Our First Pinewood Car – Me vs. a Chunk of Wood

This year marked the second year that our kids have been involved in a local Awanas club.  Last year we joined about halfway through the year and weren’t aware of all of the nuances.  One of the things we found out about last year, but missed all of the deadlines for, was the pinewood car race.  Since the boys are both into cars I was determined not to miss the chance for them to build and race their own cars this year.

My oldest son has been around the block a few times.  He knows that with four kids that things get a little hectic around our house and occasionally things get forgotten.  So, this year he took matters into his own hands and brought his own money to Awanas to reserve his own pre-cut stock pinewood car kit.  My 7 year old, however, is a bit more absent-minded and not as aware that his parents are less than perfect, so he was depending on us to work out the whole pinewood car deal.  Despite my best intentions, it wasn’t until the last day to reserve a kit that I remembered that we hadn’t yet filled out his form.  So, when I went to pick them up, I also brought the form and money for the car.  Because I was so late, the Awanas leadership team had moved back to their offices downstairs.  I took the winding staircase down into the dank basement, determined to “come through” for my son.  There were three different kits available on the form, however the only one they had left in stock was the “standard” kit.  I took it.

I was feeling pretty good.  Both of my boys would be able to participate in the race this year.  Upon picking up the boys I grinned as I handed them their kits.  My oldest boy was ecstatic, but my 7 year old’s face fell.

“It’s just a chunk of wood!” He protested.

True, the “standard” kit required a bit of polish.  Ok, it was a chunk of wood.  I told him not to worry about it, but he obviously wasn’t listening, as evidenced by his prayer that evening:

“Dear God, please help me make a car out of that chunk of wood.”

He obviously thought about it all night, as well, because he got up extra early.  When I confronted him in the kitchen, he had the chunk of wood in one hand, and a butter knife in the other.  I think he was worried that if he didn’t act soon, he would be forced to race a chunk of wood with wheels.

I found some pretty cool pinewood car templates online, so I printed a few off and let my son pick the shape he wanted.  I ruled out any with extreme details like spoilers or dragon wings.

Being that I’m a computer guy of the indoor variety, I don’t have a very large assortment of tools.  I do have a tool belt, but that’s mainly to impress my wife.  Beyond a tack hammer, an electric screwdriver, and a 50 piece computer tool kit, I don’t have much to offer.  I especially don’t have anything as elegant as a bandsaw, which is what I thought I’d need to cut this particular pattern.  However, after asking around, the consensus seemed to be that some kind of sand tool would be more appropriate for wood of this type.  Aha!  I had a Dremel that my wife had gotten me for Christmas.  Brilliant!  I could sand that puppy down and not risk losing an appendage.

That weekend, I got to work making sawdust, one very thin layer at a time.  The odor reminded me of a wood burning kit I used to have as a kid.  I’m not sure if it was supposed to make those brown marks on the wood, but I figured that we were going to paint it anyway.  One thing I noticed about using the Dremel is that when you held the wood one way, everything was good.  But if you held it the other way (like to sand the other side of the wood, since the attachment wasn’t thick enough to do the entire side in one swipe), the sawdust tended to kick back at you – your eyes, your nose, your mouth if you were dumb enough to be talking at the same time.  After what seemed like about 2 hours and sawdust up to my ankles, I had a car-ish shaped chunk of wood.  Finally!  My son was impressed – despite being a little bumpy, the chunk of wood was gone and in it’s place was a slick looking aerodynamic body.

All went well until the night of the measurements.  They measure the cars two weeks before the races to make sure that they are within the required parameters.

“It’s too light” my son announced upon his return home that night.  “It’s 3 ounces.  It needs to be 5 ounces”.

Of course, it didn’t really have to be 5 ounces.  The rules clearly stated that the car couldn’t exceed 5 ounces.  But, since the car is gravity-powered, the heavier it is, the faster it will roll down the track.  I hadn’t really planned to put anything else on the car.  The kids had already painted them and put on decals, so any modification at this point would have to be pretty minor.  What I ended up doing was just putting 4 self-tapping screws on the bottom of the car where nobody could see them.  It must have helped a little because the car was 4.5 ounces at the final weigh-in.  However, during the exhibition trials the ex-chunk-of-wood still didn’t do a very good job of keeping up with the professional grade, high-gloss, exactly 5.o ounce speed demons that the other kids dad’s were capable of producing.

Ah well.  I wonder how many of those kids have their own e-mail addresses at the family domain name.


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