DIY Axles

DIY pinewood derby axle

How we make speed axles

We will discuss how we made our axles prior to utilizing CNC cutting and proprietary nail straightening.  This is how you can do it at home with very little tooling and still get great results.  Substitute a drill clamped horizontal for a lathe.  Using a vertical drill press can be utilized, but it is very hard to give proper pressure and control.

Making BSA axles into speed axles is an art and process. You have to have very specialized tooling to do it correctly as well as efficiently.  This is the method that we followed and then tweaked to your liking.  It’s a very good start, although the visuals could have been a little better.   We didn’t own a go pro at the time.

To start off you are going to need 3x the amount of axles that you need. If you are making one car, then we suggest a dozen axles. If you don’t want to purchase 2 extra set of wheels and axles, then you can visit this store to get them by the dozens.

The reason being is that you only want to attempt to fix the ones that are the straightest. It seems that the axles just might be purposely bent…

Tools Needed

  • File–the finer the cut the better. The key is to remove the burrs and crimps without reducing the diameter of the axle. We used this file for the longest time.  I suggest a barratte file #00 cut.  

barrette file

  • Sandpaper-wet-400 grit through the sky is the limit…. we like 2000 for dry lube. 60,000 grit for oil
  • Derby Worx Pro Axle Press–a must for straightening an axle
  • Metal “bucking” bar to support your sandpaper while sanding. Just anything that is hard and flat about 1/2″ in width.  We prefer this method over the sawing the paper back and forth across the axle.
  • Baster of some sort to add water.
  • Bowl to catch water from wet sanding
  • Clean strip of cloth material to clean each stage of sanding. YES each stage needs its own cloth. You can NOT share with another stage. NOT MICROFIBER!  Microfiber will grip a turning axle and cause cause harm to you.  They just have too much surface area.   You can even use a thick cotton string to do the trick.
  • Your going to need a hammer
  • Proper safety equipment
  • Some sort of drill, drill press, or lathe. NO DREMEL!!!!! Spins / removed material too aggressively.
  • Metal sealant/wax of some sort to keep your new polish job from rusting. Do your research to find the DIY. Most like some kind of jewelry rouge or wax based car polish. We have our own special sealant and it’s not one of those.

Super Tuner Pinewood Derby Axle Upgrade

super tuner pinewood derby axle

super tuner pinewood derby axle

Super Tuner™ Axles Upgrade

Tuning your car can be expensive on your pocket and on your axle polish job. Not a problem with our Super Tuner™ uprgade option. A simple cutout made on all 4 axle heads allows you make EZ fine tuning adjustment to each wheel without having to spend on $20 on a set of pliers that could damage your axle heads that you just got to a mirror polish. This is a must for those guys that plan on riding the rail or have to use BSA slots. Sure beats shimming with wax paper! Upgrade your axles to get the maximum possible performance for both speed and tuning!

FYI adding these slots to STRAIGHT axles offers ZERO ability to tune a car.  Straight axles do not tune.  They go with the flow.  Rotating the axle on its straight axis still yields a straight axle with no deviation in its axis.  You can ONLY tune BENT axles.  Rotating a bent axle yeilds a different result with each adjustment, slight as it may be.

Please check your pack rules prior to purchasing.  Although it does nothing to improve speed, some packs might not allow this upgrade since the head of the axle has been altered.

How does it work? Simply use a flathead screwdriver. Put a tuning mark on the head of the axle with a marker and start rotating your axle until your car is tuned to your desire.

Why graphite coated axles are Smoke and Mirror

Graphite Coated Axles – Axles which are pre-coated with graphite are a popular item today. But think twice before using them. Graphite works well as a lubricant because the graphite particles slide easily on each other. But when graphite is mixed with a binder (so that it adheres to metal), it can no longer slide freely. Thus, the lubricant power of the graphite is severely compromised. There are application where this type of product is of benefit. But in a pinewood derby race (where speed is critical, and wear and tear is not of concern) any graphite paint or spray will provide less lubrication than powdered graphite.

Highly polished steel axles lubricated with powdered graphite will generally provide better performance than pre-coated axles.

I am more than positive that we will get tons of “fan mail” from this post. Just to clarify, we can make graphite coated pinewood derby axles if that is what we intended to do. However, we believe they are just a gimmick with short term gain. Therefore, we have chosen not to offer this type of product.

For the DYI, it is a simple process same as coating bullets with moly. You FIRST have to prep the axle to the level of polish you desire. The next step is basically impacting the graphite into the pwd axle with steel tumbling media. It will require more costs to invest in getting the right equipment than the average DIY will want to spend. In this sense it will be cheaper to buy the product outright if you choose to go this route. We do not believe it is the best bang for your buck.  This will coat the entire axle from tip to head….

Now if you want to do it even easier than that.  This is probably the method I would do.  Buy a can of Frankford Arsenal 6 oz. Aerosol Drop Out Bullet Mold Release.  Place your axle in something that spins (lathe or drill).  Clean the axle with some sort of solvent that will not leave residue.  Spin the axle, spray it down with the mold release.  VERY LIGHT COATING.  DON’T DOUBLE COAT IT.  You’re done …  and that stuff stays on, but is not the answer.

Are the graphite coated pinewood derby axles faster than stock? Yes. How long will the graphite applied in this matter last? Usually less than 5 or 6 races. You will run this many simulated races just by spinning the wheels at home. The graphite is never applied in rotational layers needed for your car to perform at its top potential. You can review many comments on multiple sites that will tell you they are good for a few races, but loose their edge after a few runs. Since most pinewood derby cars will race at least 6 times or more to compete to the finals, think about a different way to make those axles faster than buying a gimmick. We have had great results with our treadmill tuning/break in technique. It’s FREE! Costs you NO money and is the best and easiest way to tune your car without a track or tuning board. Watch your car run in real time at its top speed!

AGAIN…. If this was the holy grail for speed, you would see it on the pro racers forum.  But a highly polished axle, with a sealant or wax of some sort is the answer.  Again the special sauces….  2 coatings that ALWAYS are mentioned for graphite racers….  Lemon PLEDGE and Krytox spray on.  We now offer both.

The impact graphite application for pinewood derby axles does not yield the same results as applying the graphite to the plastic wheel. Most believe since the pinewood derby speed axles are “coated” with graphite, no additional work is needed. How wrong they are! We have tested many different methods from burnishing, to high levels of polish. We have tried many different lube coatings from firearm lubes to state of the art nano-lube applications. There is really not too many applications of spray on graphite, that really work to your PWD car advantage.

Finding a sealant or wax that will reduce the co-efficient of friction of the metal axle is the key to axle lubricant.  Besides the special sauces for oil…  Lemon Pledge or a Krytox spray on is the key coating for graphite.

Why you have to seal polished axles

rust on pinewood derby axle

I thought DuPont™ Krytox® was oil!

rust on axle

DuPont™ Krytox®

If you choose, we can seal the prepped axle with a Krytox sealing agent. Through our professional, industry leading, lubrication resources, we have found a substance that binds Krytox to metal. That’s right a metal sealing agent that has one of the most frictionless substances known to pinewood derby racing. This is NOT putting a drop krytox oil on it. This is binding Krytox to the surface of the metal. It’s like Teflon coating, but a different type of flurocarbon. It is NOT wet or appears to be dry! It is DRY and will not interfere with dry lubes as it is bonded to the surface of the metal. Dries as a white haze that can be wiped off with a tissue.

Why do you need to seal your axles? Krytox sealant is to protect the raw metal so that it does not oxidize (rust) because after all the axles are made of iron (magnetic). If you strip the zinc coating, you need to protect your axles so they will not rust. If your derby car is out in the shop, you have the potential to expose the highly polished surface to the moisture as quickly as over night. Pictured above is rust that formed within 34 hours without sealant. That axle was wiped clean with alcohol prior to testing. This moisture will rust the surface of the axle and you will no longer have that high polished axle meaning you will have an increase in friction. After you did all that work, ever wonder why your car still runs slow?. Don’t chance ruining your axle. Seal it! Believe it or not, just think about it.

rust on pinewood derby axle

Yes you will still need lube. This coating will not effect the performance of graphite-meaning it will not gum up graphite. We know the physical properties of our products.

Sorry, we can’t share our trade secret. It is not something that can be sold for the DIY. IF you would like to have your axles sealed or would rather purchase a set of our sealed axles visit our store.

Tuning board can’t tell you if your wheel camber is stable at high speeds

pinewood derby bent camber canted axle

When you bent your axles did you gap your axle prior to bending? If not, it is quite possible your bend will begin somewhere inside your wheel hub which will cause all sorts of chattering and aligning issues.  No one addresses this important step.  And you will not be able to see if it is an issue until your car is at it top speed.  Unfortunately, a 6 foot tuning board can not show you this.  Only a full size level track or a treadmill can.

It is near impossible to tune 3 bent axles without a treadmill in a fair amount of time. You’ll drive yourself crazy. Find you a treadmill. Take it to 10 MPH and watch what is happening.

If you have to have 4 wheels touching- Set it up as a 3 wheel car at first, then watch this video.


With a 2.5 degree bend you have basically 30 degrees of rotation or less to get it to ride on the axle heads.  It’s just a really sharp bend.  It way faster than 1.5 degrees, but it is going to take a little time to get it right for the first time rail riders.   If you want to bend 4 axles, I like doing 3x 2.5 degree bends and 1x 1.5 degree bend  This gives you the option of having a 2.5 steer for super fast setup, or you can use standard 1.5 steer.  Which ever axle you don’t use, simply place on high side with the bend in the UP direction to maintain a high wheel.

You can bypass the rear bent axles with drilled axle holes at 3 degree camber with the fancy new drill station jigs.

Are you doing your Pinewood Derby Axles Correctly?

pinewood derby axle the wrong way

Can you see what you are really doing to your axles?

Be careful! A recent fellow derby dad sent us a car to evaluate. He could not understand why he did not place as well as previous years. His COG for weight was appropriate at about 7/8″ in front of rear wheel. His car was mostly aerodynamic with no obvious drag designs.

The car was a 3 wheel rider with a steering axle used for tuning. Upon quick observation, I noticed one of the axles had rough edges. I figured that was the main cause of his less than expected performance. So I took off the three wheels and this is what we found. As you can see there is damage on each axle. The tooling used to install/tune each axle permanently damaged the axle by providing rough almost burr like edges that rob your car of speed needed. Every little bit of damage matters when you are talking about .001 seconds from first to second place.

This derby dad was totally surprised when I sent him my findings. He could not believe what damage he had done to his axles.

Recommendations to remedy this common pinewood derby problem

#1 First is to make sure that the bend of your axle happens outside of the area where the wheel spins. A bend in this vital area of your axle causes the wheel to bind as you can imagine the wheel is no longer rolling on a straight plain. Its path around the axle is an elliptical rotation. With each pass of the wheel, the diameter of the inner wheel hub is being wore larger which is making the car drive different with every race. This car will never run the same race twice.

#2 Notice the burrs around the edges. This is caused by improper tooling. Probably a regular set of needle nose pliers were used to adjust. Solution: Pinewood Axle Tuning Pliers 

#3 What can also be seen here is that the graphite flake is too large and not soft enough as it is still on the axle without being ground down into the layers necessary to build the friction-less surface. It does matter what graphite you use. The stuff at the hobby store, might not be your best bet.

We highly suggest our graphite which is seen below

pinewood derby speed axles with graphite

100K Polished Pinewood Derby Axles

polished pinewood derby speed axle

Fast winning pinewood derby car designs utilize polished speed axles.

polished pinewood derby speed axle

100,000 grit Optical Finish

Take a look at our pictures of our quality work of pinewood derby axle close up pictures.   They say it all!  100K axles are best used with oils such as krytox or nyoil.  Can be used with graphite if you have no intentions of doing a graphite break-in process.  If you are just dusting and racing, then this level of polish will give you best results.

Derby Dust has mastered the 100K  OPTICAL POLISH!  We have been setting track records time after time    Polishing is done via CNC controlled spindles and polishing wheels to ensure that each axle has the same polishing pressure, stroke length, time on wheel to ensure a consistent quality product every single time.  Polishing time is roughly 5 minutes per axle.

Our prepped have been deburred, shaped, straightened and sanded down to a 2000 grit finish. From that point, each axle goes through a buffing process up to 100,000 grit OPTICAL FINISH!  We use separate buffing wheels to ensure no cross contamination. Then we seal the prepped axle with a sealing agent that uses the PTFE Krytox.  We seal the surface to prevent rust and dry coats it with a white layer of Krytox.   This metal sealing agent that has one of the most friction less substances known to pinewood derby racing.

With speeds of 15+ fps on the last 10 feet of the track.  WITH OUR GRAPHITE DRY LUBENo reason you can’t do the same.

Axles are wrapped in rust resistant paper to ship to ensure that your axles are not scratched up during shipping process.