How to Build a Sail Car


Many introductory-level physics classes require the construction of a wind-powered sail car as a lab project, but you don't need to be in school to build your own sail car. Your sail car can be used as a visual aid for a discussion of the physical principles at work, including friction and wind resistance. You can also use your sail car as a mode of transport for small stuffed animals, action figures, and dolls, or as a toy in its own right.

Things You'll Need

  • Sheet of office-supply paper
  • Scissors
  • 3 straight drinking straws
  • Pushpin
  • 4 large beads or Lifesavers candies
  • 2 paper clips
  • Tape
  • Electric fan (optional)
  • Cut an 8-inch square from a piece of office-supply paper. Cut two parallel slits in the paper, one at the top and one at the bottom. Each slit should be about a half-inch long, and in the center of the sail.

  • Thread one drinking straw through both slits. This will serve as the mast and sail assembly.

  • Cut a drinking straw in half to make the car axles. Pinch each end of each half-straw closed, and pierce the ends with a push pin to make a hole. Make the holes 1/4-inch from the ends of each half-straw--these holes will be used to fit the wires in place that will hold the wheels onto the axles.

  • Slide a hard candy with a large central hole, such as a Lifesaver, onto the end of each half-straw. Alternatively, use four large beads with large holes in the center. These will serve as the axles and wheels.

  • Straighten two paper clips, and cut each clip in half. Thread each wire through the holes in the end of each axle. Twist the wire into a loop to keep the wheels from sliding off the axle.

  • Encircle the axles with tape just inside each wheel to keep the wheels from sliding toward the center of the axle.

  • Cut a third drinking straw in half, and arrange the two pieces of straw in a triangular shape on top of the completed axles. These pieces will serve as the frame of the sail car. Tape the frame pieces together at the front axle. Tape the frame pieces far apart at the rear axle, just inside the wheels.

  • Tape the mast in place between the frame pieces at the front axle of the sail car. Power your car by blowing on the sail, or set up an electric fan behind the car.

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