How to Cut Pinewood Derby Cars

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Use modern rotary tools to craft a pinewood derby car.
Use modern rotary tools to craft a pinewood derby car. (Image: rotary tool image by CraterValley Photo from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>)

Pinewood derby cars provide a fun and creative way to enjoy model racing. Since the cars come as a rectangular-shaped piece of wood with slots cut for wheel axles, they give the carver a chance to exercise his creativity. Since pinewood is of a medium hardness, no heavy-duty specialty carving tools are needed. A simple template can be hand-drawn and transferred to the block of wood to facilitate the actual carving.

Things You'll Need

  • Workbench vice
  • Ruler
  • Pencil with eraser
  • Scissors
  • 2 Workshop towels
  • White cardstock paper (heavy cardstock printer paper)
  • Hacksaw
  • Rotary tool with cutting and sanding wheels (Craftsman, Dremel, etc.)
  • Sandpaper (both course and fine finishing)

Clamp a workbench vice to the edge of a suitably level workbench.

Measure the side of the wooden block and draw a rectangle of the same measurements on a piece of cardstock paper with a pencil. Use the straight edge of a ruler to draw the rough shape of the car including diagonal lines for window slants. Erase any unneeded lines.

Cut the rough shape template from the cardstock paper with a pair of scissors and hold the template onto one side of the wooden block with the fingers of your nondominant hand. Trace the outline onto the block with the pencil. Lift the template toward you and flip it around so the back side of the pattern is now facing you. Press the template onto the other side of the wooden block and trace the pattern as you did with the first side.

Lay cloth shop towels on the jaws of the vice and allow a portion of each to fall down between the jaws so the wooden block is protected from the metal of the vice.

Place the wooden block into the shop vice and tighten firmly but not so tight that the jaws compress the wood in any way that would disfigure the shape of the car. Cut out the rough shape of the car using a hacksaw by sawing along the drawn pattern lines on the wood.

Attach a cutting wheel to a powered rotary tool and cut any fine details into the wood such as hood and trunk lines, window trim, bumpers and grills, and any other fine body details.

Connect a sanding wheel to the rotary tool and rough sand the entire car to further clarify details and to smooth out the surface of the car. As part of the rough sanding, course sandpaper can also be used to level the surfaces if necessary.

Finish-sand the car surface using fine-grit sandpaper to prepare the car for painting and decoration.

Tips & Warnings

  • Files and rasps may be used to shape the "rough cut" of the pinewood car, but this can require a great deal of time and manual labor to get the car formed as desired. Using a rotary tool greatly reduces the amount of time needed to shape the body of the car.

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