How to Spray Paint a Pinewood Derby Car

Derby Monkey 9 - Misc Pinewood Derby Stuff

All kids want a fast Pinewood Derby car.  However, what gets their attention the most is how cool it looks.  Aside from airbrushing, the best looking paint job can be obtained with spray paint. 


Most dads allow their son’s to brush paint their cars with acrylic paint.  That’s safe and easy.  However, brush painting will usually not create a gorgeous finish.  With proper guidance, instruction and demonstration spray painting can be just as easy and safe.


Tools and Supplies Needed


Before starting this process make sure you have all of the tools and supplies you will need.


–      Spray Paint

–      Primer/Sealer

–      Gloss Spray (optional)

–      Sandpaper (150, 320, 400 grit)

–      Cardboard or painter’s cloth

–      Paint stand

–      Paint mask


Best Spray Paint to Use


What type of spray paint should you use?  Your choices are basically enamel or lacquer.  Most building supply stores will have a huge selection of enamel colors but no lacquer.  For lacquer spray paint you will need to an auto parts store or hobby shop.  Your best bet may be to order your paint online.


Traditionally, enamels have used a mild petroleum-based solvent with an alkyd vehicle.  This combination, while generally safe, takes a long time to dry, sometimes weeks to reach complete dryness.  They are an extremely stable paint and can last for many years without degrading.  There are now enamels that dry nearly as fast as lacquers and dry nearly as hard.


Lacquer tends to dry much faster and to a harder consistency than enamel.  However, they use harsher solvents to accelerate the drying time.  These solvents can attack plastic parts, brush bristles, and brain cells with equal vigor.  There are now lacquers available that use much milder solvents yet maintain their traditional hard finish.


Testors One-Coat lacquer spray paint is perfect for Pinewood Derby cars.  You can quickly and easily paint your car with one simple coat without primer. However, for a more professional looking finish follow the priming instructions below followed by the paint. Then finish it off with a coat of Wet Look clear.


The most important aspect of selecting spray paint, primer and clear gloss is that they all come from the same manufacturer.  If you use Krylon enamel primer then you should use Krylon enamel paint and Krylon enamel clear gloss.  You can quickly get into trouble if you use paint from different manufacturers due to the lack of compatibility.  You will usually get a crackling effect on your paint if the coats are not compatible. There is an old saying that goes something like this; Enamel over lacquer is ok, lacquer over enamel is not good.  However, I still recommend playing it safe and remain consistent in your paint selection.


Painting Area Preparation


Lay out cardboard or painters cloth to cover your painting area. If possible you should paint outside for better ventilation.


For a better finish, you need to somehow suspend your car body.  You can place toothpicks or nails in the axle holes and place it between to block of wood so that the body does not touch the painting surface.  You can also purchase a paint stand designed specifically for Pinewood Derby cars.


Car Body Preparation


At this point we are assuming that the car body has been shaped and rough sanded to its final shape.


For best results you should use a series of fine sandpaper to sand all the rough spots out and to get the wood as smooth as possible.  You should start with 150 grit sandpaper and progress up to 400 grit.


Make sure that the car body is free of dust particles and finger smudges.  You can use a can of compressed air to blow away the dust.  Then wipe the body down with a lint free cloth being very careful to not touch the car too much.  Wearing rubber gloves would be very helpful for this.  Do not wet the car because this can cause the wood grain to expand or raise and destroy you smooth sanding job and paint finish.


Priming the Body


Priming the body is not mandatory.  However, for a professional look it needs to be done.  Priming the body helps seals the wood and keep the wood grain from showing through on your final paint job. So, your body needs to be primed before painting. You can apply the primer with a spray can. Spray the body with a light coat of either white or light gray primer. Let the primer dry before proceeding.


After the primer dries, use some very fine grit sandpaper (400 or 600 grit) and lightly sand the primer smooth. Remove all sanding dust and apply another coat of primer and allow to dry.  Repeat this step as often as needed to hide all wood grain.


Painting the Body


Once the primer has dried, usually within 24 hours, it is time to paint the car body.

No Runs, No Drips, No Errors


When working with spray paint in cans, try to keep the nozzle level to avoid clogging, and to keep the spray hose from picking up air. You should use even and steady strokes and avoid spraying the paint too thick.  Take your time.  Apply thin coats of paint and allow to dry between each coat.  Apply decals after the paint has completely dried. Finish the job off with a few coats of clear gloss