Fastest Pinewood Derby Axles
To make a fast, winning car, fastest derby axles are a key part to your pinewood setup. If your rules require the Official BSA car kit, you need the correct knowledge and tools to polish the axles correctly. Technique will need to be mastered, so be prepared to practice at least a few dozen times to become familiar with the tools and techniques to master Fast pinewood axles. Do not limit yourself to 4 tries that you will be forced to use. You want to make a batch and pick the best 4 to race with.
If time is not on your side, Our Official BSA fast polished axles will make your derby car competitive. Grooved axles are another speed secret to make your car faster as theorized by many. And if you want even more speed, and your rules allow, consider our exclusive fast oversized derby axles.
Key Factors for Fast Pinewood Derby Axles include:
- Polished for appropriate lube
- Taper under head to reduce friction
- Grooved – if legal
- Oversized – if legal
- Bent for rail riding
What do we need fast axles to accomplish in PWD?
What is your fastest pinewood axle? Many want a smooth surface on their axle shafts while others prefer grooves. Some racers like the graphite coated pinewood axles while others hate them. Many vendors can produce statistics to support their point of view for any product. Pinewood Axles do not make speed. They reduce friction. Therefore, you should view it as they do not “slow” the car down. Derby Axles allow more energy to be used to push the car down the track.
Proper polishing technique includes light filing for removing burrs, light wet sanding to reduce friction, and proper final grit selection based on the type of lube allowed by your rule set. A polished axle will be solid steel without a protective zinc coating. Be sure to seal the newly polished surface with some sort of rust protective wax / sealant to ensure they do not rust.
Final overall goal for axles should be to give the PWD wheel a surface to spin on with the least amount of friction. Attention to polish, amount of axle that touches the wheel, and lube will help produce a fast Pinewood Derby car. Just remember axles are only one part of the other factors needed for making a fast pinewood derby car.
Using the official BSA axles will require a good bit of work and preparation as we will discuss below. Again, a little bit of prep work will save a lot of time later in the build. In addition to having all 4 axles be straight, you must remove the burs, or crimp marks on the axle shaft prior to polishing. You will then need to put a high polish on the derby axle shafts and inside the axle head. All of this will help reduce friction and make your car faster.
Trued (straight) Pinewood Axles
To build a winning pinewood derby car, straight axles are especially important to start with prior to any bending. Double (compound) bends will drive you crazy, literally. Pinewood Axle / wheel binding because an axle is not straight inside the bore is a real problem with mass produced nails such as the ones used in the BSA derby car kits.
Fast derby cars have straight and trued pinewood axles. The Pro Axle press from DerbyWorx® helps you straighten out all axles with a few taps of the hammer. It can also square the head to the shaft and if you choose, add a taper to the underside of the axle. Do this work first prior to any file or wet sanding.
Pinewood Axle Deburring / Polishing
After straightening the axles, you will wet finish your axle to the level of polish determined by your lube. This is a great video on how to work axles if you are a DIY type guy. I would highly suggest picking up additional factory axles to experiment with. Things can go wrong quickly working with a file.
- Use light file work to remove the crimps and gussets. Use a single cutting-edge file such as a Barrette file with a FINE / SUPER FINE cross section. Light file work ensures the greatest axle diameter. Smaller diameters will cause wobble issues.
- Taper the underside of the axle head if allowed by rules. This will ensure minimal axle contact with the outer wheel hub.
- Wet Sand axle from 400-3000 grit sand paper, then a final polish with a diamond paste. Pay close attention when polishing so that you do not undersize the diameter of your axle. 30 seconds per grit is all that is needed.
- Polish levels: 3000 grit for graphite, 100K for oil are the current racing practices.
- Never try to bend axles while in the pine block. YOU WILL BREAK the wood.
- If you can groove the axles, a good set of grooved axles always gives an advantage.
- If you can use aftermarket axles, I highly suggest looking at machined over-sized grooved axles for minimal wobble.
- Make sure to inspect your final axle polishing for imperfections. Thinking about pre-coated lubed axles? Are they even polished? How could you tell?
Alignment / Rail Riding- How to Use Bent Axles
If rail riding is part of your setup, there is also specialized tooling for bending axles so that you have repeatable axles to work with to align your car. I do not suggest trying to “wing” this method as seen in many YouTube videos with a screwdriver while the axle is installed in your car. A 2-degree bend here and a 10-degree bend there is a nightmare for your Scout to overcome.
Bent axles is how one rail rides. Adjusting the axles is how you adjust the wheels. When I reference wheels should be adjusted a certain way, this is done by adjusting the axles. Therefore, they are one in the same.
The standard axle configuration for rail racing is 2.5-3 degrees negative camber for the rears with a very slight toe out orientation to ensure wheels will always push out to the axle hubs and ride on the inner wheel edge.
The front dominant steer will be a 1.5-2.5 degree in the positive camber so that the wheel will ride on the outer edge of the wheel with a toe adjustment so that the car will steer according to track conditions. The steer wheel will initially touch the car body but will only do this for the split second it takes for the wheel to then ride the center rail
Points to remember about rail rider axles
- PLEASE take note these configurations for the front and back are NOT the same, but opposite of each other.
- Please note that EACH wheel has 2 positions which must be adjusted correctly. Simply because you have the correct camber, does not mean you have the correct toe. So pay attention to both positions.
- Be sure to graphite the body heavily on the front steer axle location to reduce friction as the wheel will rub in the beginning of the race. Every millisecond counts.
- Adjust the axles as little as possible. The more you adjust them, the more the wood compresses and this in turn makes loose axles
- Add a few drops of water to your wood to make it swell to make loose axles tight again. This only works with RAW wood. Any paint or glue will not allow the wood to absorb the water.
- When inserting the axle, make sure that the axle tip does not rub against the inside of the wheel hub wall. This will place scratches on the surface that you have worked so hard to polish. These new scratches will create unwanted friction.
Tools For Fast Derby Axles
DerbyWorx® has a couple of tools to properly bend axles if you are a DIY’er. Pro Rail Rider Tool and the Pro Axle Bender are both great tools designed to accomplish this process. Based on your budget, will determine which tool you will use. We also offer fully prepared ready to race axles.
Installing these axles at the correct angles helps alignment go extremely easy and smooth. USE drill jigs when you can. And use them when you have the RAW block prior to shaping. Just winging it puts you at a disadvantage. There are many specialized jigs to help you accomplish the job. Our newest 3D printed design is our favorite to date.
In general, rear axles are staged at 12 o’clock and toe in positions. Then are adjusted to a toe out position. You can only adjust on a tuning board, and you cannot wing this process. Accurate, deliberate, methodical adjustments are made to ensure a proper “tuned” car.
Front steer is staged in the 6 o’clock and toe out position. Then are adjusted to a positive camber toe in position that give you the proper amount of steer over 4 foot of travel for your COG / track conditions listed in the beginning of this guide. Again. Accurate, deliberate, methodical adjustments are made to ensure a proper “tuned” car.
If a 4-wheel car must be made, I highly suggest this method to make it work. Basically, you make a 3-wheel raider with all the proper adjustments and steer. You then adjust the high wheel until it touches and points in the same direction as the car is steering. If you are steering left, your high wheel needs to point left.