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.
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”