Rural Beginnings to Building a Soul-Filled Life: Jack Whitfield’s Journey

From his humble upbringing as a self-proclaimed “bush kid” born and raised in Australia in the 80s to fulfilling his life’s purpose with Sol Projex in Hawai’i today, Jack Whitfield’s journey is both inspiring and enlightening. Join us as we explore Jack’s life from those formative years to his ventures in Canada and eventual relocation to Hawai’i.


Growing up “In the Sticks”

Raised in a small, rural community on the south coast of New South Wales, Australia, Jack remembers the journey to the end of the driveway as a long and bumpy forty-minute journey, there was no electricity and as such, every meal was cooked on fire. Resourcefulness wasn’t a trendy ‘buzzword’, but a way of life for Jack’s family, who played a significant role in nurturing his creativity, with artists, architects, and creative builders, commonplace in his family tree.

Jack describes his mother, in particular, who built a remarkable stone house over the space of 20 years. Each day after dropping her three boys off for school, Jack’s mother would collect rocks from the roadside, mixing cement by the wheelbarrow load, carefully and gradually constructing their family home. The family unit was always determined to provide, demonstrating the power of harnessing limited nearby resources.

Sadly, as a result of the devastating 2018 wildfires in New South Wales, practically all life where Jack grew up, had been brought to ashes. Where native trees once towered and wildlife was plenty, returning after such devastation was “full on and horrific” Jack describes, “to witness that place engulfed in that kind of intensity” “You could see so far because everything was flattened, it looked like a warzone.” yet his family home and wood stove still stood proud. This experience solidified in Jack, his passion for restoration and harnessing the natural abundance, a theme that guided him throughout his journey.

Moving closer to town as he grew older, it was still a four-hour round trip to attend high school, where Jack and his friends found joy in skateboarding. This teenage pastime allowed Jack to explore the pragmatic side of art and creation by building functional skateboard ramps. “Building or creating is always fun, and artwork is fun, but the practical art, functional art is really my thing. To build something and then see how it performs.” The experience of building and testing the ramps’ performance, no doubt had a major role in Jack’s affinity for practical art, leading him to excel in areas where his passions lay while not really absorbing traditional academics at school.

Woodworking was calling Jack from a young age, “It brings me a lot of joy, it’s fun, it’s beautiful, it’s exciting, it lights me up” Jack smiles. He recalls witnessing a Peterson Swing Blade Sawmill in action as a boy. The sawmill Jack witnessed, belonged to a partnership of his best friends’ fathers, who were “hard-working woodmen” using the sawmill to provide valuable lumber and materials for their building projects. This also gave them the chance to produce high-value slabs and mill dimensional timber for sale, providing further income at the time. Even though Jack had limited exposure to milling, the presence of piles of wood and witnessing the men’s hard work left a lasting impact on him. Clearly…


Apprenticeship and Restoration Work Abroad

At the age of sixteen, after finishing grade ten, Jack embarked on a furniture finishing apprenticeship in Sydney, Australia. Honing his skills and expanding his creativity, Jack explains “I remember on my lunchtimes and every time I had spare time, there was a cabinet shop next door so I would always be over there building stuff” “It was always this creative joy of mine and I would bring home all this crazy furniture and stuff that was salvaged or screwed up or the client didn’t want it. However it worked, I always got it and refurbished it or turned it into something that was practically needed in my little home”.

Spending four years doing his apprenticeship with an extra year in Sydney to keep learning and save money, Jack was able to leave Australia and travel to Canada, pursuing his love for snowboarding. Initially planning a six-month holiday, Jack found he got “really hooked” on snowboarding and didn’t want to leave just yet.

“I played really hard, snowboarding in the winter and then worked really hard in the summertime” “I ended up doing re-models and renovations on homes. So, similar to what I was doing on furniture but now on a larger scale” Jack shares.

“It seems like a lot of what I was doing was restoration if I look back on it, it was restoring things”.

Amidst his restoration work, Jack realized the importance of nurturing and restoring existing materials and systems rather than completely rebuilding from scratch with modern building materials. Discovering the toxic nature of certain industries, such as food, pharmaceuticals, education, and construction, Jack felt compelled to contribute to the restoration of healthier choices, both environmentally and socioeconomically.

“At that stage, it was almost like research and development. I was learning what I did and didn’t want to do, and I hated a lot what I didn’t want to do, because it was just making money and showing up”.

This mindset led Jack to purchase his own house at twenty-four years old, to add his value and on-sell. With a taste for income from re-furbishing and “flipping” properties, Jack went on to buy and sell six properties in Canada, each in need of some TLC. At the same time, Jack maximized the ability to rent out the rooms in each of his houses to his friends in a “super ski-bum style” for further income. He describes, “I got to live in them and trial them. You know, we all imagine we’re doing good work, remodeling and renovating and making things better, but if you don’t live in it and see it, you don’t see what works but also what doesn’t work” “Doing it so it’s effective financially while trying to choose more mindful materials, so the Fung Shui and the flow works, but also doing it in a way that has that integrity.” Jack laughs: “having that many ski-bums and young party people living in the houses, you also got that test of integrity and durability”.

After eleven years of living in Canada, operating a successful business, and having two children, Jack and his family wanted a simpler and more sustainable way of life. “That’s what my Canadian chapter was really good at, it was good at trialing these modern materials and what is, working with them extensively for years upon years. Diving down the rabbit hole of the norm”.

“I would keep wanting to bring in more driftwood and rough-sawn timber, so I made good friends with a gentleman there who was milling a lot of my timber, so I was starting to branch out of the modern material way because it was sickening, it was gross” “I started to grow up and out of just what is, and started to push into what feels right”.

In Pursuit of Simplicity and Honouring the Land

After living almost a decade on the property ladder in Canada, Jack Whitfield, with his family, left Canada to pursue a more sustainable lifestyle in the tropical oasis of Hawai’i. Dissatisfied with the banking system, they sought to remove themselves from the chains of traditional land ownership “thinking it was weird to own land” and into a place of seeking connection in proximity to the land instead. Jack explains, “In essence, we wanted to live in a community, but where there are other families and other people that are in a similar core values system of wanting to take care of the land, live sustainably and grow food. Kind of similar to how I grew up, but in a way that was more wholistic.”

With the help of a generous donation from a gentleman who wholeheartedly believed in their mission, Jack and his family decided to completely root themselves in homeowner financing – a major first step in creating a self-sustaining community independent of traditional financial systems. They eventually purchased 8.8 acres of land in Kauai, Hawai’i.

Shifting the land into a not-for-profit operation intended for cultivation and conservation. This gave life to Jack’s dream of Sol Projex and allowed his family to fulfill their craving of “not ownership, but what I call honor-ship. Where you care for the land, cultivate it, and respect it as it does to us, how our ancestors did it” Jack describes.

“From my understanding, there is a lot of history that we can lean back into and learn from, and use that wisdom gained and apply it to todays ways, rather than what I see; a lot of families stewarding land where they do every component themselves and it’s very daunting and overwhelming, but when you come together with many families, like a tribe, there’s so much more that can happen, because you’re supporting each other with different age groups, and different skill sets”

Shifting the Paradigm: Building a Future from Waste Wood

The mission of Sol Projex, as outlined by Jack, is to push the boundaries of sustainability, using minimal waste while offering designs that restore balance and harmony on Earth. Their view of sustainability involves the implementation of utilizing earth’s natural and renewable resources, advanced ecological building designs, innovative education, research, and development. Evidence of this can be found in every aspect of Sol Projex, from permaculture food systems to harvesting water from their two springs on the property. When it comes to harnessing the local trees to provide a sustainable timber supply, Jack looks no further than his backyard. “Albizia trees are huge and they are a major prolific seed spreader. They are a massive problem. We can always look at the problem, but really it’s a massive opportunity.” Jack says.

Together with his community, Jack is dedicated to clearing the land of invasive tree species, milling them for timber, and building homes, simultaneously replanting spaces with native trees and fruiting hardwoods. He stands strong in his belief that using dimensional timbers from invasive tree species can revolutionize the building industry in a deliberate approach to cleanse the land. Strategically placed between the green waste facilities and homeowners, Jack ultimately sources logs that would normally cost homeowners and local agencies money to dispose of and gives them a new life by milling into valuable building materials.

Native to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Solomon Islands, Albizia (Falcataria Moluccana) is a fast-growing tropical tree that was introduced to Hawai’i in 1917 by Joseph Rock as an ornamental plant and for reforestation purposes. Approximately 140,000 Albizia were planted in forestry areas throughout the state during the non-native tree forestry planting efforts in the early 20th century. This effort was before our understanding of how non-native and invasive plants impact our environment, and at the time Albizia was valued for its rapid growth. Albizia is nitrogen fixing which allows it to thrive in nutrient-deficient soils and become established in relatively intact native ecosystems. It produces large quantities of seeds, which are encased in light papery pods and can easily be dispersed over large distances. Albizia is also one of the fastest-growing trees on Earth and is capable of growing up to 15 feet per year and easily attaining a height of over 35 meters or 100 feet.

Source: Strategic plan for the control and management of Albizia in Hawai’i

Invasive softwoods aren’t the only trees available to Sol Projex however, Jack highlights the unique strength and qualities of many Hawaiian hardwoods such as Monkeypod. These timbers surpass qualities of the standard building materials in Hawai’i such as Douglas Fir and are applicable in a wide variety of industries. Jack describes that it is rare for people to use sawmills in Hawai’i, most people who do have them use them for personal projects or to produce slabs because they fetch a higher value with less effort. There is not a great demand for locally produced dimensional lumber due to the convenience of imported or mass-produced lumber from standardized species.

One limitation of utilizing invasive species such as Albizia, is the often irregularly shaped and sized logs that Jack receives. Compared with likes of Douglas fir, Pines, Spruce, et cetera, which can roll easily on and off sawmills, in Hawai’i, Jack explains “it is very rare to get anything straight, so the Peterson is amazing because the log stays still and the saw dimensionalizes the unique logs.” “With the Peterson Automated Swing Blade Mill, I can produce with efficiency, dimensional timbers that really are the bridge so we can use what is here and that gives us a major ability to shift a paradigm”.

In addition to the Peterson ASM, Jack does have a Woodmizer bandsaw but that sees very little use due to the nature of big and irregular logs sourced. Comparing the swing blade with bandsaws, Jack emphasizes his preference for the swing blade technology, especially when it comes to cutting logs that aren’t straight.

The Peterson ASM that Jack operates has an optional Clip-On Slabber attachment that can produce slabs up to 5ft but for anything bigger, Jack also has an Alaskan Sawmill strapped to double Sthil 881 Chainsaws running an 8-foot bar! Jack shares, “Some of the trees are so big, to honor them and leave them as whole as possible is unique, rare and so, so, so, beautiful”.

It’s About Generational Change

Initially, Sol Projex was set up to provide sustainable, affordable housing to humanitarian organizations. However, the focus of Sol Projex has shifted to encompass more diverse objectives including permaculture, regenerative farming, culinary arts, and most importantly, education. This involves teaching children hands-on about sustainable building, organic farming, and conscious cooking. [The children] are understanding that there are other ways. I tell the kids that this is not THE way, but A way and the more they have diversity in their life, the better they can choose what they want to do”. Jack shares.

“So they’re learning about milling, running boards through the planner, learning about tree identification and mortise and tenon joinery [for example]” “Whether young children or grown-up children like us, there’s so much to learn daily and to tap into the magic and abundance and treasures that are in our local area and help transform them, it’s really fun.”

Extending the Hawaiian concept of ‘Kuleana’ which can be translated to ‘Responsibility’ – Jack deeply resonates with the “responsibility for us as humans to show up, to cultivate and care for one another and the land. It’s showing up for this paradigm of caring more for the land, re-directing these tree species, and shifting our standard ways of living.”

Jack Whitfield’s work stands as a beacon on the shore of Hawaii, illuminating the path towards a more sustainable, respectful, and conscious relationship with Mother Nature. “We all hold pieces, and we all have different passions, and the more we can share them, I feel that is where we can really thrive as a society”


You can follow Jack’s Instagram by clicking here. Or check out the Sol Projex website here.

Sol Projex

Related Articles
Scroll to Top

Looking for our sawmill prices?

Peterson Portable Sawmills manufacture and export worldwide from our factory in Rotorua, New Zealand. Encountering fluctuating freight, raw materials, currencies and export costs, therefore we have tailored pricelists pertaining to each country.
We also have over 40 different mill configurations to suit all applications, so it often helps to call and speak to us about your particular needs.

If you would like to recieve a copy of our digital Info Pack and Price List, please click here.