Adolescent business owners use welding skills to craft unique creations
Under a spray of white-hot sparks, leaping and bounding within inches of their protective helmets, Baylee Davis, 12, and Trinity Heighway, 14, melt and mold metal into something new.
With strength and finesse, the girls turn old horseshoes into delicate, yet rustic looking crosses, artful wine holders and signature picture frames. Bits of broken china and rusted tea kettles pillaged from antique shops are transformed into tinkling wind chimes. These are just a few of the creations that Davis and Heighway construct for their business, B & T Design.
“It was supposed to be a one-time experience,” Davis said, speaking to the first time they tried their hand at welding.
“It was kind of a surprise,” Heighway said. “I didn’t realize we would love it as much as we did.”
Davis’ stepdad Rick asked permission at his job to show the girls how to use some welding tools. At first, he said they were scared of getting burned, but curiosity helped them to overcome their initial fear. Then they started a business.
“At first, I thought they were crazy,” Rick said.
“Dad!” Davis said, scolding her stepdad.
Davis is an Eastside Connections student and Heighway is a Niles New Tech student. Besides a passion to weld, the girls share a love for riding their horses, Honey and Clyde. What they do not spend on new materials for their business is used to provide for and pamper their horses.
The girls sell their wares at local craft shows and online via Facebook. While they let inspiration help them to create their next product, they also take customer requests.
Besides keeping up with their business orders, Davis and Heighway lead busy lives. Both girls like representing their communities in local scholarship pageants. Their parents marvel at how the girls seamlessly transition from a tiara to cowboy hat to welder’s mask.
As to what they like about operating their own business, the girls said it provides them with creative freedom.
“I like having the responsibility in something and knowing that we created it and it is this thing we share,” Heighway said.
The passion was initially sparked by respective projects the girls were working on for the Berrien County Youth Fair. Heighway won an “A” for a picture frame she made out of horseshoes. The frame held pictures of her father, Christopher Heighway, who passed away in 2017.
From their fair projects, the girls began welding as a hobby and eventually a business. They have run B & T Design for a little over a year.
Trinity’s mother, Bridget Heighway, said B & T Design work has not gone unnoticed. At a recent Wine, Women and Welding seminar, sponsored by the Goodwill and Lippert Components, event organizers asked to share a wine holder crafted by B & T Design.
“I thought that was a very cool element because they were empowering grown women,” Bridget said.
When it comes to running their business, the girls have learned to trim costs by utilizing locally donated or recycled materials to make their works of art. A number of the horseshoes used for their creations come from local ferriers — people who shoe horses.
“Generally speaking, the horseshoes get thrown away,” said Baylee’s mom Becky Wicks. “So, they [ferriers] will save them up and donate them to them. So, they do a lot of recycling of the products.”
While Davis and Heighway enjoy welding, they said not many of their peers have the same hobby.
As their welding skills continue to advance, Heighway and Davis hope they can eventually take on new projects. Heighway hopes to one day create a horse sculpture using horseshoes.
Bridget and Becky noted that welding is something that takes particular finesse and strength.
“It takes a lot of upper body strength. You have to be steady,” Bridget said. “There are really subtle differences to how the metal settles and binds. [These] are not big burly girls. … It is pretty powerful that they are pushing through those barriers.”
Davis and Heighway hope that their business can remind others, especially girls, that they do not have to have a conventional hobby.
“I would say just follow your passion,” Heighway said. “Try doing new things, even if you are doubtful.”