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If you’re planning on helping your son (or friend’s son, etc.) build a Pinewood Derby car for competition this year, you have two choices:

  1. You can build yet another wedge-shaped car that’s as heavy as possible.
  2. You can pick up this book, read it, and build a car that’ll not only go like hell, but’ll also look so sweet that everyone (whose asses your car smokes) will claim you cheated afterwards.

Guess which one I’d choose? Read on past the jump for a detailed review of this must-have book.

About The Author

Pinewood Derby Designs & Patterns was authored by Troy Thorne — a multi-talented guy who just happens to have exactly the skill set required to produce the ultimate ‘Derby guide. He’s an artist. He’s an avid woodworker and carver. And he’s in the process of finishing up his first full car build: an AC Cobra replica with plenty of go-power.

Content

So it shouldn’t be surprising that the designs he presents in this book are anything but ordinary. Ranging from a Superbird-knockoff stocker to a modern NASCAR ride to a Willys Jeep, these designs are sure to attract attention at the meet. In fact, they’re so beautiful that when you first crack the book, you’ll wonder whether you and your child can build them.

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In short: you absolutely can. Troy not only provides great designs, he also offers great pictoral descriptions of the carving process — plus lots of easy-to-understand instructions to help you fill, paint, and finish your car to look just as awesome as those you see in the book. With Troy’s book and a little time and patience, there’s no reason you can’t achieve similar results.

Troy doesn’t skimp on the speed, either. The book includes a whole section on maximizing your car’s performance potential, packed with tips such as how to polish wheels and wheel mount hardware with common, inexpensive tools and how to properly maximize your car’s weight during weigh-in.

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Best of all, Troy writes from the perspective of a Toolmonger parent wishing to share the shop experience with a child via the ‘Derby — not an overly-competitive dad hell-bent on winning. In each part of the book he recommends methods of working together on the car, and offers what I think is one of the best pieces of ‘Derby advice I’ve heard:

Last but not least, let your child weigh-in his car. At most weigh-ins, parents line up to place their “child’s” car on the scale, but it’s better to let your child place his own car on the scale. If you use the method for adding extra weight, practice with your child at home. Put your scale on the table and have your child carefully place the car on the scale — upside down so it won’t roll off — and then add small weights to the scale until it reads 5.0 ounces. That way, when you show up at weigh-in, your child will know exactly what to do.

I also love how this book keeps safety in mind. Remember how worried you were that your child might ingest tiny amounds of lead-based paint from sucking on a toy train? Maybe you don’t want to melt lead sinkers with a torch to pour an ingot for the bottom of your car. Troy covers this and other ‘Derby car building safety caveats. Build safe!

Finally, all of us at Toolmonger approve of Troy’s dedication to building legal cars. No matter how cool your ‘Derby ride ends up, if you break the rules, you’re missing the point. Troy covers all applicable rules — and shows you how to build killer winning cars without cheating.

Read on to page two for our summary.

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12 Responses to Book Review: Pinewood Derby Designs & Patterns

  1. PeterP says:

    When I was a kid, we used to have a few things that would reliably make the car faster:

    Polish the axles, sand down the seam on the wheels.
    Get it as close to the max weight as possible. (My dad even built a custom jig to route a slot for the weights in the bottom of the car).
    Get the wheels square.

    Also, lots of graphite.

    All that said, I had a lot more fun building cars than racing them. I always worry about books like this, because I think if someone pulls a pattern out of a book and follows a step by step guide to build a fast car, they are missing the point.

  2. Blind says:

    I entered a pinewood derby at work last year. Made my car the night before with a hammer and a large knife (used it like a chisel). Came in second I believe.

    Aside from some really amusing tricks that I heard about either at the race or while researching (using a container of mercury for your weight for example), it seemed like the only design worth doing to win was a flat, heavy car just thick enough to hold the wheels in place and as long a wheel base as possible. After that it was the little touches for speed (polishing and squaring. the three wheel trick if you want to be really anal).

    All that said, I’m not sure I really see the need for a full book on this topic.

  3. Blind says:

    Let me rephrase that.

    A large book for how to do it? No so sure.

    A short book on the topic? Ok, I can see that

    A book on some of the tricks and borderline cheats and innovative ideas people have done and more of a History of the Challenge type of thing? That could be a fun read

    Never too young to learn that the greatest joy in racing is making them change the rule book the following year 😀

  4. kif says:

    Make the wheels square? I wasn’t even winning with them round! Seriously, though, the Cub Scout Packs really need to implement a Dad class. Let your kid’s car be your kid’s car and compete with the other fathers directly, not through proxy.

    My son just finished the “Raingutter Regatta” which is the boat version of the Pinewood Derby. The boats fell into two categories, dad-built and kid-built. Admittedly, my son’s boat was 50% dad and 50% son, as I didn’t feel comfortable turning over the sanding sealer and Krylon to a 7-year old. He did the shaping, sanding and detail painting, though. Most likely, the execution of most of the designs in the book will reduce the boy’s contribution to near nil.

    This book seems to be an avenue through which the dad will take over the whole process, and defeats the spirit of the Pinewood Derby. Maybe they should re-title it “Taking Over Kid’s Games for Competitive Jerks.” (I’m sure its on the reading list for guys who scream and threaten little league umpires) However, the kits are available in hobby shops, so if you’re the kind of guy who gets into this kind of thing unofficially, more power to you, weirdo.

  5. Chuck Cage says:

    PeterP: I totally understand where you’re coming from, and I really wanted to make it clear that this isn’t one of those kind of books. It’s more of a step-by-step for how to learn to carve via a specific project than a “make this car then you’re done” instruction set. And it’s not just about making a fast car, either. It’s about making a car that you really love and learning some great shop skills and concepts in the process.

    Blind: It’s also a relatively small book. It’s not pedantic in the least, and it has lots and lots of pictures. Your kids will enjoy the book as much as you do.

    kif: I guess I failed to make it clear in the review — this book is all about doing the project with your kids. It’s about helping them learn about the shop and how things work, and helping them to put a lot of themselves into the car. That’s why I included the quoted section on weigh-in in the review. It’s a great example of how the whole book’s written to encourage you to work on the project together.

    One thought, though: I guess we’re weirdos. Sean and I got a big kick out of seeing the cars the author built, and we’re really tempted to try our hands at it just for the hell of it.

  6. kif says:

    Chuck: I made the weirdo comment tongue-in-cheek, as I certainly wouldn’t exclude myself from that characterization. Anyone who watches raptly a video shed being built and demolished, or listens attentively to a discussion on veneer can relate.

    Involving young people in shop work is commendable, and the only time I’m not shadowed in the garage is when my son is away from the house. I just think that the dads should be honest with themselves and indulge their obvious need to make a pinewood car of their own. Their kid will learn by watching then turn around and make their very own they can be proud of. Also, I can guarantee that you don’t need a book like this to get a boy interested in what you are doing. Most boys can hear wrenches clanking and will appear like magic. My son often appears with a couple of friends.

  7. fabmandan says:

    Our Pack has a Dad and Sibling Race. The car that won the Dad race last year was just the pinewood block sanded smooth, urethaned and all the speed tricks, smooth wheels, long wheelbase, etc. That thing was unbeatable. Til this year!

  8. kif says:

    Yes, I think you should make a real event of it. When I was a kid, the Pinewood Derby was something you anticipated like Christmas. We had digital timers, electromagnetic starting gates, and a beautifully built track (and this was in the late 1970s!) A dad and sibling class is an excellent idea. There should also be side contests for design, so that the kid who enters something really cool and original rather than the optimized configuration has a chance for glory too. There are a lot of kids involved in this from dad-less households who must either find an adult helper or be extremely creative. Be inclusive! It’s a right of passage of boyhood!

  9. Chuck Cage says:

    Kif, I think you said the magic words as far as I’m concerned: “Be inclusive!” ‘Nuff said!

  10. Troy Thorne says:

    Kif,
    I understand what your saying. This book is geared towards the parents that don’t have a wood shop and kids that don’t get to experience the craft of woodworking. In this day and age of computers, internet and video games it’s hard to get your child’s attention. I wanted this book to excite those kids and get them working with wood.

    I want you to read the book’s introduction. I think you’ll see where I’m coming from:

    Building a car together
    Spending time with your child is one of the most important aspects of participating in the Pinewood Derby. It’s also important to be aware of what you and your child can learn from building a car together. Though some may seem obvious, following a few simple principles will help make the Pinewood Derby a truly rewarding experience for both of you.

    Work as a team.
    Find a way for your child to participate in every step of the process. The best way to accomplish this is to let him perform as many steps as possible. Teach by example whenever you can. For instance, you might show your child how to complete a step of the process on one side of the car and then allow him to do the same step on the other side of the car. If he is unable to complete the step by himself, assist him but be sure he participates as much as possible. Some steps must be performed by an adult for safety reasons. Even in these situations, try to find some way to safely involve your child in the work you do.

    Whether or not he can perform a particular step, encourage your child to work closely by your side so he can see exactly what you are doing. You may want to provide something safe for him to stand on so he can be at your eye level. Ask questions, such as “Do both sides look even?” to help keep him focused on the task even if he isn’t physically doing the work. The more steps your child understands and participates in, the more he will feel as if he is a part of the process.

    Let your child help decide which body style to make.
    Your child will feel more connected to his car if you allow him to be creative and influence its design. This book provides several patterns for all skill levels. Look through the designs with your child and decide on one together. Consider the level of woodworking experience needed before you commit to building a specific car. Also, review the tools and supplies you’ll need for each body style before choosing.

    Let your child pick the color and detail options.
    If he wants to add detail, such as a steering wheel, stickers, or decals, encourage him to express his creativity in this area. Allow him to place them on the car. Putting your child in charge of different aspects of the project shows him that you value his judgment.

    Teach skills and techniques as you work.
    Building a Pinewood Derby car with your child is a great way to develop woodworking and math skills. Go over all of the tools and their uses with your child and help him understand how they work. When it’s time to actually build the car, remember to teach by example and to allow your child to learn at his own pace. You might show him how to hold the coping saw and then let him make the cuts on the car by imitating the position and techniques you’ve demonstrated. Always encourage your child: Be quick with praise and downplay small mistakes.

    Make it fun.
    The Pinewood Derby is a great opportunity for you and your child to create a special bond as you work together to build the car. Give yourself enough time so you and your child don’t feel rushed or overwhelmed. Remember, building a Pinewood Derby car should be a fun experience for both of you.”

    Thanks, Troy Thorne

  11. kif says:

    Troy: It looks good, like a lot of things I see here on Toolmonger. I ordered a copy from BN.com, as well as the “Pinewood Derby Speed Secrets.” I look forward to reading them both. The pack calendar says the derby is in February, so it is probably a wise investment. Thank you for your response. If all goes well maybe I can send a picture of our car through your publisher.

  12. Manny Grace says:

    Troy,

    I bought your Pinewood derby designs and patterns book and I built the “Dog House” slim racer that you featured in the back of the book. It looks great. Now I want to paint and apply decals similar to the ones you show in your book. Where did you find the “dog house” decal designs and the “paw print” decals?

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