Graphite sucks... literally!

FredD Tuesday, 1/30/2024

Moisture that is... So, I am still on this I hate graphite path. I tried using some on a few cars but seriously saw no performance improvement over polished and waxed axles. So I got some Molybdenum powder... saw some slight improvement, so there must be something to using powdered metals to lubricate axles and wheels. But then I saw this...

<<Does graphite absorb water?

It is well known that graphite can absorb large quantities of water, which can represent an abundant source of oxygen impurities in fusion plasmas if the corresponding components are not properly outgassed. The water content of the ‘as received’ material is reached after approximately 30 days.>>

So after graphiting and wondering why no improvement, and not having a drying oven readily available, I threw my graphite out and bought some "fresh". It did seem to work a little better. But after a period of time, the coated axle/wheel center will absorb moisture and the graphite will degrade... again. Either recoating or drying will need to be done to bring back the performance.

I see lots of videos with guys with hundreds of cars sitting in the open in basements, garages and man caves and wonder how can they maintain any performance over the long haul in a humidity rich environment?

Also, sending in cars to contests weeks or even months in advance would seem to be a problem when fresh graphite is needed for best performance. Maybe sending in cars near the deadline or even late to take advantage of fresher graphite is a speed tactic?

I know it is me... I just do not like the stuff and am looking for alternatives. I gave myself a year to come up with an approach to axle/wheel prep, my year is half over!


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FeralPatrick 1/30/24

Some graphite has molybdenum in it. I tried moly by itself and it seemed to make the wheels spin slower. Have you tried graphene? I bought some made for windshield and paint protection, but only tried it once, and half-assed it at that (the application and polishing). I need to try again, but since I don't have a test track I have little to go by for gauging improvement. Just tried teflon powder, too. Wheels spin slower/for less time but they're smooth and quiet. I'd need to track test to be sure. Also tried mixing liquid silicone (it dries completely) with graphite like I do with isopropyl/graphite... didn't seem to work but more testing is needed.

  • It is what I am trying... graphene based polish. I agree, I am away from home for the winter months so I cannot do a test track either. I am just using the spin test as you say to try and determine any improvement. — FredD
  • Interesting info here. You might have saved me from using bad graphite. Thanks for the info guys — ConMan_Customs
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DXPRacing 1/30/24

Pinewood Derby experts disagree with your assessment and they have far more experience with this than Diecast racers.  No offense but graphite is pretty good and mine holds up really well in the garage.  

  • No offense taken, just trying to have a discussion! I understand that... the science says it absorbs moisture and degrades, not I... Back when I did cub scouts with my boy, they lubed the wheels right before the race, all wheels, all cars... — FredD
  • So... if it holds up well... how often, if ever do you re apply graphite? Do you see any short term or long term degradation or performance drop off? — FredD
  • Hey Fred. Yes, I my opinion, from testing, applying, etc, applying graphite dust as close as possible to racing would be the best opportunity to get the best out of it. Other than that, yes one has to experiment on how to minimise the effect of travel, time, environment has on the lube. All another challenge to try to overcome! Cheers good luck. — CutRock_R_Marc_D
  • And yes, when the humidity goes through the roof here, track time performances are affected. Cheers. — CutRock_R_Marc_D
  • Hey mate! Surely you have the most distance and time to overcome and still get good results! — FredD
  • It all depends how many times but all cars that I have separated for speed get it reapplied at least once a year. Again, that varies depending on tournaments etc. — DXPRacing
  • Thanks for the info! Appreciate it! — FredD
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JBlotner42 1/31/24

In my experience with both pinewood derby and now diecast cars, along with anything that you would need to apply a lubrication for, whether it be machinery, chainsaws, engine oil, you're always going to have to reapply lube eventually to maintain performance. I reapply graphite as needed or when I start to see an obvious drop in speed. It definitely made an improvement for my track in testing.

  • Thanks mate... appreciate the feedback. Do you store your cars in the open or in boxes or bins? — FredD
  • Right now they are all out in the open, in a box on my workbench in the garage. I just started so I dont have much yet. — JBlotner42

It is still better than nothing as far as I can see.

  • totally agree... there are no real alternatives in the dry lube category... — FredD
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FredD 1/31/24

Pinewood Derby Car Lubrication
Updated: Sep 8, 2023
Lubrication is key to unlocking your car’s full potential! Lubricants help minimize friction between the wheels and axles, resulting in a significant increase in speed. However, race rules can vary on the type of Pinewood Derby® car lubrication that is allowed, so you’ll want to consult yours to ensure what options are allowed.
Lubricants fall into two categories: Dry and Liquid.
Dry - As the name implies, these lubricants contain no liquid and come in several varieties, usually in powdered form. By far, the most common in Pinewood Derby® is graphite. There are different types of graphite used for various purposes. The main difference between them is the purity, flake/particle size and if there are additional additives. While just about any graphite will work as a lubricant, some versions are specially formulated and work best for Pinewood Derby®.
Liquid - There are different liquid lubricants as well. Nyoil™ has been a popular option in years past, as well as Krytox™, produced by DuPont®. There are options preferred by league racers, similar to Krytox™ but with a lower viscosity leading to faster speeds. It is best to stick with a purpose-made oil as those purchased at automotive and hardware stores will be too viscus (thick), resulting in a lack of speed compared to the purpose-made oil lubricants.
Do NOT mix oil and graphite; use one or the other.
PRO RACER TIP FROM HurriCrane Racing: If your rules do not prohibit the use of oil, do so, as it is MUCH faster than powdered lubricants (including graphite). Also, oil is easier and quicker to apply and is not nearly as messy. Additionally, the car can do significantly more runs before losing speed compared to powdered lubricants.
Applying Oil
Getting the most out of oil is not as involved as graphite. Methods of oiling the car will vary slightly depending on the type of oil used; unlike graphite, it IS possible to over-oil. Using too much can SLOW the car down; therefore, follow the directions supplied with your choice of oil.
Generally, oil application is as follows:
Cleanliness is essential when using oil. Any bit of dirt or lint that makes its way into the wheel bore or under the axle head will slow the car. Thoroughly clean the axles and wheels and, if possible, blow them off with compressed air.
Insert the axle part way into the wheel bore.
Apply a small drop to the axle shaft and a small drop to the axle head. Twist the axle to distribute the oil along the shaft and head. A slight shake will help remove excess oil.
Insert the axle into the wheel bore and give the wheel several slow spins with the axle head pointing toward the ground.
The axle/wheel is now ready to install on the car.
As mentioned before, cleanliness is vital with oil, so once the car is assembled, wipe away any excess oil on the wheels, place the car in a sealable (zipper lock) bag, and store it safely. The sealable bag will ensure no contamination and reduce the potential evaporation of the lubricant.
 Pinewood derby lube approach

  • Hey Fred, all great info from the Derby scene. They have been doing it for ages, and there are many very elevent things one can learn from their articles! However there are some subtle differences in what we generally do in diecast "broadcast" racing. Pinewood Derby, I gather, a social event, where cars are lubed and serviced on the day, at the event, or close to it. From my far off testing, yes fresh lube gives you the best chance of success! So immediately, our game changes, and managing the whole lube process, and what to use, is an issue to be managed! There are many other variances in the diecast scene. Vehicle weights from 20gm to 150gm. Different axles sizes, wheel sizes, composition of the wheel. (ie what it is made of) and clearances from axle to wheel hub, etc. I am no expert, am far away from the Deby Scene, and 90% of the recommended products, so testing, experimenting, overcoming challenges is critical to me. There are some lubes that will do well across the board, but there are some lubes/methods that are best in some of the different combinations previously mentioned. What works for some, may not work for others, some lubes peak early, others peak late, some travel well, some don't. "The search for speed!" All a continual challenge. All the best to you on your journey! — CutRock_R_Marc_D — CutRock_R_Marc_D
  • Thanks mate! Totally agree! The differences are there for sure... trying to find the right process for me using the sparse data set has been a challenge. I am looking forward to building a test track and doing some imperical testing in this area. I look to guys like you with unique experience sets to offer your findings and view points and your input is most appreciated! — FredD

I use Maximum Velocity graphite. Very easy to apply and seems to work most consistently well. I've been trying all kinds of combinations lately to see if I can find more speed on my track. Molybdenum added to PTFE has been showing a little gain in speed, but doesn't seem to last long... so who knows if there is a magic combination, but I'll keep trying as long as my wallet allows :)

  • Excellent! Thanks for your input... enquiring minds want to know! — FredD
  • That's the brand I use, too. Until I hear otherwise it'll be my only brand. I mix mine with iso and apply it with a mini oiler bottle. — FeralPatrick
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SpyDude 1/31/24

-dunks the car in a jar of WD-40 Zip-E-Lube, then hangs it out to drip dry-

  • Heard of that approach... I prefer slick 50! — FredD
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dsc164 1/31/24

I use Maximum Velocity graphite mixed with Sprayway SW945 Silicone Spray. Heavier cars like more graphite and really light cars like silicone alone. Always willing to learn new tricks so I'm constantly testing other methods. 

  • great! I have not tried silicone and drylube products together as I had heard there could be a gumming issue... — FredD
  • I tried silicone spray dry lube and graphite - gummed my wheels up pretty good. — DemonPreacher
  • not all silicone are the same. the one I use doesn’t gunk up. it evaporates and leaves the graphite — dsc164

I raced adult league Pine Wood Derby in the past and axle prep and the right hub prep on wheels are key players. I raced with guys using both oil and graphite and seeing the difference is huge. Graphite take a lot more runs to dial in then its over compared to oil. So far from what I am seeing on prep videos out there you will never get the maximum out of graphite without the hub prep included.... That prep is key to keeping that graphite in that hub longer... Derby Dad 4 hire had some insane axel/hub prep for graphite racers. Im still looking at rules/regs on racing as I want to start sending out cars this year..  

  • yep... I don't see any videos on diecast hub prep... — FredD

Howdy Fred,

I found something that I think could help you. You express frustration at other people being able to seemingly keep graphite lube working in damp environments, and you think that water is making your graphite go bad. In actuality, it might be the other way around. Here's a study NASA did in the 90's that quotes an even older study from the 40's:

"[Graphite] lubricates in a normal air atmosphere, but fails to lubricate at high altitudes or in vacuum. Savage (1948) reported convincing experimental evidence that graphite must absorb moisture or some other condensable vapor such as hydrocarbons in order to be lubricative."

I don't know how much you'll want to trust this citation. The author probably tested on graphite different from what we buy from the store today, and the study is old enough that the author is dead, so we can't exactly ask him about his opinions. Still, it's worth a look

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dr_dodge 2/3/24

does this mean the graphite "needs bonded" so it shears?

maybe a friction plating on the axle after polish?

Great doc, thanks for sharing that

and google books has Advanced Bearing design, sited in the previous doc

  • Interesting. If that’s what that does mean, does that mean polishing your axle reduces the effectiveness of dry lube? My intuition thinks that makes sense. If you have an already slippery axle your dry lube could just slide off — ConMan_Customs
  • At the very least, polishing an axle might reduce the longevity of graphite you put on. Have you been putting graphite on polished axles Fred? — ConMan_Customs
  • thats where I was thinking, but waited for someone else to notice that — dr_dodge
  • a more porous surface = more lube — dr_dodge

Sorry, i'm fare away to be a pro, but i found out that after the axel polishing 2-3 days are good to let them dry before putting the graphite. Only my perception ;)

  • maybe that is enough time for some oxidation to form so that the graphite has something to "stick" to? — FredD
  • good point — dr_dodge
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