How to host a Pinewood Derby workshop with your pack

WHEN 90 PERCENT of your Cub Scouts show up at an event, you must be doing something right. That was the case last February when Pack 402 in Urbana, Ill., held its first Pinewood Derby workshop. Offered a few weeks before the pack’s annual race, the Saturday workshop offered apartment dwellers, single moms, and not-so-crafty dads access to the tools and expertise some Cub Scout families take for granted.

“Parents were sort of frustrated because they didn’t know where to start,” says Cubmaster Tori Exum. “It was like, ‘You’ve given me this block of wood; what do I do with it?’”

At the workshop, Scouts and their parents learned just what to do with their blocks of wood. Pack and community volunteers were on hand to help families with every step, from planning to painting. Some Scouts arrived with nothing but an idea and left a few hours later with a finished car. Others dropped by on the way to various activities to get help with roughing out their cars, leaving the sanding and painting for later.

A similar scene plays out each spring in David McRae’s Cedar Falls, Iowa, garage. McRae, the Cubmaster of Pack 55, has hosted annual derby workshops since he took over the pack three years ago. “I just wanted people to have a good solid start on figuring out the right ways to do things,” he says.

Just Like Henry Ford
McRae and Exum both use an assembly-line approach, dividing their workspace into stations for different tasks. The typical Cub Scout starts at the design table, where he sketches his dream machine onto a car-size template. After an adult makes sure the design isn’t impossible, the Scout transfers it to wood.

Then, it’s on to the cutting station, where the Scout either uses a coping saw or hands off his block to an adult to cut out on a band saw. (Note: It’s not appropriate for Scouts of any age to use power tools.)

From there, it’s on to the sanding station. Once the car is as smooth as time and patience will permit, he takes it to the weigh station, where he can check it on an official scale and add extra weight if needed. The final step is the paint station, where the Scout paints and then blow-dries his car.

Scouts also can add wheels to their cars at the workshop, but McRae says doing so could cause problems. “If you get the car completely done, they’ll go home and play with it,” he says. “A lot can happen in a couple of weeks’ time.”

Centering on the Scout
Exum says the workshop has an added bonus: It reduces the number of dad-built cars in her pack’s derby.

McRae agrees. “The idea is to get the Scouts familiar with the whole process,” he says. “Maybe by the time they’re Webelos Scouts, they’ll take the block of wood and do it all themselves. It’s very rewarding to help out the Scouts, especially the ones who have never done it before and the families that just don’t have the means or the space to do it.”


  1. The PWD workshops are very handy indeed. For the last few years our Pack have held two prior to racing day. With the busy schedule of work and family we find that two workshops does help and gives everyone a chance to get cutting and shaping. And not everyone has the tools. It’s good fun and it’s good to see those veterans pass on tips to the new folks.

    • @ Mike G. They usually hold a workshop at one of the Monthly Round Tables, located at Cerner Riverport once a year. The Round Table staff is just about to change, so I am unsure when they will hold it next.

  2. If you don’t have the facilities to hold your own, check with one of the large home improvement stores to see if they will host a workshop for you. Last year, The Home Depot hosted a workshop for our Pack. We just contacted the store manager and asked. They provided an employee to help cut out cars and an area within the store that the boys could work. They even provided sandpaper, hand tools and paint.

  3. This article was passed on to me and is an absolute blessing! With the sudden death of our Wolf leader we had quite a few boys unable to make cars this year. I am in contact with our local Home Depot now… Thank you all for guidance. Pack 903 – Northville MI

  4. My Cub Master husband is quite handy and has a pole barn. For the last seven years of being Cub Master, he has held workshops in his pole barn to help kids cut out their cars and offer a helping hand to those that need it.

  5. We hold a PWD camp in a few weeks before with the workshop right after they get there. We watch watch Down and Derby and settle in for stories and sleep. The boys are picked up first thing the next morning. It’s great fun and many of the boys get lots done.

  6. Our pack is looking forward for our pinewood Derby race in March, we will finally own are first track so we will begin with a work shop. As Cubmaster I’ve learned the the same issues what happens to the those who don’t have the means to make a pinewood Derby car which can discourage parents and scouts so this year we will have a couple of weekends to help our pack, a power point presentation and the actual hands on work will take place with a safety orientation, wheel and axle training, car designs, speed performance, painting, BSA Official rules, Council rules, track physic, and the race is on ! Good luck to all. Pack 4005

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.