Shop Talk: Hand Sanding

By Randy Davis

If you want a sharp looking pinewood derby car, then proper sanding is critical. Choosing correct grits of paper, selecting the right sanding accessories, and applying the proper techniques are all necessary for getting a silky smooth block that is ready for painting. Let’s take a look at each of these areas in turn.

For wood sanding “garnet” and “aluminum oxide” papers are the most commonly used. Garnet paper (brownish-red color) provides a slightly better finish, but it wears out quickly. Aluminum oxide paper (generally silver gray, but can be other colors) lasts much longer, but doesn’t provide quite as nice of a finish. One technique is to use aluminum oxide paper for the coarser sanding, and then use garnet paper for the final sanding.

Another type of paper is “silicon carbide”. This type of paper can be used wet or dry, and is generally used for sanding between coats of primer/paint.

Sandpaper coarseness is rated by “grit”, with lower numbers indicating coarser paper. Generally, a coarse paper is used for initial shaping and removing saw marks. Then finer papers are used to remove the marks left by the coarser paper. A common grit progression for pinewood derby work is: 60, 100, 150, and 220.(1) A quicker progression is 60, 120 and 220. Generally, after 220 grit paper, car bodies can be primed. However, some people like to go a step further and use 400 grit paper before painting.

Sanding is easiest and most effective when the sandpaper is held in a sandpaper holder or wrapped around a piece of wood. For sanding flat and outward curving surfaces, a padded sandpaper holder(2) is the way to go (see Figure 1). This holder is designed to securely hold one-quarter of a sheet of sandpaper. The padded surface improves the smoothness of the finish, especially with finer papers.

Figure 1 – Padded Sandpaper Holder

For initial shaping with coarser papers, if you need to ensure the flatness of a surface, then you can wrap sandpaper around a block of wood such as a pinewood derby block (see Figure 2). Use a standard stapler to fasten the paper to the block on one side – just don’t sand on the side with the staples! Once you have achieved the desired flatness, switch to a padded sandpaper holder.

Figure 2 – Sandpaper Around Block

Another handy sanding tool is a large diameter dowel rod. By wrapping paper around the dowel rod, inward curves can be readily shaped and smoothed. If you don’t have a dowel rod, then wrap some sandpaper around your index finger.

First, before any discussion of technique, make sure to wear a particle mask and safety glasses when sanding. Filling your nose, lungs, and eyes with wood dust is no fun, and certainly not healthy. I have also found that sanding in the open air where there is a little breeze will greatly reduce the cloud of dust that tends to hover

— Stroke —
When sanding car bodies, where at all possible sand with the grain of the wood. This provides the best finish with the least amount of work. On the end of the block (such as the back of the car body), you can sand in any direction. But I have found that a circular motion works best.

Figure 3 – Sanding Direction

— Progression–
Start with the coarser paper, making sure to achieve the desired shape and eliminate saw marks. Wipe or blow off the dust so that the surface can be inspected. If marks still exist, sand some more. Parents, you can help your children know how much to sand by marking flawed areas with a pencil. Then tell them to sand off the pencil marks.

When ready, switch to the next finer paper. Sand until all marks from the coarser paper are eliminated. Make sure to wipe off the dust and inspect carefully. Then continue the process until the last paper is completed.

One final step before painting is to “ease the edges”. This is done by taking 220 grit sandpaper or a sanding sponge(3) and sanding all edges of the car to eliminate the sharpness. Easing the edges gives the car body a nicer feel, but mostly it improves the final finish as it allows the paint to bind better to the edges of the car body.

(1) Maximum Velocity offers a Sandpaper Assortment containing 100,
150, and 220 grit papers. Our pre-cut car bodies have already been
sanded with 60 grit paper.

(2) You can find a padded sandpaper holder Here.

(3) Sanding sponges can be found Here

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 12, Issue 5

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Maximum Velocity Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies

Wheel Alignment: Make it Straight!

I overheard a conversation the other day, between two young men (young from my perspective). One of them said, “My car is pulling to the left, and I have to constantly adjust to keep it going straight. I think something is seriously wrong, but the shop says I just need an alignment. An alignment!? I paid a lot of money for the car; it shouldn’t need to be aligned? It’s supposed to be a precision car!”

Maybe this is a common misconception of younger drivers. I have driven a number of older cars, and alignment adjustments were needed on a regular basis. Newer cars seem to have fewer alignment issues, but it is still a recommended maintenance procedure. Why is that?

All cars (regardless of price or quality) are designed with the ability to make adjustments to the alignment. Why? When the car was originally assembled, the alignment was set properly. But over time, rough roads, tire wear, and generally wear and tear of the steering components affect the alignment. If the alignment is not adjusted regularly, excessive stress is placed on the steering components, and the tires wear unevenly (and more quickly).

How does this relate to pinewood derby cars? In an automobile, a minor alignment issue can be readily corrected by the driver, so the car goes straight. But with a pinewood derby car, the only ‘driver’ is the guide rail(s). Thus, any alignment issue will result in excessive collisions with the guide rail. Since every collision reduces the speed of the car, the desire is to minimize or eliminate guide rail collision. How? By setting the alignment to be as accurate as possible.


Using precision components and tools(1) will minimize the amount of required alignment. Some options include:

– Pine block with precision drilled axle holes, or precision cut slots – Start with an accurate platform
– Pro-Body Tool – To create accurate holes, or pilot holes in axle slots
– Pro-Axle Press – Straightens nail-type axles
– Pro-Wheel Shaver XT – Trues the wheels
– Pro-Axle Guide – Ensures accurate axle installation

These products (and others) will minimize the amount of alignment needed. But just like an automobile, regardless of the level of precision or cost, wheel alignment is still necessary.


In order to adjust the alignment of a car, you must first have a way to measure the amount and type of misalignment. I have found that this is most readily accomplished with a test track. Don’t let the words ‘test track’ scare you. This is simply a hard, flat, pitched surface, down which the car is rolled. In Volume 3, Issue 13 (March 17, 2004) there are plans for a nice test track. But here is a simple solution:

– Get a sheet of MDF (medium density fiberboard) which is a material available at any home store. Have the store cut off a piece 8 feet long by 2 feet wide (you might be able to buy a piece already cut for shelving).

– Down the very center of the board, draw a straight line with a permanent marker.

– Lay the board on a flat surface. Test the surface first with a level, and orient the board so that it is running in the downhill direction (patios, garages, driveways, etc. tend to have a slight pitch).

– Prop up one end of the board about 4 inches, and place a pillow at the low end.

– Use a ‘level’ to make sure the board is level at all points. Use small pieces of wood or other material (I use business cards) to shim the board as needed.

To test the car, place it at the uphill end and align the edge of the car with the straight line drawn on the board. Make sure to place it the same way on each test – a slight difference in placement will make a big difference in the measurement. After you are satisfied with the placement release the car and observe the direction and amount of drift. The goal is to get the car to deviate less than ½ inch over the 8 foot run. Test the car a few times until you have a good idea of the amount and direction of drift.


There are two primary methods for adjusting wheel alignment: the axle bend method, and the axle shimming method. A third method (if the car has axle slots), angling the axles, is not recommended as it can cause binding between the axle and wheel bore.

Axle Bend Method

The axle bend method is cruder than the shim method, but is the method of choice if time is short. It is most easily done on a car with a raised front wheel. The method is quite simple:

1. Remove the front wheel/axle which is on the ground,

2. Make a ‘slight’ bend in the axle, and then reinstall the wheel/axle (see Figure 1),

3. Test roll the car, and then slightly rotate the axle by grasping the head of the axle with a pair of pliers,

4. Repeat until the car goes straight, then make sure to glue the axle in place.
Figure 1 – Axle Bend Method

Wheel Shimming Method

The axle bend method corrects alignment by imparting some toe-in, toe-out, or some cant. Although it works, there is some energy loss in the front wheel due to this correction. A better way is to set all four axles such that each is parallel to the ground (no cant), and pointed in the same direction (no toe-in or out). This can be accomplished by placing thin (2 to 3 thousandths inch thick) shims between the axles and the car body such that the desired alignment is accomplished.

The shim method was developed by Stan Pope, and is documented on his web site. Due to the length of the procedure, I won’t include it in this article, but here are some considerations.

– To fully implement the method is somewhat tedious and time consuming. Plan on several hours to complete the process.

– If you don’t have the time (or patience) for the full procedure, you can apply the method to the front wheels alone (or to the front ‘steering’ wheel if one front wheel is lifted). In this case, the shim method generally gives better results than the axle bend method.


Wheel alignment is a critical procedure for ensuring top speed. Whichever method you choose to implement, make sure to allocate time for alignment. Then as long as the car is accurately placed on the track (see the tip below), whatever time you spend aligning the car will pay off at the track.

(1) Precision blocks can be found
and specialty tools can be found

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 5, Issue 6

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Maximum Velocity Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies

Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – November 23, 2012

Today’s Car Showcase was supplied by Joesin Guillory.

We had purchased plans and supplies from Maximum Velocity years ago when my oldest two boys were in scouts. They had made the Wing and the Rail and came in 1st and 2nd respectively. This year we made four cars from your plans.


The Assimilator, made by Andrew, my Wolf Scout, came in 1st out of 40 in the scout race. His was the only car to come in under 2.5 seconds. This amazed me because he truly made the car himself with only guidance from me.


The Predator, made by me, came in 2nd out of 21 in the non-scout race.


The Wing, made by my oldest son Aaron (17) (for the second time), came in 5th out of 21 in the non-scout race.


The Rocket, made by me, came in 6th out of 21 in the non-scout race.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 12, Issue 4

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Custom Pinewood Derby Neckerchief Slide

By Andy Holzer

Figure 1 – Neckerchief Slide

My son, Noah, asked to make a slide using a pinewood wheel to wear at the different pinewood derby races we do throughout the year. He is a second year Boy Scout now, and is still losing neckerchief slides all of the time. We have purchased way too many slides since he was a Tiger.

Noah came up with the neckerchief slide concept, but I had to take it a little further with the checkered race theme and some Cub Scout logos.

Figure 2 – The Plan

The materials for this project are a pinewood derby wheel and axle, and 1/2 inch PVC piping (less than $2 from a hardware store or home center. A 10 foot section should make approximately 155 slides).

The PVC pipe is cut into 3/4 inch lengths and cleaned up with some fine (150 to 220) sandpaper. I have cut these on my band saw and also on a 12 inch chop saw (with a fine blade). Then a 17/64 inch hole is drilled into the side of the PVC pipe. The decoration on the PVC is sticker paper printed with the logos and checkerboard pattern. It is applied to the PVC and then laminated with 2 inch box tape.

The axle is cut with cutting pliers, and the cut end is ground smooth then epoxied into the wheel bore. The wheel lettering is colored using a white paint pen, then clear coated with a matte clear so the painted lettering does not come off if the slide is rubbed.

The slide looks great, but I wonder how long until he loses this one? There must be a big stockpile of lost neckerchief slides somewhere in this world!

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 12, Issue 4

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Maximum Velocity Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies

Upgrading Needle Axles

By Randy Davis

For races that allow freedom in selecting wheels and axles, needle wheels and axles are a great choice for building a high-performance car. Cars equipped with needle axles will generally dominate over traditional axles.

Figure 1 – Standard Needle Axles

However, needle axles can be tricky to implement. I have built cars with needle axles on a few occasions, and have discovered first hand how needle axles can be a bit frustrating to work with.(1) Drilling the tiny axle holes in the block of wood is a real challenge, and keeping the axles from bending under race conditions is also a bit of a headache.

But now these difficulties are no longer an issue. With the introduction of the Needle Axle Upgrade Kit, installing needle axles on a car is not much different than installing regular axles.

The Needle Axle Upgrade Kit consists of four upgraded axles, retainer beads, and an installation tool. The axles are sized to fit into standard axle holes (drilled with a #44 drill bit), or standard axle slots. The upgraded axles are made from a harder stainless steel than the standard needles, so they resist bending. The installation tool is used to press the axles into place, and to bend the axles if

Figure 2 – Needle Axle Upgrade Kit

The retainer beads press fit onto the axles to hold the wheels in place. If desired, they can be removed with pliers for cleaning and re-lubing of the wheels and axles.

Figure 3 – Installed wheel and upgraded axle

The preparation and installation procedure for the upgraded needle axles is not much different than that of traditional axles:

1. Polish the axles with Axle Polish (part 5101), or use the two finest papers in our Axle Polishing Kit (part 5100). If desired, Diamond Polish (part 5107) can be used for a final high shine.

2. Select four beads that fit tightly onto the axle shafts (extras are supplied). If you don’t want black beads, then purchase beaded pins from a craft store. Remove the beads, and finish drilling the hole through the bead with a #66 drill bit.

3. Prepare the axle hole or slot by reaming with a #44 drill bit.

Do not install the axles until the car is complete. Axle shafts will be damaged if removed.

4. Press each axle into place using the installation tool.

5. Apply lube to an axle; we recommend Kryox 100 (part 5106).

6. Place a wheel onto the axle with the dish-side of the wheel facing the car body.

7. Press a bead onto the axle shaft. Use a gap gauge to set the distance between the car body and the wheel. No glue is required for the bead.

8. Repeat steps 5 to 7 for the other three wheels.

9. To remove the wheels, grasp the retaining bead with a pair of pliers, then twist and pull.

Note that the axles are for use with RSN and RSNX wheels. They cannot be used with the wider SSN wheels.

Obviously, performance will vary from car to car. In a test I did between two similar cars, one with the upgraded needle axles and RSN wheels, and the other with standard axles and RS wheels, the needle axle car consistently beat the standard axle car by one car length. This performance advantage is consistent with what I have witnessed at competitions between needle, and non-needle axle cars.

Of course, needle axles cannot be used at many races, but if you have the opportunity to use them, don’t hesitate. You will experience a big performance boost; and now with the Needle Axle Upgrade Kit, implementation is a breeze. Good luck!

(1) For an article on my previous experiences with needle axles, please
Click Here.

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 12, Issue 4

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Maximum Velocity Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies

New Products for 2012

Here in Arizona fall is finally in the air, and it is time for pinewood derby racing. Just in time for the season, we are announcing three new products to help you have a great race:

Triangular Tungsten Canopy
– This 2.5 ounce triangular canopy is very low profile, looks sharp, and readily mounts on your pinewood derby car.

Paint Stand
– Finally, a paint stand for pinewood derby cars that is easy to use, and works on virtually any car! This paint stand not only holds your car securely, but also allows you to hold the car in any position while painting.

Wheel Flares
– Wow! Decals for your wheels. These Wheel Flare kits include dry transfer decals for the sidewall of the wheels and the nail head, and cardboard wheel covers in two sizes and two designs. Use them together or separately.

As always, all of the our new products for the 2012-13 racing season can be found

With best regards,
Randy Davis
Maximum Velocity – Give Your Car The Racer’s Edge!

Pinewood Derby Car Showcase – November 9, 2012

Sheriff Cruiser – Matt Penza

The fastest car in our race was my sheriff’s car. This is the exact car that I use on duty. Well a replica. I took photos of my sheriff’s car and downloaded them onto the computer. After sizing the photos I made stickers out of them. The antennas are also the same on the real sheriff’s car. As you can see I added a light bar after modifying it, a spotlight, and a push bar. This car weighed exactly 5 ounces. With your Awana Speed Wheels and axles, this car set a track record!!!

Swimming Pool – David Kenison

My son, who just crossed over to Boy Scouts, decided to make his last pinewood derby car to look like a swimming pool. He is on a swim team and last year he made an Award Car and the previous year was a Swimming Car. So it seemed appropriate to make a pool this year.

Jedi’s Nightmare – Rodney Earp

Here is my son’s 2012 car. It was designed, built and painted by him. It won 1st in the pack and 21st in the district. We found out that a pointed front end works okay if the track sensors are tabs. But at the district race, sensor lights were used. I have video showing the car not tripping the sensor till somewhere around the front wheel area.(1) So, consider having a wider front end when you design a car next year. Oh, by the way, my son uses the Storm Trooper each year on his car. The Storm Trooper has done quite well using your lube, and other stuff from your site. Thanks for all you do for pinewood derby racing!

(1) For more information on this issue, please see: Volume 7, Issue 12
– “Is Your Finish Line Providing Accurate Results”

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 12, Issue 3

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Maximum Velocity Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies

New Pinewood Derby Paint Stand

Here is a handy Paint Stand for working on your pinewood derby car. This quality-built stand securely holds your car for painting, allowing you to hold your car in any position. In addition, the Paint Stand:

– Works with axle slots or axle holes, and with any wheelbase.

– Keeps paint out of the axle slots or holes.

– Provides a stable base while your car dries.

For more information, please visit: Paint Stand

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 12, Issue 3

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Maximum Velocity Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies

Streamlining the Weigh-in

By Randy Davis

(An update of an article originally published December 1, 2004)

Have you been to a weigh-in/check-in that seemed chaotic? Did there appear to be a lack of organization or control of the event? All too often little thought is put into the organization of the weigh-in, which leads to irritated participants, and stressed officials. Fortunately, steps can be taken to transform the chaos into a streamlined process.

In today’s article I have provided information for race organizers to help the check-in flow smoothly. Of course, I have not exhausted this topic. If your organization has a smooth-running weigh-in, please e- mail your tips to me, and I will include them in a future newsletter.

In this article, I am assuming that the number of cars in the event will be reasonably large (greater than 50). If you have a smaller event, then some of the stations can be combined, and fewer officials will be required. However, all stations, equipment, and items mentioned in the article still need to be considered and accounted for.

To lay the groundwork for a smooth flowing weigh-in, two preliminary items are required. Don’t set yourself up for failure by skipping these crucial items.

1. One or more workshops – By having the official scale available at a workshop, many of the participants will be able to adjust the weight of their cars which will minimize the amount of adjustments that will need to be made at the weigh-in.

2. Clear and complete rules – A good set of rules minimizes problems at the weigh-in. Unclear rules lead to confusion, arguments, and unnecessary stress on all involved. Make sure that all items specified in the rules will be inspected, and no inspection will occur for non-documented items.(1)

Organization does not happen without preparation. If you want the weigh-in to go smoothly, then the event must be carefully planned, as should the race itself.

So who will do all this planning? Don’t just ask for a volunteer, and certainly don’t pick someone that has never experienced a pinewood derby! Instead, find someone that has good organizational skills. The person does not have to be an expert car builder, nor do they necessarily have to be a club official (unless your organization rules require it). But they do need to know how to plan, how to lead, and how to delegate.

Now that the leader has been identified, they need to get on with the planning. Good planning should include identifying the best foot-traffic flow, recruiting and training of weigh-in officials, acquisition of the needed materials, etc. Plans would include a sketch of a floor layout, a list of materials and a list of weigh-in jobs, and a time-schedule to make it happen.

One point on recruiting; don’t make the mistake of recruiting too little help. The weigh-in leader should not plan to run a weigh-in station themselves. The leader will have enough to do with coordinating, answering questions, etc. If they run a station, that station will become a bottleneck.

Here is a list of required equipment. I am sure you can think of other items as well:

– Weigh scales – I recommend one official scale, and one or more non-official scales (at least as accurate as the official scale). The non-official scales are used by racers to adjust the weight of the car.Then the car is weighed on the official scale before impounding.

– Official measuring devices – To check the car for compliance. These usually include a car body gauge and possibly a wheel gauge.(2) Make sure that gauges are available for checking all specifications identified in the rules.

– Tools – small screwdrivers (for removing and attaching underbody weight plates), 2 or more drills (for adjusting weight), pliers (for breaking weight plates), hacksaw (for cutting zinc rods), level (to make sure the scale is level).

– Supplies – lubricant, extra wheels, extra axles, weights (possibly screw-on zinc plates – these can be sold to parents as needed), and stickers (or permanent markers) to number cars. We use a black and silver permanent markers, and write the car number on the bottom-front of the car (black for light-colored cars, silver for dark-colored cars).

– Tables – Enough for each weigh-in station and for holding the impounded cars. Make sure the tables are stable and solid. The impound tables should be isolated so that only inspection officials have access.

– Car Immobilizers – The impound tables need something to prevent the cars from rolling. Inexpensive commercial solutions are available, such as the DerbyStop(3), or you can create your own solution using thick cords or wood slats taped lengthwise on the table (cars are placed perpendicular to the cord or wood).

Here are the basic stations (in sequence order):

– Registration Station – To register the owner (or verify the pre-registration).

– Inspection Station – To verify the compliance of the car to the rules.

– Repair Station – For owners to fix non-compliance issues.

– Weight Adjustment Station – For making gross weight adjustments – A non-official scale is located at the station for use by car owners. Using this non-official scale reduces congestion at the Weigh Station. Since car owners may be drilling lead at this station, it should be located in a place where lead fragments can easily be collected for disposal.

– Lube Station – For applying lubricant – Since graphite will be flowing, it should be located outside if possible.

– Official Weigh Station – Location of the official scale (make sure it is not under an air duct or in a draft) – Once the car passes weight, the car is impounded.

Trained workers will greatly streamline the weigh-in, so make sure each person knows what to do. Specifically:

– Inspection station – The worker(s) need to be familiar with the rules, with the appearance of the wheels/axles in the car kit, and the use of the inspection devices. They also need a list of items to check for.

– Official Weigh Station – The worker needs to be familiar with using the scale, and have a procedure to follow (e.g., blow debris off scale, zero scale, weigh car). Also, a time duration should be established as to how long the car will sit on the scale before declaring it is compliant (some scales fluctuate, so I recommend a 5 second count before the weight is considered official).

A dad told me about his experience with their weigh-in. The child had done a lot of work on the car, and he was very proud of the result. However, they were novices and did not understand the importance of weight. At the weigh-in, their car weighed only 3.5 ounces. Without being asked, or given permission, the official took the car to the Weight Adjustment Station and proceeded to drill holes in the back of the car. The child was very upset and started crying as he watched the “destruction” of his masterpiece.

The moral of the story? The job of the inspection official is to verify that the car meets the specifications, not to correct problems. Any adjustments to a car (weight, lubrication, etc.) should be done by the owners, unless the owners need help and specifically give permission to the officials to render assistance. This policy helps reinforce that the owners are responsible for their own car, limits the risk of an official damaging a car, and minimizes the number of required weigh-in officials.(4)

As you plan your weigh-in this year, spend the time to organize it well. You will find that planning will streamline the event, making it more enjoyable for car owners and officials.

(1) See Volume 11, Issue 1 – “Do’s and Don’t for Race Leaders”

(2) See our Car Go/No-go Gauge” and “Wheel Go/No-go Gauge”

(3) See the DerbyStop

(4) More information on race official assistance can be found in Volume 10, Issue 10 – “Leader Help – How Much is Too Much?”

From Pinewood Derby Times Volume 12, Issue 3

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Maximum Velocity Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies