Growing up as a Boy Scout I always loved the pinewood derby races. My father and I worked to create several award winning cars of which I was very proud. I wanted to make something similar my kids could play with on our steep driveway and have them help design/build. Also, I wanted the project to cost next to nothing. Hence the "pallet-wood derby cars" were born. These Pallet Wood Cars can be made in an afternoon or over the weekend.
This project requires minimal tools and nearly all the parts can be made from upcycled materials.
Other Video: https://instagram.com/p/5nXTRDmUMr/
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Use hashtag #palletwoodderby if you make these!
Note: I don't suggest letting small children anywhere near power tools or sharp tools! Young kids' involvement in this project is more limited to design, painting and final assembly.
Pallet wood toy cars inspired by this instructable: https://www.instructables.com/id/Fast-Toy-Wood-Car
Step 1: Tools and Materials
- 1 pallet (be sure to get a decent pallet and follow all safety tips for pallet wood such as only harvesting heat-treated wood)
- 1 threaded metal rod Lowes Threaded Rod $1.09
- 4x 1/4" nylon threaded insert nuts Lowes Nylon Locking Nuts $0.48 (for 4)
- Wood Glue (a little goes a long way)
- Paper, pencils, paint
- Drill press (almost required to make the wheels and holes for axles)
- 3/8" drill bit (slightly wider than rods)
- hole saw drill bit (not a forstner bit! one that cuts circles but leave the center in-tact)
- jigsaw with wood blade (bandsaw or scrollsaw would be better. also you can mount the jigsaw upside down for better control if you want to live dangerously)
- rotary tool with cut-off wheel (a hack saw or metal jigsaw blade could also work)
- sander (belt is easiest, but I used an orbital hand held mounted upside down)
- safety gear
Step 2: Make the Wheels
Cut the Wheels
- pick a fairly even width pallet board to make the wheels
- use a large size hole saw bit (not a forstner bit, but the kind that leaves the cut-out in-tact. see pics for type I mean)
- put the pallet board on top of another piece of scrap on your drill press table so the bit doesn't cut the whole way through.
- slowly plunge the drill press hole saw bit into the wood until you cutout a perfect circle the whole way through. go slow to prevent the drill from jamming.
- once you stop the drill press you should have a circle cut-out stuck up in your bit. remove the bit from the chuck, unscrew the cap that holds it together. (careful it may be hot!)
- Turn the whole thing upside down and bang on your bench with pliers to extract wheel. see pics and video: Wheel Extraction Video
- Finally drill a 3/8" hole (or whatever size will be slightly bigger than the axle threaded rod) through each.
Tip: Cut a couple extra while you're working on them.
Sand the Wheels
- You can sand the wheels on a belt sander or clamp your handheld sander upside down
- Press each flat side on the paper, moving it around for even sanding.
- Place a bolt or other temporary axle through the wheel.
- Hold the wheel vertically and allow the wheel to spin on the sandpaper. Make sure to only do this for the same amount of time on each wheel to ensure they're all the same diameter.
Step 3: Design the Body
- Layout a pallet board for each car and trace the height/width onto some paper. Use this as the guide for your car body. Plan where the wheels will go and plan the sides of the car as well.
- Younger kids are most engaged in the design phase (because power tools are dangerous) so help them understand what they're doing. Very young kids may need help figuring out how to best draw an outline that is able to be cut. You can google "car silhouette" or "truck silhouette" for inspiration.
- Make sure your wood/body is appropriately sized for your wheels. Also, hopefully the center of gravity will not be too high that the cars fall over. You can also be super creative here and make them animal shapes, dinosaurs, rockets etc.
- Your design will be easiest to cut and assemble if the bottom is flat across all pieces.
- Trace the final car body outline onto the board with a pencil.
Step 4: Cut Out Body Pieces
- Cut out the main bodies then also the sides. you'll want to clamp or nail the wood for the side parts together so you can cut two identical pieces at the same time.
- Sand the parts down really well now since you'll be gluing them together them in the next step.
Step 5: Glue It Together
Step 6: Drill Axle Holes
- Find the center points for each of the 2 axle hole on the car and make sure they're the same distance from the bottom.
- Drill the holes for these with the drill bit slightly wider than the threaded rod so the axles can spin.
Step 7: Cut the Rods (Shower of Sparks)
- Clamp a ruler to the work bench and measure where the rod needs to be by adding about 1/2" to the width of your car. The 1/2" is for the extra space the nuts will take up on either side.
Caution: friction generates heat! if there is a shower of sparks it stands to reason the metal will be hot when cut!
Once the rod is cut you may have to clean up the threading a little where it was cut. A small file or a tap&die set can take care of it. I could still get the nut on over mine, so I just twisted them down over the end until it was snug in the nylon locking part. Make sure to watch out for sharp edges if little kids are playing with them.
Step 8: First Assembly and Dry Run
- Put nuts on one side of each axle. add a wheel on each, slide through the axle holes, then finish with the other wheel and nut.
- Test out how well they drive. They don't go super fast, but they're very fun.
- If the wheels arent well aligned take them off and alternate the wheels until you have 4 that are closer to the same size.
Step 9: Paint, Assemble and Play!
- Disassemble the wheels from the axles
- Paint them with some acrylic paints
- Allow them to dry then have the kids put them back together again.
These don't go super fast like the inline skate wheel ones, but they're pretty fun either way. We have a steep driveway that is perfect for races.
Cheesy youtube video again:
- paint them before assembly (paint each part before gluing in step 5)
- build a track to race down like the pinewood derby races.
- add lights
- cut a handle on ones for toddlers
- make them animal shapes
- try washers in between the wheels to see if they make them go faster.
- use as a science teaching lesson on potential vs kinetic energy.
- discuss the engineering process
Have you built this or a similar project? What tips did you discover during your build?