“We cut the plastic shields with a paper slicer from my dad’s office”: How a 13-year-old tech whiz is 3-D printing face masks from home
When Covid hit, my hockey team was in the middle of playoffs. We’d played Game 6 of the second round, tied at three games each—and then everyone went into lockdown. I was definitely bummed. I love hockey. I started skating when I was three and playing when I was five. I always knew I wanted to be a goalie. My mom made me do a year as a regular player first, but I’ve been playing net ever since. Between games and practice, I’m normally on the ice five days a week.
My other passion is design. At school, I spend most of my time in the design lab. My friends and I replicated Spider-Man’s web shooter on a 3-D printer. Then, last spring, I was lucky enough to get my own printer for Grade 7 graduation. When I saw that hospitals were asking people who had 3-D printers to make masks, I knew I wanted to help. My parents have a friend who works at SickKids, and we went through a few people before getting in touch with someone from the infectious disease team. He was able to provide the instruction we needed to make sure our masks met all of the necessary safety and hygiene requirements.
A protective mask has two parts: the headband or frame, which is what I’m printing, and the shield, which is made from PETG plastic. It’s strong and has a high melting point; if the melting point is too low, the shield can’t be sterilized. This kind of plastic has been in short supply lately, but I was lucky that my great-uncle was able to source a giant roll of it—enough for 600 masks. We don’t have a laser cutter, so we used a paper slicer that my dad borrowed from his office to cut the plastic to the right dimensions. The bands are made with filament, which is the “ink” for 3-D printers; it basically melts it down and takes whatever shape you program. It takes between one and two hours to print each one. When making our masks, we created an assembly line: my mom used a three-hole punch to put the holes in the plastic, I put the two pieces together, and my dad attached the protective elastic at the bottom.
When I was making the masks I was thinking about how scary it must be to be a kid in the hospital right now. I tried to put myself in their shoes and think of what might make them smile. That’s when I came up with my novelty headband designs, inspired by superheroes and other things kids love—Spider-Man, the Avengers and Black Panther, as well as the Leafs and Raptors. It also makes sense to use superheroes because doctors and nurses are the heroes of Covid-19. That’s something my friends and I have been talking about a lot during our video chats. They think what I’m doing is pretty cool. One kid in my class said I should make a Peppa Pig mask for the doctors and nurses who work with young kids. I thought that was a good suggestion.
In late April, my mom and I packed everything up and drove to SickKids for our first drop-off of 52 masks. We handed them over to two nurses at the front desk. I gave each of them a Wonder Woman mask, and they seemed to really like them. They asked my mom to get a photo of the three of us so they could put them up on the SickKids website. I think everyone at the hospital loved the idea and all of the different options. Well, all except one—my mom is a fan of unicorns, so she had suggested that I do a unicorn headband. It looked great, but the people at SickKids said the horn was potentially a weapon, so they asked us not to bring any more of that design.
When my goalie coach, Dave Kennedy, heard what I was doing, he said he wanted to help. He runs a sports school called Armour Goaltending. They put together a big goalie instruction event on Zoom and set up a GoFundMe page. Our goal was $1,500 because that’s enough to pay for the filament for 600 masks, but we ended up earning $6,500 in just a few days. We donated $5,000 to SickKids. I just finished a second drop-off there this week—I’ve now donated 156 masks in total. They don’t need any more, which was nice to hear. I’ve also made 50 masks for McMaster Children’s Hospital. One of the doctors there is an old boy at UCC, where I go to school. He heard about what I was doing and reached out.
Next up we’re going to make masks for the workers at long-term care facilities. For those, I designed some new headbands that people who are older would recognize and love. My mom suggested Rosie the Riveter. I wasn’t sure after the unicorn incident, so I checked with my grandparents, and they agreed it was a good idea. My grandpa also suggested G.I. Joe. I know Covid-19 has been especially hard for older people in homes, so I want to do whatever I can. I still have a lot of materials, and I want to keep going.
This project has given me something to focus on, which is great because I miss hockey. Normally at this time of year I would be getting excited for goalie camp, but we don’t know if that’s going to happen. Staying home has definitely been interesting. I’m playing more board games than ever with my parents. I like being able to contribute and help people who are making sacrifices to keep everyone safe. Before Covid-19, I was thinking that I might like to be a lawyer when I grow up, like my dad. But now I’m definitely leaning more toward engineering.
—As told to Courtney Shea