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There are several tools that are necessary, or very useful for building a pinewood derby car. These tools are presented here, along with some general guidelines for using each tool.

Click on any of the small pictures below to see a larger picture of the tool. Links are also provided should you wish to see the tool at Rockler Woodworking and Hardware - a recommended on-line store, or at Maximum Velocity - Pinewood Derby Car Plans and Supplies.
Get a free catalog from Rockler

Specialty Tools

Specialty tools can make a huge difference in the speed of a pinewood derby car. Below are the currently available tools, ranked in importance (my opinion). You can find all of these tools at:

Specialty Tools at Maximum Velocity

Wheel Mandrel
Wheel Mandrel

The wheel mandrel is used to safely hold a wheel for placement in the chuck of a drill. The wheel can then be sanded and polished while spinning. The Pro-Wheel Mandrel is an improved version with a knurled thumbscrew, so the screw can be removed by hand. The tool also has features to improve wheel mounting.

Pro-Hub Tool
Pro-Hub Tool

The Pro-Hub Tool Reams undersized wheel bores so that they fit on the wheel mandrel, and are all the same size. It can then either square the inside wheel hub to the wheel bore, and/or, cone the inside wheel hub to minimize friction.

Pro-Body Tool
Pro-Body Tool

The Pro-Body Tool is a drilling guide for creating axle holes, or for creating pilot holes in existing axle slots. This greatly improves the alignment of the car. The tool is equipped with a third hole to facilitate a raised front wheel (for a 3-on-the-ground configuration).

Pro-Axle Guide
Pro-Axle Guide

The Pro-Axle Guide helps ensure accurate mounting of axles, by making sure that the axles are inserted straight. It also set the proper gap between the wheel hub and car body. The proper gap minimizes car wander and reduces excess contact between the car body and the wheel hubs.

Pro-Axle Press

Pro-Axle Press

The Pro-Axle Press straightens and rounds the axle shafts on nail-type axles. It also squares the axle head to the axle shaft, and bevels the head.

Pro-Wheel Shaver XT

Pro-Wheel Shaver XT

The Pro-Wheel Shaver XT creates wheels which are perfectly round and true to the wheel bore.It also trues the inside edge of the wheel by removing molding marks and excess material. The tool is equipped with screw-adjustable blade depth. Just turn the knob to raise or lower the blade.

Pro-Bore Polisher

Pro-Bore Polisher

The Pro-Bore Polisher uses an industrial-grade, water-soluble plastic polish to remove flaws and polish the wheel bore.

Pro-Wheel Balancer

Pro-Wheel Balancer

The Precision Wheel Balancer identifies the heavy side of your pinewood derby wheels so that the excess weight can be removed from the inside of the tread. This results in a perfectly balanced wheel that will spin true.

Pro-Outer Hub Shaver

Pro-Outer Hub Shaver

The Pro-Outer Hub Shaver squares the outer wheel hub to the wheel bore for improved mounting on the Pro-Wheel Mandrel. This also improves wheel hub to axle head contact by eliminating flaws on the outer wheel hub.

Wheel Alignment Tool
Wheel Alignment Tool

Performs seven wheel installation and alignment checks.

Woodworking Tools

Coping Saw

Scrap Wood to
Reduce Chipping

Cutting Out an Inside Hole

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. The Coping Saw does not work as well for cutting a straight line in thick material, so it is good to have a more general purpose saw for making straight cuts.

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 slow, 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.
  • 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, then reattach the blade. Make the 8 cuts identified in the figure to the left.

    Coping Saw and BladesRocker Coping Saw and Blades
    For precise cutting of intricate or irregular shapes with precise control...

    Coping Saw at Rockler

Brad Point Bit

Scrap Wood to
Reduce Chipping

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.

    Brad Point bit at Maximum Velocity


Hammer and

Chisels are needed 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.

    Irwin Blue Chip ChiselsRockler Blue Chip Chisels
    These sharp, workhorse chisels feature rugged polypropelene handles with "rounded-square" profiles that rest comfortably in hand, providing superior control at any blade angle. Blades are high carbon, solid-forged steel for maximum blade retention.

    Chisels at Rockler


Picture of
4-in-Hand Rasp

Files are used to shape the wood after it has been rough cut with the Coping Saw. Files are classified as either "Rasps" or "Files", and come in several shapes including round (or "Rat Tail"), triangular, half round, and flat. Rasps are rough files that remove a lot of wood. They are used for rough shaping. Files are then 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 "4-in-Hand" Rasp. This 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 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.

    Nicholson Cabinetmaker FilesRockler Files & Rasps
    Tackle all of your filing needs with this great selection of full-size (8 and 10 inch) files. Each sold separately. File handle (sold separately) holds most popular files. Contoured to fit hand for straight, lathe and draw filing.

    Files & Rasps at Rockler


Picture of Sanding Block

Sandpaper is used to smooth the surface of the wood before painting. Sandpaper comes in grades, with the grade defining 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.

Here are some general tips:
  • 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 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 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

    Norton 3X SandpaperRockler Sandpaper
    Faster working, more durable and longer lasting than conventional sandpaper! This premium p-graded aluminum oxide grain gives you a quick cut with less pressure.

    Wood Sandpaper at Rockler

    Wet/Dry Sandpaper 5 packRocker Wet/Dry Sandpaper
    Available in a variety of grits for wet, oil, or dry sanding.

    Wet/Dry Sandpaper at Rockler


Glue comes in several different types. Always use the proper glue for the job.
  • Use "Carpenter’s Glue" (yellow glue) or white glue when gluing wood to wood, and for repairing chips and cracks.
  • Use epoxy when gluing non-wood parts to wood. For example, use epoxy for gluing 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.

    Wood Glue & Epoxy at Maximum Velocity


There are many different kinds of clamps available for woodworking, and the building of a pinewood derby car is very difficult without one or two. The picture shows a few types of clamps that I think work the best for car building.
  • The large bar-type clamp is good for holding the block in place while drilling or sawing.
  • The small spring clamp (on top) is good for holding small pieces together while the glue is drying.
  • The small bar-type clamp is good for holding the car still while shaping.
  • The large and small clamp can be used effectively together to hold a car in place for filing. Use the large clamp to hold a narrow board onto the worksurface, with the board extending over the edge. Then use the small clamp to hold your car to the board. This allows the car to be easily re-positioned for filing.

    F-Style Bar ClampsRocker F Style Bar Clamps
    Make your work a snap with these heavy-duty F-style clamps, which feature ergonomic handles with soft rubber grips for easy, comfortable use. They’re great general all-purpose clamps - perfect for cabinet construction!

    F-Style Bar Clamps at Rockler

©2011 by Randy Davis
Updated April 1, 2011