Ayla's cracker invention keeps user's fingers safe
Ayla Hutchinson may be New Zealand's most innovative teenager, but she still has to do after-school chores.
One of those jobs is a lot safer now though, thanks to her homework project that has captured imaginations around the country.
The quiet and softly spoken 14-year-old is the inventor of the Kindling Cracker, a device that allows people to cut firewood without the danger of cutting themselves.
What started as a school project has grown into a homegrown business, with orders from around the world.
The Kindling Cracker operates by tapping wood with a mallet on to a stationary blade that conveniently splits it.
Ayla invented the prototype last year while she was a student at Norfolk School.
Since then the family mantelpiece has become home to a string of crystal trophies and gold plaques.
Among the honours sits the Rising Star Award from Buy New Zealand Made, the Fieldays Young Inventor of the Year Award and the New Zealand Innovation Most Inspiring Individual Award.
The success hasn't gone to the young teenager's head though and she is modest about her accolades.
"I don't really talk about my awards with my friends.
"But they have seen me on TV so kids at school think I'm famous, but I'm not really," the Inglewood High School student said.
Ayla intends to continue creating and when she leaves school she wants to go into engineering, design or architecture.
"I just love making stuff, I'd like to be able to do that forever."
The idea for her first invention came after Ayla had spent days talking to her parents, Vaughan and Claire, about what she could make for the science and technology fair.
It wasn't until her mum sliced her finger cutting firewood that Ayla had the idea for the Kindling Cracker.
"I could see a solution to the problem, so I asked my dad if I could use the head of his old splitting axe.
"He said yes, and then we went to the neighbour's farm and found old scraps of metal and we welded it all together," she said.
The upside-down axe head welded to a block of metal soon thrust Ayla into the spotlight.
"I didn't expect to win first place in the science fair, let alone any of these other awards."
It wasn't until her teachers told her to patent the product that she realised she could be on to a winner.
"I asked my dad if I could come along to Fieldays and have a stall next to his. I made him promise that if we got more than 100 orders then I could start making them.
"I thought we'd just be making them in the backyard."
However, with nearly 400 orders from Fieldays alone the family soon realised the product needed to be mass produced.
Now the Kindling Cracker is produced in cast iron by a company in Whanganui before being shipped out to America, Canada, Australia and England.
The device costs $135 and all the money from the sales is going straight back into the fledging business, which is being run out of the family home in Tariki.
The influx of activity in the Hutchinson lounge has left Ayla feeling overwhelmed at times.
"This has been a really big journey.
"I've had a few moments this year where I've just had enough and I've just crashed because everything has been full on and extremely busy.
"But it's also been awesome and I've learnt so much."
Her family, including younger sister Jasmine, 12, pitch in to reply to emails, process the orders, pack up the Kindling Crackers and send them out to the masses.
More than 500 units have been sold and shipped so far, with many more orders waiting to be filled.
Another 100 units have just arrived and they will be gone by the New Year.
"I really didn't expect it to be anything more than a science fair project," she said.
Taranaki Daily News