Tag Archives: woodworking

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,


Build your own Pinewood Derby car display trophy

Here is a simple and straightforward Pinewood Derby trophy design that is easy enough that almost anyone can build it.  Many woodworkers will probably have some scrap wood laying around that can be used to make these car display trophies.  If not, this wood is very inexpensive.

I used the following materials for this trophy design:

  • 7 inch long pine 1×6 (base plate)
  • 7 inch long pine 1×4 (top plate)
  • 6 inch long pine 2×4 (upright)
  • 7 inch long 1/4 inch thick material, like plywood, wood flooring, etc. (rail to hold pinewood derby car)


I used a compound miter saw to cut one end of the 2×4 roughly 20 degrees beyond square, as you can see in the below photo.  You can make this same cut with a hand saw if you don’t have access to a miter saw.

I used a router to round over the edges of the 1×6 and 1×4 pieces, or you can just sand them real good to get rid of the sharp edges.  Then I sanded all 3 pieces and then I stained them.  I didn’t stain the 1/4 inch thick rail piece because it was from some flooring and it already had a stain finish.


 Now it’s time to attach the 1×4 to the angled end of the 2×4.  First I centered the 2×4 on the other board and made pencil marks on the 1×4.


Then I drilled a couple of pilot holes completely through the 1×4.


Then I screwed some 2 inch screws through so they were just barely poking out the other side.


I used glue for extra strength, but if the screws are installed properly, they are plenty strong for this application.


This would  be easier with a jig to hold it together while tightening the screws down, but I was able to hold it tight enough with one hand and tighten the screws with the other.  This is soft pine so it was not difficult to tighten the screws at this angle.  If I had a third hand, I could have taken a photo of the operation!


So now we have the top plate of the trophy stand mounted to the upright. This photo has it laying on its back, though.


I did essentially the same operation to attach the 1×6 base plate to the 2×4 upright.


Now it’s time to attach the 1/4 inch thick rail piece to the top plate.  Notice that it will cover up and hide the screws that are holding the top plate to the upright.


This rail piece will be straddled by the Pinewood Derby car, so it will only be holding 5 ounces worth of weight.  So we can just glue it directly to the top plate and that will hold the weight just fine.

Since my rail piece was scrap flooring material, I scored the bottom surface with a utility knife to roughen up the surface and give the glue something to grab hold of.


After gluing the rail piece on, I clamped it for a few hours to dry.


And here is a photo of the final product.  I ended up making three trophies, each with a slightly higher upright.  One for third place, one for second place, and one for first place.  The base plate has plenty of room for a custom purchased metal nameplate that contains the name and year of the event, plus if you wait till after the event, you can get the winning cub scout’s name also put on the metal nameplate!


I hope this idea and these instructions were helpful!

If you have any comments or suggestions or other ideas, please feel free to leave a comment below or you can email me directly by clicking on the “email us” link at the bottom of the web page.

Thanks for your interest!


Our Second Tree House: well actually it’s a deck or platform type of thing

I had every intention of building a full-blown tree house on our new property, so I started with the base platform and then I was going to add other platforms and railings and ladders and such.  But when the first base platform was done, I kind of liked the openness and simplicity of it.  Rather than a tree house, it was sort of like a tree deck.


Some readers might be wondering about the lack of railings and the potential for safety issues.  That’s obviously a concern with any play structure … especially elevated ones.  I find that the lack of railings makes the kids nervous enough that they don’t run around or play rough up there.

Also, I made the access from the ground difficult enough that it becomes a sort of physical test that the kids have to pass before they are allowed up there.  If a kid can’t climb up to the platform, which is a bit of a difficult climb, then they aren’t big enough or agile enough to be playing up there.

I started out with a rough sketch.  This sketch helped me figure out how much lumber to buy.  Always use treated lumber for outdoor structures.  Or be prepared to paint it at least once every year.


I decided to go with a 12 foot length, so these are my 12 foot long 2×6 main beams.  I’ve marked on both beams where the 2×4 support blocks will be attached.


This just shows the 2×4 support blocks sitting in position.  These blocks are used to screw the shorter cross beams solidly to these main beams.


Use clamps to hold the 2×4 support blocks temporarily in place.


Then mark and drill two holes for the bolts that will hold them permanently in place.


The bolts, washers, nuts are all galvanized which cost more but will last a long time in the elements.  I used lock washers, although I’m not sure if that’s necessary or not.


So now we have the 2 main beams ready to be turned into a platform by adding the shorter cross beams.  This can be done on the ground and then the entire platform can be lifted up into the tree.  I chose to lift these 2 main beams up into their positions in the tree and then build the platform up there.


The shorter cross beams are also 2×6 material.  I made my platform 3 feet wide, so these cross beams are 3 inches shorter than 3 feet to account for the 1.5 inch plus 1.5 inch thickness of the main beams on either side.

Attaching is easier on the ground, but if you clamp the cross beam to the 2×4 block (clamp not shown in picture), then you can drive some long screws to hold it permanently.  I used the expensive outdoor coated screws which should last a long time in the elements.  You can’t see from this photo, but I screwed the main beam to the cross beam and I also screwed the cross beam to the 2×4 block.  That should hold it.  It’s a good idea to pre-drill the screw holes with a bit that is smaller diameter then the screw.


Once all the smaller cross beams are attached to the main beams, you will have a nice solid frame.  Notice that I have a spacer block under the left side in the picture.  Good luck finding a perfectly flat and level tree limb!  I used spacers to level the platform.


Here is a close up of one of the spacers before it was permanently mounted.  A block of 2×6 was pretty much the height I needed.


I realized at this point that I needed to replace the short 2×4 block in this area with a longer one that would span the height of both the main 2×6 beam plus the new small 2×6 block.


A couple more bolts and this height extension was complete.


Here is a different angle of the platform at this point.  You can see that I had to create a second height extension at the other limb that was the width of a 2×4, rather than the 2×6 I used at the other limb.  This second height extension is attached using two separate 2×4 blocks.


Before attaching the flooring to this frame, the platform needs to be attached to the tree so it doesn’t move or get blown away in a wind storm.

Attaching non-moving, non-growing structures to moving, growing structures can be tricky and confusing.  You want to avoid your lumber contacting the tree if at all possible.  That point of contact can capture leaves and water and rotting of both your structure and of your tree can occur there.

Another potential issue is binding or pinning the tree’s movement and growth.  If you permanently attach or pin a structure to 2 separate tree limbs, that structure might inhibit the tree’s growth in a certain direction.  Or alternatively, the tree might move or grow to a point where it stretches or warps or even breaks your structure.  Not good for the tree and not good for your structure.

So the trick is to mount the structure in the tree in a way that allows the tree to grow and sort of slide past the structure without it warping or breaking the structure.  There are specialty fasteners and brackets that allow your support beam to float on top of the moving tree limb or trunk.  The common phrase used in the industry is “perch, don’t pin”.

I got lucky because I found a location for my platform where it was just simply sitting on top of two large horizontal limbs that could easily hold the weight of the platform.  So all I really needed was to find a strong spacer of some sort to mount between the tree limb and my platform.  I used lag bolt gate hinges (also called pintle screws), similar to this photo and this website.


By screwing them all the way down to the limb surface, the lag bolt doesn’t actually hold up the weight of the platform … the tree limb does.  The lag bolt head just acts as a surface to separate the structure lumber and the tree while also providing a sliding surface that allows the platform to slide as the tree limb grows and moves beneath the platform.

So here is the pilot hole in the limb.


And here is the lag bolt installed.


Here is what it looks like from underneath with the platform on top of the lag bolt gate hinge.  You can see how the platform is just sitting on top and can slide past as the tree moves.  Of course, I need to keep my eye on this over the years because if the tree moves too much I may need to move the lag bolt or add another one in a different location.


Now the next part is trickier.  The platform is pretty darn heavy so I’m not terribly worried that it will blow away in a wind storm.  But since it is mounted on top of a sliding surface, I don’t really want it moving over time and sliding off or becoming way off center.  So I picked one single attachment point and allowed it to pivot at this point by using a lag bolt with an eye.  Technically this is pinning the platform to the limb, but only one out of the four touching points is pinned, so it won’t bind.  This pin will pull one corner of the platform along with the growing tree limb and the rest of the platform will slide along the lag bolt gate hinges.  And the fact that this pinned joint is hinged will allow the platform to rotate a little bit in case one limb grows up or down relative to the other limb.


After cutting and installing the 1×6 deck boards, the project is complete.  I purposely left a pretty good sized gap between the deck boards.  The large gap helps keep leaves from piling up.  Also, psychologically I think it helps remind the kids that they are not standing on safe ground and that they need to be extra cautious up there.  I also think the lack of railing up there makes them extra cautious.


Here is the reverse angle photo.  The platform is 12 feet long and 3 feet wide.  I considered making it 4 feet wide, but the limbs at that point start to turn upwards pretty sharply, so 3 feet was a good compromise to keep the platform relatively level and a decent size.


And finally, here is what it looks like from the ground.  I wanted it to stick out past the tree limbs so the kids could sit up there with their legs dangling over, like sitting on a dock in a lake or something.


Thanks for your interest! Please use the “email us” link or leave a comment below if you have any comments or feedback or any other ideas!