That Kid and Backyard Football

Me: Where did you get that roll of orange duct tape?

That Kid: CVS

Me: Seriously, CVS

That Kid: Yeah, they have all kinds of colors there!

Me: CVS? Who knew.

Orange duct tape is not only Liam’s connecting item of choice, but it turns it also is his favorite item to use for decorating.

Liam and the next door neighbor boy are two peas in a pod. In the backyard if they are not playing baseball, it is soccer, basketball, or football. My best guess is that this project is some sort of prop for backyard football.


That Kid Finds Mom’s Elastic

Sewing is among my wife Clare’s many talents. Her sewing area is often a target for Liam to find supplies for his next project. In this instance, That Kid claims his inspiration is a life-hack YouTuber, and it resulted in a little hack we didn’t know we needed.


That Kid and My Shelving

Liam and our next door neighbor boy made many trips to the neighborhood CVS this summer mostly to buy candy, but to make bigger purchases from time to time. So I thought nothing of it when a radio controlled car was in the garage one day. Summer is endless for eleven year olds, there is only so much they can do before they need to make things more interesting. And when I say more interesting, I mean using my shelving stored in the garage to make a very sturdy ramp for their RC cars.


The thing that confounds me is that I’m pretty sure he is using hand tools to cut his boards, pound the nails and even insert screws! Liam’s proclivity for garage projects using screws and nails is nothing new. I finally caved years ago and purchased a magnet bar on rollers to run over the garage floor on a regular basis as I realized resistance was futile.

That Kid….and some pulleys?

I’ve discovered in my middle age, that yes I’ve become my father in many ways. When I can’t find my tools or something in the garage, who do I blame? Yup, the kids and in particular That Kid. Luckily for That Kid, I was not yet missing a pair of pulleys when I came across this contraption in the garage.

That Kid…..

Our son Liam is a great kid. Kind, considerate, and helpful are just a few of the words come to mind to describe him. There is another side to Liam that not many others see. The other side is one part pack rat and one part ingenious.

On any given day, a journey around our home we will find a mess, and usually not a little mess, but a large mess. In that mess, we’ll make a discovery that will cut through the aggravation, to shake our heads and simply say to ourselves…that kid

So, this is a series to share some the crazy things we find everyday.

The Ropemaker?

At a boy scout campout, the boys were enthralled by an old-fashioned rope maker. The boys loved making a large rope out of common twine. The apparatus used multiple gears and a handle that spun together three lengths of twine into a big, thick rope. 


Custom Rope Making Apparatus

Make a rope with the rope maker is not a trivial effort for an impatient eleven-year old boy. It takes team work and a good 15 minutes to make a rope to add to the clutter of his room. So imagine my surprise one week later on our upstairs railing I found this creation, made from legos and his mom’s yarn.



The Block of Wood – Part 7

The Big Race

With all the build up to the big race, we were hoping to have a respectable showing, knowing that many of the other scouts would have expert assistance for their cars. There were 54 heats with six cars in each, spaced at a dizzying 45 seconds apart. The top cars sped down the track in less than 4 seconds, usually around 3.8 seconds. The slower cars, well they varied somewhere over 4 seconds up to nearly 5. The individual heats consisted of cars entered from all levels, the little kids, through the older webelos, to the parents entered in the open class. Each den was awarded a 1st, 2nd & 3rd place trophy based upon average speed, not by placement in each heat. So the races were an hour of straight activity until the end, when the race system tabulated the results for each group.

I was able to grab some video of Connell & Liam while in the same heat.

As the video indicated, we had a respectable, showing.

Here are our individual times:


Car Name: The Gray Wolf

  • Avg. Time: 4.0686 Sec. (217.9 MPH)
  • Fastest Time: 4.0290 Sec. (219.1 MPH)
  • Slowest Time: 4.1011 Sec. (215.3 MPH)


Car Name: The Failed Stripe

  • Avg Time: 4.1073 Sec (215.0 MPH)
  • Fastest Time: 4.0316 (219.0 MPH)
  • Slowest Time: 4.1513 Sec (212.7 MPH)


Car Name: NFC North Division Champs

  • Avg. Time: 4.3127 Sec. (204.7 MPH)
  • Fastest Time: 4.2190 Sec. (209.3 MPH)
  • Slowest Time: 4.5008 Sec. (196.2 MPH)

The three Hagen boys with our cars and trophies.

At the end of the races, Liam took 3rd in his den, while Connell & I, well we were just ‘participants’ in the open class. (Notice my car was by far the slowest. Some people may say that is like my driving in real life, but we won’t go there right now.)

We’d liked to have been a bit more competitive with the race leaders, but one of the lessons that the Pinewood Derby teaches the boys is sportsmanship and that most of the fun is in the process of building our cars together.

The Block of Wood – Part 6

Mark Rober, a former NASA engineer, is the source of a very popular YouTube video that explains how to use science to create a fast pinewood derby car.

Mr. Rober very fun video demonstrates the rail rider method that we are attempting to follow again this year.

We’ve polished our axles and waxed our wheels. Now it was time to bend, or cant, our axles.

1 ) Use the axle bending tool.

Using a regular hammer and the axle bending tool, we bent the front right axle (the wheel that will be riding the center rail) approximately 1.5 degrees. It is important to place a mark at the 6 o’clock position on the axle head prior to canting this axle.

6 o’clock mark

The left front axle (the wheel that will not be touching the track) is bent 2.5 degrees. This isn’t an exact measurement, but we’ll trust the tool.

2) Insert the Wheels.

Instead of canting the rear axles, we simply used a special needle nose pliers to insert the axles at an angle. The wheels were inserted to the point where they nearly rub against the car body.

The axle tips protrude up and out of the axle channel.

The front axles were installed using the pliers. The front steering axle was inserted with the mark at 6 o’clock, whereas the opposite axle was turned until wheel does not touch the ground. The steering axle as a bit more lateral play than the rear axles to keep the wheels from fighting one another.

As the video demonstrates, we achieved the desired result of the front wheel angled top out and the rear wheels bottom out.

Front Wheel

Rear Wheels

3) Attaching Weight

We starting using flexible, stick on weight available from any of the retail stores last year. It is super easy and fast to get the car up to weight. Connell’s car was a bit under weight, 1.8 oz even with the wheels!

I took a 2oz weight strip, plus an additional 1.2 oz to get it up to the 5.0 oz maximum weight.

4) Tuning the Wheels

Like the video pointed out, the canted front wheel provides an easy point to tune the car to move in the desired manner. We set up a board in our basement to test the drift (as noted in the video).

We used the pliers to adjust the axles to get the drift to the point where the cars look OK. Graphite is the universal lubricant for pinewood derby cars, but years of getting graphite everywhere showed that the more expensive Krytox oil is well worth the cost. A drop or two on each axle does the trick.

Less than two weeks until the derby. We’ll play around a little bit more, but I think we are ready.



The Block of Wood, Part 5

So we ran into a bit of roadblock this week. It came time to bend our axles for the desired ‘rail rider’ design. (We’ll get to that later.) In searching through my pinewood derby equipment, my bending tool was no where to be found. I turned the house upside down to no avail. It was gone. I remember lending it to another Cub Scout and parent last year and think I remember getting it back. But nothing after that. Ugh. The search for the bending tool and subsequent search for a replacement got me thinking that this would be a good time to mention where pinewood derby supplies can be purchased in the area.

Michaels – Yes the Michael’s craft store has a decent selection of pinewood derby supplies. 40% and 50% off coupons offered on their website or weekly circular can help you get a good deal on tools. Michaels also sells the $0.89 small bottles of acrylic paint in a full palette of colors, which makes it a must stop for your derby supplies.

The Scout Shop – The Boys Scouts of America Shops around town have a nice selection of specialty tools and supplies. You can even get tungsten weights and Krytox oil here. The prices are actually very comparable with anything you will find online.

Hub Hobby in Richfield has at least twice the selection of any other place in town. The Scout shop or Michaels each carry one line of pinewood derby products, whereas Hub Hobby carries three different lines! No matter if it is decals, pre-cut blocks, specialty tools, glue, lubricant, they have it and at the best prices in town

The Pinewood Derby wall at Hub Hobby

Overall you can purchase everything you need online, but not necessarily at a discount. Hub Hobby’s prices are the lowest and will likely be at a discount from anything you will find online.

The Block of Wood Part 4

After the axles are polished, the wheels require polishing of their own to minimize friction. Again, a multi-step process was used to prep the wheels.

Step 1 – Taking a power drill, a cut-off cotton swab stick (made of paper, not plastic), and a plastic scratch remover we attempted to polish the inside of the wheel bore by eliminating any minor scratches. The process is to dip the stick into the scratch remover and use the drill at a very low speed to spin the stick through the wheel more. The process makes a distinct squeaking sound to let you know that there is enough friction present to polish the wheel bore.

Step 1 – Polish inside the wheel bore.

Next – The wheel is placed into a bath of dish detergent and shook around for about 30 seconds.

Step 2 – Washing the wheels

Once out of the bath we dried off the wheel and blew off the soap suds. Then, using a pipe cleaner to buff up the inside of the wheel bore. Note that we used cotton pipe cleaners and not chenille sticks. Chenille sticks have plastic and fiberglass elements that will scratch the wheel. So yes, these are pipe cleaners bought at a tobacco shop. (BTW- I realized very quickly that I am not the target demo for pipe cleaners once I walked into the shop. 🙂 )

Step 3 – Buffing up the bore.

The buffing should be done gently to ensure that the cotton fibers do not get all over the wheel. We do not have a microscope or any high-tech tools to gauge how clean the wheel bore is at this point, so we eyeball it to see if the inside of the bore is looking smooth.

The final step is to apply a light coat of wax to the wheel bore.

Step 4 – Applying wax

The wax dries over night and we buffed it again the next day with a pipe cleaner to remove any excess and to shine up the bore yet again.

Let dry overnight

Next Steps – Installing the axles and tuning the car.