Steve Lodefink's pinewood racer bodies


Lately, Steve Lodefink, one of my favorite broad-spectrum makers, has been making beautiful pinewood derby cars. I'm sure he will finish them with spectacular paint jobs, but I also like them just the way they are.


I asked him how he makes them and he said, "there's a touch of whittling involved, but mostly, the cars are rough shaped with a band saw, and a small hand saw, and most of the shaping is done with small, course sanding blocks."


See all of Steve's photos on Flickr | See Steve's projects for MAKE & CRAFT


  1. Oh how it hurt when my mirror finish streamlined masterpiece pinewood derby car was beaten by an untouched block of wood painted to look like Mr. Peanut. 

    1. When I was a Tiger Scout (I think my first year even), I insisted on making my car without any help from my dad. My block had just a few grooves rasped out of it, and some clumsy paint splotches, but it cleaned up the competition and I won.

      So yeah, nondescript blocks of wood do pretty well in pinewood derbies.

    2. same exact experience.  i beat everyone in my troop with my streamlined silver racer (a single  asymmetrical black stripe).  went to regionals or whatever they called it.  i weighted it perfectly, lubrication just right, was beaten by a rough plank painted with an american flag.

  2. I thought you could only use the parts in the approved kit?

    In order to have the wheel wells but still fit over the track guide these cars have to be somewhat wider than the blocks provided n the kit… This is probably for some other league and not the Cub Scouts.

    1. BSA rules allow you to glue anything that you want (within reason I suppose) to your car, but the car must adhere to weight, and size regulations.  7 x 2.75 inches.

      The official scout supply houses have actually started selling extra wood fender blocks, but we made our own.

      I’ll have to check to make sure that these fit the track, thanks!

      1. Thanks for the clarification. I remember now that the “only parts in the approved kit” rule is from an episode of Southpark where Stan’s dad puts plutonium in his car and promptly achieves warp speed prompting first contact with aliens..

        By the way, they are coming out great!I remember reading once about some tricks for making the car faster, among them drilling out the wheel centers, lubricating with graphite, modifying the wheels to make them as thin as possible and mounting one of the wheels higher so it doesn’t actually touch the track.

        1. Yeah, As far as “speed setup”  is concerned, we are going to stick to our local rules, which prohibit modifying the wheels. 

          We will  just clean up and graphite the axles, and make sure that our cars weigh the maximum allowable weight and roll straight.

  3. My mom was dating a machinist at the time of my pinewood derby days..we spent a week using a Bridgeport milling machine to create a perfect 1974 Chevy Corvette. Sanded and painted with many coats of blue paint, cut out stickers by hand. It was beautiful, better than a plastic model.  It was also slow as shit, and I won absolutely NOTHING for it (since I obviously did not make it). It was a soul crushing experience to say the least. 

  4. Yeah, We’re going for show more than go.  It’s always the plain block, with some crayon drawing on it that wins the race.

    The 911 and the Talbot are my kids cars.  Other than working “with” them to get the cars shaped to the designs of their choice, I am going to be hands off with fine shaping, sanding, and the paint jobs (other than leading by example :) .

    The Can Am car is MY car, and I will certainly go all out on painting and detailing that one.

    1. There’s no reason a fancy design like this couldn’t win. The secret is using proper graphite on the axles, sanding away any imperfections on the plastic wheels, and of course, getting it as close to the regulation weight maximum as possible.

      I had fancy designs with spoilers and such that won back when I was a scout. Not THIS fancy, but there’s no reason you can’t have fun with the body and still compete well.

      1. Yep. My theory is that the people who put tons of time into making the car *look* good often screw up the wheels and alignment. A plain wood block with fresh-from-the-kit wheels probably outperforms a car that’s been “tuned” into a hot mess by some kid’s dad.

        If you want to go even faster, turn down the plastic wheels to reduce rotating mass and make sure they’re balanced. Lube with molybdenum disulfide instead of graphite. Rig it so it rolls straight but only has 3 wheels on the track, to reduce rolling friction even further.

  5. My dad was an aerospace engineer and created the most aerodynamically perfect pinewood derby car possible – a perfect teardrop/airplane wing shape with recessed wheel wells and a sheet of steel glued to the bottom to bring it up to the maximum possible weight. Needless to say, the scoutmaster put it on the track backwards and I lost to a spray painted block of wood with washers scotch taped on it…

  6. My dad made me make beautiful, shaped ones not unlike this (I was a paint-mr-peanut-on-the-block kid) with little lead air scoops and spoilers and kooky Testors enamel paint jobs. And then Mike Machowshi won because he cheated, a point of (his) pride that came up often over the next few months.

  7. My dad and I made a nice-looking, though not as classy as these, Pinewood Derby car that had these lead fishing weights sticking out of the back in rocket engine fashion.  It was amazing how many people thought that was cheating, though it came in just under the maximum weight.  A little graphite powder on the wheels/axles, and I… came in second place, to the (of course) uncarved block of wood with duct tape on it.

  8. A Dremel with some sanding wheels and a few carving bits makes this kind of thing quick and fairly easy, though I wouldn’t do recessed wheels if you actually wanted to enter a car in a race – too risky.

  9. Here is a hint for making fenders and other complicated close-together parts in the future:  cut the block apart, shape sand and paint the fenders and other components separately, then glue the back together.

  10. Did every single person in this thread who’s complaining about how their ridiculously overengineered hunk of wood lost to a crude-looking job somehow miss seeing Rocky? People, come on

  11. Wrong gender to have been a part of pinewood derby, but it does bring back fond memories of 1/24 scale commercial track slot car  racing. If I ever become wealthy enough to own a hobby business, it’s going to be a slot car track.

  12. Just for the joy of modeling, I wish I’d thought of adding fenders. Wow.

    Pinewood Derby speeds never get high enough for aerodynamics to become a factor. But, as a model hobbyist as a Cub and adult, I shellacked the heck out of the finish, anyway. For my son’s cars, I managed to go hands off (other than keeping his out of the saw blades) until it was time to mount the axles.

    Every year, the Scoutmaster of the troop overseeing the Derby for my pack would race (and win with) a fresh, untouched block of wood to remind everyone that to be competitive, getting the wheels on straight was job 1.

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