Year 8 Norfolk Primary School student Ayla Hutchinson was looking for an idea for her school science fair project. It was during this time that she saw her mother, Claire Hutchinson, cut open her finger while chopping kindling with a tomahawk axe. Claire ended up with a nasty wound from her run-in with the axe, and Ayla was left with a cracker of an idea for her school project – a device or way to make chopping kindling safer.
Research and experimentation
Ayla started by researching her idea on the web. She searched for wood cutters and splitters but could only find large-scale industrial machines. She soon recognised that there was a gap in the market for a kindling chopping safety device that could be used by people at home.
Having confirmed the need, she then researched different axe types and concluded that the sharper the axe blade and the wider the base end, the more easily it split the wood.
Ayla spent a few weeks refining her idea. She experimented with an axe at home and found if you placed it on the ground and wacked wood onto it with a mallet it was safer and easier. Ayla says, “The force required to split wood when swinging an axe downwards is more than is needed if the wood is sitting on top of the axe wedge, so this is what I based my idea around.”
In her experimenting, she had been holding the axe in place on the wood block – she needed to find a way to make it secure in that position. It became apparent that having the axe as a non-moving part would be key to the device.
Creating and testing the prototype
While completely Ayla’s idea, she was able to seek expert advice close to home. Her father Vaughan – an engineer and inventor himself – was able to supply the welding expertise she needed to try out her ideas and make her prototype. The original prototype for the Kindling Cracker had a square base and a square safety guard.
Once Ayla had a working prototype, she asked a number of different people to test the device and recorded their findings. Ayla created a control test where she asked each tester to use both the device and an axe and to rate both experiences side by side. She carefully observed the tests to assess the safety and strength of the device.
Ayla’s father Vaughan further tested the strength of the prototype by attempting to break it. The prototype proved to be strong and safe.
The end device
When it came to creating the end model, Rodney Sharp from Progressive Equipment in Hamilton showed Ayla 3D drawings of various ways of making her product with different materials and encouraged her to come up with her own design. Ayla’s father helped her with this process and ensured the design was safe. The final 3D drawings of Ayla’s design were done by ITL who kindly donated their time. The end model has a circular base and safety guard. Ayla said the decision for the circular shape was partly because it looked good but also because it was more cost-effective to manufacture a circular safety guard. She also decided on two support poles for the safety ring rather than three in order to stop the wood jamming and getting stuck between the poles.
The end result is a safe, easy and simple device. An axe blade is enclosed in a frame, allowing wood to be placed on the blade and chopped with a mallet. It is also proving to be a helpful device for people with arthritis and disabilities.
Ayla’s finished product won the Fonterra Taranaki Science and Technology Fair Special Award from ITL (2012) for the best use of engineering in a science project.
Ayla launched her invention at the 2013 New Zealand National Agricultural Fieldays in the Waikato. Having priced the manufacture of the device, she went to the Fieldays knowing she needed a minimum of 50 orders to put the unit into production. Prior to the launch, Ayla’s Dad had applied for a provisional patent for her design.
It made a lot of sense to launch the Kindling Cracker at the Fieldays. Innovation is a founding pillar of Fieldays, and at the heart of the event are the Fieldays Innovation Centre and Fieldays Innovation Den.
The Fieldays provides an ideal place to demonstrate ground-breaking developments – whether they are backyard inventions or professional innovations – to thousands of Fieldays visitors.
The response to the Kindling Cracker was very positive. At the end of the second day, Ayla had more than 150 names in her book and had met a number of people with missing fingers and cautionary tales of wood cutting!
Ayla also came away from the Fieldays with the Young Inventor of the Year award and the James & Wells Intellectual Property Award.
In 2014, Ayla returned to the Feildays, again selling out within 2 days. This time, she picked up the Vodafone People’s Choice Award for her innovation.
Ayla has gone on to win other national and international accolades for her Kindling Cracker device. In 2014, Ayla was the only New Zealander on the TeenBusiness Top Twenty.
In 2015, Ayla has signed an impressive business deal with a top distributer of tools in the USA – Northern Tool and Equipment. This deal will see the Kindling Cracker on sale at over 90 American outlets. Ayla and her family are now busy overseeing the production of “tens of thousands” of units that are required for shipping to the USA!
Is the Kindling Cracker an innovation or an invention? Can it be both?
More on science fairs
Watch our webinar Flipping science fairs to discover how to bring science alive for your students.
The Connected article Winning ways: presenting scientific data shares some important ideas for presenting science fair learning.
See our Science fair investigations Pinterest board for more science fair inspiration.
Visit the Kindling Cracker website.
Hear Ayla talking about her innovative Kindling Cracker in this Radio New Zealand interview.
In this Stuff news article from 2019 find out about how Ayla lives with dyspraxia and how she credits this developmental coordination disorder with helping her in her successful Kindling Cracker business.