Pinewood Derby Car Design and Speed Tips

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Rail Rider Steering Axle

(Note: You must be able to incorporate the rail rider alignment technique to take advantage of this axle modification.  Make sure that you can implement canted (bent) axles in your pinewood derby car before using this technique).

The basic premise for the Rail Rider Steering Groove is to create a small groove in the top of the axle head.  Then, when one creates a small upward cant or bend in the axle, one can just turn the axle with a screwdriver in the groove a small amount to cause the wheel to turn slightly left or right to align the car.  This modification should be done on all axles as you can use this method on the rear wheels as well.  Obviously, with the rear wheels, you would be aligning the wheels to go as perfectly straight as possible.  The real advantage of this technique is not having to take the wheels off and back on the car with every slight bend of the axle for alignment purposes.  One can align a pinewood derby car for a rail rider in about 15 minutes or less with this technique.  The simplest and fastest method we know for aligning a pinewood derby car. 

As with all axles, you will need to sand and polish these axles with your axle polishing kit and then bend the axle with the rail rider tool (and axle press).  We then re-polish the axle with the 4000 thru 8000 grit polishing papers to remove any handling marks after the bending process.

For those not able to cant their wheels, you will still need to create a small bend in the axles when you are performing the alignment for your car, so consider this step as well.  It only takes a few minutes to create and will save you significant time and frustration during the alignment process.  Keep in mind that this tip will be obvious to someone looking at the car so make sure it is legal for your race.

The Rail Rider Technique is described below as well as on the web page describing the rail rider tool.

The axle with the groove on the left and the axle with a screwdriver in the groove on the right.


Implementing the Rail Rider™ Technique
and a New and Easier Way to Align Your Pinewood Derby Car

It would be great if we could build a perfectly aligned car and run it on a perfectly aligned track for a perfectly straight ride down the hill.  We could stop worrying about hitting the center guide rail at all.  This is of course impossible unless God starts building pinewood derby cars and not just the trees themselves.  So, what can we do to minimize either the amount of contact that a car has with the center guide rail or minimize the loss of speed associated with that contact?  To answer that, let us introduce you to the Rail Rider technique. (Term trademarked by DerbyWorx and Warp Speed, Inc.)

 The easiest method is with the DerbyWorx Pro Rail Rider Tool in combination with the Pro Axle Press.   The Rail Rider tool shown below has two sides marked 1.5 and 2.5.  The 1.5 is for the degree of cant for the front axles and the 2.5 is for the degree of cant for the rear axles.  Keep in mind that this method requires that you complete all of the polishing and friction reduction modifications to the axles before implementing as it would be next to impossible to perform same afterwards. 

Place a mark on the axle head with a sharpie and insert the axle into the pro axle press with the mark pointing straight downward as shown below.  Keep about 1/2" of axle showing outside the axle press to allow room for the rail rider tool. 

For the rear axles, place the Rail Rider Tool over the Pro Axle Press with the side marked 2.5 sliding over the axle shaft.  (We marked the pro axle press with a sharpie ourselves to show the angles better)  Make sure the mark on the axle head remains pointing straight down and that the axle head is snug against the tool as shown below. 

Then strike the top of the Rail Rider Tool with a hammer sharply three times.  This should create a 2.5 degree bend in the axle similar to that shown below.  Then perform the same steps with the front axle except use the 1.5 degree side of the Rail Rider Tool.  The picture shows a polished axle with a perfect 2.5 degree bend for the rear axles.  If you are running with one wheel off the ground, then do not bend that axle.  You will obviously have to account for the slight reduction in height of the dominant front wheel due to the angle of the axle bend. 

For the rear axles, install the wheels and axles into the rear axle holes with the mark on the head of the axle at the 12:00 position pointing straight up.  The wheels will be rolling on the inner edge.  The car should roll forwards and backwards with the wheels staying out at the axle heads.  Then, using a pair of pliers and a soft cloth or thin piece of plastic (piece of plastic bag) over the axle, rotate the axle left and right until the wheels stay on the axle head when the car is rolled back and forth and the rear wheels are running as straight as possible.  Rotating the axle head forward toward the front of the car body will give you toe in on the rear axles and rotating the axle toward the rear of the car body will give you toe out on the rear axles.  A rear wheel with proper alignment for the rail rider is show below and you can see how the car will ride on the inner edge of the wheel.

 For the front dominant wheel, insert the wheel and axle into the axle holes with the mark on the axle head pointing straight up in the 12:00 position.  Then, slightly rotate the axle until the car moves toward the non dominant front wheel side such that the car will drift away from the dominant front wheel.  In other words, if the left front wheel is the dominant wheel, then the car will drift to the right.  If the right front is the dominant wheel, then the car will drift to the left.  The car should drift approximately 1" to 1 ½" over a 4 foot roll of the car on a flat table.    The following three pictures show a gradual drift of the car from left to right about 1 ½" over a 4' span of plastic sheet over a flat table.  We use the left front wheel as the forward dominant wheel and the car drifts right towards the up wheel and the center guide rail.


Pro Tip: By cutting a 3/16" strip of business card and placing it around the axle at the head an additional 0.5 degree of bend can be achieved.  This gives the builder the options of 1.5°, 2.0°, 2.5° and 3.0° for tuning.

  One can view the rail rider technique video which will help show the technique more visually.



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