Tag Archives: do it yourself

How to make your own custom car window decals

This custom, hand-made, vinyl, Star Wars family window decal is now sporting the back of my car!  And I actually made it myself!  I will now show you how I did it, step by step!

To be fair, this decal set not really my own design.  You can buy Star Wars family decals from ThinkGeek and other online stores.  Although that particular set does not come with the AT-AT Walker.  I had to make that myself using white vinyl electrical tape and a X-ACTO knife.  Below is a photo of what my car window decals looked like just a few days ago.

The AT-AT Walker and blaster look like new because they were just remade last year.  The original ThinkGeek decal set lasted way longer than the electrical tape did.

So when it came time to replace the set this summer, I wanted to come up with a better solution than electrical tape for the AT-AT Walker.  I found self-stick vinyl sheets at my local craft store and decided to give it a try.  Then I decided to try to make the entire set myself since I had these large vinyl sheets.

It’s possible to print directly onto these vinyl sheets, but I didn’t have a thin crisp outline image to start out with, so I printed on regular paper what I had at my disposal.  But an outline showing exactly what needs to be cut out is what you need at this point.

I decided to do one character at a time, so I cut out the first character.  Again, this was printed on regular printer paper at the exact size you want on your window.

To transfer your cutout lines to the vinyl, carbon paper would be very useful.  In the absence of carbon paper, a technique that works pretty well is to rub pencil on the back of the pattern.

And then trace the cutout lines on the front of the pattern held firmly on top of the vinyl sheet.

And now you have a light pencil drawing of the cutout lines there on your vinyl sheet.

Then you just cut out that part of the vinyl sheet.

And you prepare the window surface by scraping with a razor blade and washing with glass cleaner.

Then peel off the backing from the vinyl sheet and carefully align the character where you want it.  Let it make contact in the middle and then roll the contact surface towards the outside edges to keep air bubbles from getting trapped inside.

Then start cutting with a X-ACTO knife and peeling away the waste material.

Getting perfectly straight lines and perfectly symmetrical curves takes some concentration and/or some artistic talent.  But when it’s all said and done, these cuts don’t have to be perfect.  Most people will be viewing them from about a car-length away.

The hardest cut-outs, I think, are the thin lines.  Making them straight and symmetrical isn’t trivial.

Getting closer.  This takes patience and a steady hand.

And the first character is all done!

Then repeat the steps for the second character.

And the third character.

And so on.

Until your entire family is complete.  Plus any pets that you want to include.

Now I’m not sure exactly how long this craft vinyl material is going to last out in the elements.  But I live in Florida and I don’t have any shade at work to park my car under.  And we also have quite a bit of rain here in the summer months.  So I will update this blog article as soon as I have an idea about how long this stuff lasts under these conditions.

That’s all!  I hope this blog article ends up being useful to someone out there in Internet-land!

Thanks for your interest!


Update: July 2017

I recently added a NASA Swarmie robot to the side windows of my car.  What do you think?

How to make your own car-top kayak rack

I designed and built what I think turned out to be a pretty decent car-top carrier rack for my kayaks.  Here is a photo of the final product mounted on the roof of my PT Cruiser.

I built the rack out of PVC pipe bought from my local home improvement store.  I designed the rack so that it can be attached to the roof of my car using standard ratcheting straps that loop around the car roof with the doors open.  The ratchets are inside the cab of the car.

Before I built this rack, my best solution for hauling my kayak to the river was just to strap the kayak itself to the roof of my car.

One problem with that scenario was that I could only haul a single kayak that way.  Another problem was that the ratcheting straps outside the cab would vibrate and buzz loudly when I was driving down the road at highway speeds.  But the rack I designed and built solved both of these problems.

Below is a photo of the rack after I glued all the PVC pieces together.  I designed the left side of the rack with a single upright that sits up into the seat hole in the first kayak which will hold it at the angle I want.  Then the other two kayaks lean up against the first one.  The right side of the rack has 2 uprights to cradle the bottom side of the third kayak.

I used T’s rather than 90’s for the 4 corners so that I could feed the ratcheting straps through the pipe and keep the straps out of the winds, thus keeping them from vibrating and buzzing.

I’m not going to give specific parts lists and specific measurements because this rack needs to be custom sized for your kayaks and also custom sized for your car.  But cutting these PVC pipes and gluing them together is very very easy.  So this is a project that just about anyone should be able to take on.

The below photo shows how 3 kayaks fit perfectly into this rack.

But I actually own 4 kayaks, and occasionally I will want to haul all 4 of them to the river.  It turns out that my SUV has a roof wide enough to hold all 4 kayaks, so I designed my kayak rack to be expandable from 3 kayaks to 4 kayaks.  So now I can use the rack on my car or on my SUV.

You can see in the below photo that the rack is now wider.  The PVC pipes on the left are all 2 inch pipes and the PVC pipes on the right are all 1 and 1/2 inch pipes.  The 1.5 inch pipes fit nicely inside the 2 inch pipes with not very much wiggle room, so that worked out nicely for this application.

If I was making a single size rack that didn’t expand, I would probably just use the 1 and 1/2 inch PVC pipe for the entire rack.  It feels to me like it is strong enough to do the job of holding up these 10 foot kayaks, but also flexible enough to bend a bit around the contour of the car’s roof.  In my case, the 2 inch PVC pipe I used for most of the rack doesn’t give very much and it ended up denting part of the roof of my car a bit when I torqued the rack down using the ratcheting straps.

Here is a photo of the rack holding 4 kayaks.

The detail photo below shows you the single upright on the rack that fits up into the seat hole of the first kayak and basically holds the first kayak upright at a slight tilt from vertical which is good for leaning the other kayaks up against the first kayak.

The photo below details the other side of the rack where the two uprights are there supporting the bottom of the third kayak.  This photo also shows my solution for holding the kayaks down.  I used black rubber bungee cords.

The photo below details the attachment points of the bungee cords.  I bought a bungee cord that was the right length to go all the way around each kayak.  And I drilled holes into my PVC pipes to attach the bungee cords.  These bungee cords hold the kayaks down tight to the rack and they also keep the kayaks from moving very much left and right.  And also, thankfully, these bungee cords don’t vibrate and buzz at highway speeds.

IMPORTANT:  This photo shows the PVC sitting down directly onto my roof.  Do not do this!  The PVC is plastic, but it’s a very hard plastic and it WILL damage your paint job!  Make sure you put something soft or rubbery between the PVC and your vehicle!  My suggestion is to buy 2 inch wide self-stick Velcro in bulk rolls and apply the soft side to the bottom surface of your PVC rack!  Also don’t ratchet it down so tight that it dents your roof!  The idea is to use PVC that is flexible and conforms to the contour of your roof!

This photo shows you the inside of one of the PVC pipes.  You can see the ratcheting strap and also the bungee cord attachments.

And here is the final rack.  I tested it at highway speeds and it worked quite well.

Another photo of the final rack.

And one last photo of the final rack.

And just for fun.  Here are a couple drawings I drew up during the process to help me decide on the design and to help me come up with a parts list to go buy.

Thanks for your interest!  Please leave questions or comments below!  Or use the “Email Us” link at the bottom of the website!


Woodworking Template: Table Saw Push Sticks

This is a very simple template for push sticks. Push sticks are used to push stock through your table saw without getting your fingers and hands near the spinning blade. You can easily make push sticks out of scrap plywood that you have laying around the shop.

Here are my old push sticks that I’ve been using for years and years.  Far from ideal.  Neither has a good handle for me to hold onto.  And one is completely the wrong shape to hold down stock.  This is totally a safety issue.

01 - old sticks


And here are the proper push sticks I made recently.

02 - new sticks

03 - new sticks

And here is a link to the 8.5 by 11 template that you can download and print.  Just cut it out and lay it on some scrap plywood and trace out the outline.  Then cut it out using a band saw or jig saw and you’ve got yourself a nice new push stick!





How to build an awesome Batmobile Pinewood Derby car


I designed and created what I feel like is a pretty awesome looking Batmobile car.  I will attempt to give you step by step instructions below.

Disclaimer 1:  This was my car that I created for the open class adult races at my son’s local cub scout Pinewood Derby event recently.  This design will very likely NOT meet all the rules and regulations for size and weight that apply to cub scout Pinewood Derby cars.  This is too difficult a build for a child that age anyways.

Disclaimer 2: The construction steps below are in the order that I went through them, but I realized several times that I had done some steps out of turn.  So please read and understand the entire process and try to not make the same mistakes that I made.

I always first start out with a hand drawn template.  You can download a template here and try to draw the Batmobile design yourself, or you can download the image below and print it on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper and it should be pretty close to the correct size.  The Batmobile design that I came up with is wider and taller and even longer than the standard block of wood that comes with the Pinewood Derby car kits.  So I had to make my own block of wood for this build.


I started with some scrap pine 1×6 wood that I had laying around my shop.  It’s possible to use harder woods, but it will make the shape carving process much more difficult.


I ripped this board down on my table saw to 2 strips that were 2.75 inches wide.  You really don’t want to make a Pinewood Derby car more than about 2.75 inches wide or it could overlap into the adjacent car’s lane on the track and the event organizers may not even let you race it.


Then I found the best three sections from the strips that were about 9 inches long and cut them out using my miter saw.


Then I carefully put a thin and even layer of wood glue between them and clamped the three pieces together.  If the glue is not done carefully, you could end up with gaps which could come apart later during the shape carving.  If that happens, you will just have to get the glue out again and glue the thing back together.


And now here is the block of wood we will use to start our Batmobile carving.  I should have taken a photo of this block of wood next to the standard one that comes with the Pinewood Derby car kits to show you how much bigger this block is.


Now we need to transfer the Batmobile silhouette to the block of wood.  I scribbled with chalk on the back side of the paper template, but you can also scribble with pencil, which shows up better on this light colored wood.  Another option is to cut out the silhouette completely, then trace around it.


After scribbling on the back, just lay it on the block of wood and hold it there …


… while you trace around the entire silhouette with a pencil.


When you are done, you will see the chalk has transferred to the wood.  In hindsight, pencil would have been much easier to see on this light colored pine.


Because the chalk was hard to see, I traced around the whole outline with a pencil.


Then I cut out the shape using a band saw.  This first band saw cut does not have to be perfect.  We will do lots of shaping later, so these band saw cuts can be rough.  As a matter of fact, I did not cut all the way to the lines with this initial band saw cut and that left me lots of leeway and flexibility later when I was doing my shaping work.


Here is the first rough cut of the silhouette from the top.  You can see how I did not cut all the way to the lines.


Now here is another thing that I did wrong.  I wish I had done this before cutting the rough silhouette.  I used many many swipes with my table saw to make a slot underneath the car for the race track.  The wheels stick down beneath the bottom of the car about 1/2 inch, so I made this slot about 3/8ths deep.  So the wheels will hold the hanging down parts up off the track floor about 1/8th of an inch.  This car design hangs down way low which makes it look all that much cooler.


How wide did I make this slot?  The exact width of the normal standard Pinewood Derby car which is 1.75 inches.


Just to verify the width was correct, I set the standard Pinewood Derby car block of wood in the slot and it fit perfectly.


Now that the silhouette is done from above, It’s time to cut out the silhouette from the side view.  Since the car’s side panel is no longer just a flat piece of wood, I cut out the side view silhouette and laid it down on the side of the block of wood …


… and I traced the silhouette down into the hills and valleys of the block of wood.


You have to sort of project the lines with your imagination a little bit sometimes.


After cutting the side silhouette using the band saw, the block of wood looks something like this.  It’s actually starting to take shape a little bit.


Now before we start carving into areas to remove wood that should not be there, we need some guidelines to go by.  So I transferred all the lines from the side view silhouette to the side of the block.


And I did the same thing to the top of the block.


Then I started visualizing where the lines crossed and overlapped and thought about which sections of wood needed to be removed and which needed to stay.

Below is an example of a silhouette shape that was left in place for the middle of the car which is the jet engine intake.  But on either side of that central jet engine intake, the car fenders need to curve down in a smooth arc.  So using a small coping saw, I cut the rough fender shape towards the center of the hood where the jet engine needs to remain at the original silhouette shape.  The car is on its side in this photo, top of the car is to the left, front of the car coming towards the camera.


Then I cut down into the hood to release the piece over the fender that did not need to be there.


This is what it looks like with the unnecessary piece over the fender removed.


Here is a better view with the car in its normal position.  Both fenders have been cut out and the center jet engine intake remains the shape of the original silhouette.  This is not the final shape of the fenders nor of the jet engine intake.  We will take small bites out of the shape and eventually we will get there.


In order to take out larger sections or in order to take out odd shaped sections that a hand saw just can’t do, we will use a good sized drill bit.  Below shows me starting to dig out the top of the car on one side of the high dome.


A chisel can then be used to get a little closer to the final shape.  But a chisel is still a bit rough for final shaping.


Here are the results after drilling and then chiseling.  Still pretty rough. But the general shape is definitely starting to show.


I forgot to take a photo of the tool in use, but after I drilled and then chiseled I did quite a bit of detailed shaping using a high speed cutter bit on my Dremel tool.  This picture shows how the shape is getting more detailed now.


The photo below shows what it looks like after doing this level of shaping on both sides of the dome, plus a bit of shaping on the jet engine intake hood area.


Then I used the coping saw again to get a rough shape cut out of the rear fins.


This is still a pretty rough shape.  It will get refined later.


Here is what it looks like so far.  It’s starting to look familiar.


Then I just kept jumping around and shaping a little more and a little more.  You will want to grab some images from the Internet to use as a reference so you can see what areas need to be removed and shaped as you go.


Now, I cut the wheel axle slots at this point, but I definitely should have done this step back when the block of wood was solid and square.  Because mine was no longer big and square, I had trouble getting the axles perfectly square, which made my car not want to drive straight, which caused it not to win very many races during the Pinewood Derby competition.  Oh well.  I did have the coolest looking car there, so that’s a big win in my book!

I used a hack saw to cut the axle slots.  I used a square to mark the slots, but mine ended up not being perfect.  Also, it’s important that the slots be perfectly level and both front and rear be the same depth.  Not easy to accomplish when you’re doing the cut by hand.  If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears.


After I cut the slots with the hacksaw, I cut adjacent to the slots and then used a chisel to pop out the pieces which gave me a pretty good start on the wheel well holes.


So this is what we have so far.


In order to cut out the circular wheel holes, I used a flat bit on my hand router.  Be careful to go right up to the circular pencil marks and not any further.  It’s hard to make a perfect circle with a hand router and no template, but do it slowly and do the best you can.


I set the bit to the exact depth of the side wood that was hanging down between the slot we cut out earlier using many swipes on the table saw.


Here is what the wheel well holes look like after routing them out.  Not perfect circles, but that will be hard to notice from a few feet away.  Especially after everything is painted black.


So just keep shaping until you get pretty close to the shape you want.  Then do some coarse grit sanding.  A detail power sander comes in real handy at this point.


But even a small detail sander with a pointed tip can’t reach every nook and cranny in this design.  So I had to resort to good old fashioned finger sanding between the rear fins.


After the coarse sanding gets you nice and smooth fenders and such, you can run over the whole thing with a finer sandpaper to get something that looks like this.  Wow.  It’s almost too beautiful to paint, isn’t it?


Now it’s time for painting.  I’m not sure if this was a good idea or not, but I thought I should have my Pinewood Derby wheels touching raw wood rather than touching possibly sticky paint, so I masked them off with tape.  In hindsight, since I used a tough outdoor quality spray paint for my finish, the wheels might have had less resistance on the paint than on the soft pine wood.  Does anyone have any opinions or real data on this topic?


Here it is ready for a coat or two of spray paint primer.


The primer fills in some of the imperfections and gives the glossy outdoor spray paint a nice surface to stick to.


And here is the painted product.  Not a perfectly smooth finish, but pretty good considering we started with a big square block of wood.  Part of the finish roughness in my case was because I did not follow the spray paint directions exactly and I put my second coat on too soon.  My first coat looked almost perfectly smooth and I should have just stopped there.  But I got greedy.


It looks even better with wheels installed.  The axle slot I cut using the hacksaw was not wide enough, so I had to drill pilot holes.  I probably did not drill them as perfectly straight as they needed to be, though.


After painting a bit of detail, it really looked like the real Batmobile!


And here is the beauty shot!  It took me a couple half days worth of effort over a couple weekends to get it completed.  Maybe a bit more than that.  Of course your results will vary.


I had a lot of fun and I learned quite a bit by doing this build.  I hope that putting these photos and these instructions on the Internet will help some people with their build and I hope it will inspire some people to try it or to do something in a similar vein.

This project allowed me to exercise my creative and artistic muscles combined with woodworking which was a great experience.  And even though my car didn’t win many races (funny story … it actually won several races when tried backwards, but it won none forwards), I’m happy with the experience.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to leave comments below or you can click on the “email us” link at the bottom of the website to send me a private email.

Thanks for your interest,


Cub Scout Pinewood Derby car tempate

Here is a simple template that I made for my boys.  It contains an outline of the block of wood that comes with the standard Pinewood Derby car kit and all you need to do is print it out on 8.5 x 11 paper and then have your scout draw their car shape ideas onto it.  The template includes a top view, a side view, a front view and a rear view.

[click image to download PDF file]


I usually print out several copies of the template and then I have my scout try out several different ideas for their car.

There are a number of ways to transfer the design from this paper template to the actual block of wood.  You can have your scout cut out their design silhouette and place the cutout onto the block of wood and trace around it.  Or you can have them scribble on the back of the paper with pencil and then lay the paper on top of the block of wood and have them trace the silhouette and it will transfer to the block of wood.

Let me know if you have any other ideas or suggestions by commenting below or by emailing me by clicking “email us” at the bottom of the website.

Thanks for your interest,