WoodCentral's Book Reviews
Pinewood Derby Designs & Patterns by Troy Thorne

Pinewood Derby® Designs & Patterns
by Troy Thorne

Fox Chapel Publishing: 2007
Paperback, 118 pp., $12.95
ISBN 978-1-56523-341-6

    For anyone who has ever been a Cub Scout or the parent of a Cub Scout, Pinewood Derby® cars will need no introduction. According to Wikipedia, this 54-year-old trademark event, held annually in school cafeterias and gymnasiums nationwide, is the most popular of all Boy Scout events, and it has spawned a large cottage industry of customizing supplies and information.
    In this book, author Troy Thorne, a graphic arts designer and father of a Cub Scout, has joined that club with a detailed, clearly-illustrated step-by-step "how-to" and idea book for wannabee race winners and their parents. The designs are gorgeous and, in many cases, quite elaborate, with high wings, flame decals, wire exhaust pipes, windshields and slick paint jobs. Thorne also shows several performance-enhancing tricks such as adding weight and polishing wheels and axles. The book is written directly to the parent, with the expressed intention that all the tricks and techniques in the book should be shared with and taught to the Cub in a rewarding and bonding experience for both.
    The book begins with a long, illustrated list of tools and supplies that will be needed to accomplish all the modifications described in the how-to chapters. Several of these were quite a revelation for me, as I was pretty naive about such things when my son was in Cub Scouts twenty years ago. I just showed him how to cut out interesting shapes with a coping saw and polish the axles with fine sandpaper and graphite. Granted, my son's entries weren't exceptional looking, and they never won top prizes, but they were his creations, not mine.
    Thorne takes the position that it's okay for dads (or moms, I suppose) to do a lot of the work, as the book illustrates procedures like using Dremel tools, a benchtop bandsaw, a scroll saw and airbrush equipment — equipment your average Cub isn't likely to have access to — with instructions like, "Provide a secure platform tha's a safe distance away from the front of the saw so your child can watch you cut and see how the saw works." He does say that all of the designs can be cut out with a coping saw, though, so the unspoken implication is that it is up to individual parents and Cubs to decide where to draw the line on parental involvement, as it always has been. I have no doubt that the average Cub Scout is clever and coordinated enough to learn most of the skills and awarenesses in this book, but the advantage clearly goes to the Cub whose father has the tools and skills to make all these embellishments possible.
    Moral quandaries aside, I think Pinewood Derby® Designs & Patterns is a valuable book on small-scale model making that can benefit all kinds of woodworkers, young or old, Scout or not. If you happen to be the father of a Cub Scout who wants the fastest and fanciest Pinewood Derby® car, this book will be of particular interest to you.
. . . Ellis Walentine