seal the wood to prevent the
grain from swelling and showing through the paint job.
This product is not readily available in stores, unless you can find a
store that sells to auto body shops. Even so, it is quite expensive.
So I suggest visiting a local body shop and either ask them to prime
your pinewood derby car for you, or ask them to sell you a small
quantity of primer. You won't need more than 4 ounces per car. Make
sure to get the two or more parts that make up the primer.
Mix the primer according to the manufacturer's instructions. You can
apply the primer with a foam roller or brush, or it can be sprayed if
you have a paint sprayer. Make sure to do the priming in an area free
of dust and wind! Apply 4 to 5 coats, waiting 5 minutes between coats
(do not sand between coats). After all the coats are applied, let the
car dry overnight.(2)
Figure 2 - Priming with a roller
Figure 3 - Priming Complete
The next step is to sand the primer. But to make sure that it is
sanded evenly, mist some spray paint on the car. This "tracer coat"
will help you get the entire car properly sanded. This is the same
technique used by professional auto painters, so don't skip it!
Figure 4 - The Tracer Coat
Sand the tracer coat/primer with 320 grit dry sandpaper until most of
the tracer coat is gone. But don't be too aggressive; if you see any
wood at the edges of car you will have to re-prime it and repeat the
sanding step again.
Figure 5 - Sanding the Tracer Coat
Next, sand with 400 or 600 grit wet paper. Note that I don't paint the
underside of the car.(3) If you don't either, then don't get the
bottom of the car too wet.
Continue sanding until none of the tracer coat remains.
Figure 6 - Ready to Base Coat
Now apply a "base coat", that is, the primary color for your car. Some
auto parts store carry automotive spray paint such as Dupli-Color.
Just don't use enamel paints.
Apply two to three coats of the base color, allowing the car to dry to
touch between coats (typically about 30 minutes). You do not need to
sand between base coats unless some dirt or dust settles on the paint.
Figure 7 - Base Coats
To seal the paint and give the car a deep shine, apply a "clear coat".
Use a clear coat that is compatible with the base coat. The clear coat
can be applied right after the base coat dries to touch. Give the
first clear coat 10 minutes or so to dry, and then apply a second
Figure 8 - Clear Coats
ADD SOME PIZZAZZ
If you like a challenge, buy an inexpensive air brush and a few
stencils from your local craft store.(4) In the photos, I used the
airbrush after the clear coats, so I had to sand the car with 1000
grit wet paper. You can air brush right on top of the base coat, and
then apply the clear coats. However, if you clear coat first, then if
you make a mistake with the airbrush, you can wipe it off with a weak
Tape the stencil over the car, and then spray on some paint. The
secret of airbrushing is to just spray a little around the edge of the
stencil. Don't be afraid to apply more than one color!
Figure 9 - Stencil on Car
Figure 10 - First Color
Figure 11 - Second Color
Figure 12 - Third Color
Don't forget to clear coat again after airbrushing.
You too can create a paint job like an expert! Just make sure to get
the right primer, take your time, and marvel at the results.
Figure 13 - Final Results
(1) Kevin now owns Liquid Illusions, LLC.
(2) Urethane auto primer is certainly the best choice. But if you
can't find it, try Rust-oleum Filler Primer (Hi-Build Formulation)
which is sold at most auto part stores.
(3) Why don't I paint the underside? I once made a toy car for my son
from cardboard for a school project. The paint job was applied just as
described in this article. When I took it to school, the teacher told
me it wasn't allowed because it wasn't made from cardboard (she
thought it was made of plastic or metal). I told her that it was made
from cardboard, but she didn't believe me until I turned the car over
to show her some unpainted cardboard! Ever since then, I don't paint
the underside of pinewood derby cars.
(4) Maximum Velocity offers paint stencils which can be used with a
brush, air-brush, or with spray paint. You can find them Here.