ERIN – She may only be nine years old, but Hayden Chard already knows her way around a welder and a plasma cutter.
Taking pieces of scrap metal, forks and chains left over from other projects in her mother’s home fabrication shop, the Halton Hills Christian School student recently cut, burned, hammered and welded the hardware to resemble the human nervous system for a school project.
When Hayden told her Grade 4 classmates she was going to weld a 3D model for the project, she was met with surprise.
“They said, ‘you weld?’” Hayden told the Advertiser. “I said, ‘yea, I weld.’”
Using soapstone she outlined the shape of a neuron – “like a thousand times” – before closing her welding shield, customized with spikes and a painted “Day of the Dead” theme, to protect her eyes.
Visible through the darkened lens of the shield, she followed the soapstone outline with a plasma cutter and welded on forks, fashioned into dendrites, or branches, of the neuron.
And at the top of a long bike chain forming the spine is the brain — a bundle of chained links Chard has fixed together with a MIG welder.
“It just glues it together,” Hayden said. “It’s like glue, except really hot metal.”
There are a few, tiny messy parts between the crevices of the metal brain, Hayden pointed out, because rust on the links doesn’t conduct well and ultimately interferes with the arc.
She also used a torch to burn grease off the spinal chain.
Finally, it all comes together, welded to a base.
Hayden’s mother Courtney published a video to TikTok of Hayden doing the work that has garnered over 15,000 views.
“She did all the welding, she cut the neurons with the plasma cutter,” Courtney said, making sure to emphasize her daughter’s role.
“The only thing I did was cut with the grinder, because she’s not old enough.”
Courtney is a second-generation professional welder, and similar to Hayden now, grew up in a fabrication shop getting comfortable around the tools, equipment and dangers.
“There’s a huge concern for safety always,” Courtney remarked.
Rather than teaching Hayden to be afraid of danger, she believes in teaching her how things work and how to work safely.
Having started with a MIG welder at just six years old, the nervous system project marks Hayden’s fourth creation.
She even lends a skillful hand on some of Courtney’s metalwork, such as a recent metal hummingbird.
“I just want her to have a great understanding of the trades, to be able to feel powerful as a young woman, and to do anything she can put her mind to,” Courtney said.
Hayden’s favourite piece of equipment is the plasma cutter — she talks excitedly, comparing it to a laser that cuts through metal, creating a dramatic spray of sparks.
“And then you just hammer it out,” she said of the finished piece.
Hayden is a child ambassador, along with Courtney, for Kick Ass Careers, an organization focusing on getting kids interested in the trades.
But Hayden doesn’t have to think about donning work clothes each morning like mom just yet.
“Honestly, I kinda just want to do it for fun,” she said.
Speaking of fun, for her next project, she plans on cutting silhouettes of animals to mount on rocks or wood.