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Living green

<p>Alex Woodbury mills a log for his company, Kamuela Hardwoods. (PHOTOS BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Alex Woodbury mills a log for his company, Kamuela Hardwoods. (PHOTOS BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Alex Woodbury, of Kamuela Hardwoods, turns unwanted logs into usable milled wood to be purchased and used by local woodworkers. (PHOTOS BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Alex Woodbury, of Kamuela Hardwoods, turns unwanted logs into usable milled wood to be purchased and used by local woodworkers. (PHOTOS BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Alex Woodbury, of Kamuela Hardwoods, stands in his warehouse filled with milled wood, salvaged from logs that would have been otherwise been unused or destined for the landfill. (PHOTOS BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Alex Woodbury, of Kamuela Hardwoods, stands in his warehouse filled with milled wood, salvaged from logs that would have been otherwise been unused or destined for the landfill. (PHOTOS BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Alex Woodbury, of Kamuela Hardwoods, stands in his warehouse filled with milled wood, salvaged from logs that would have been otherwise been unused or destined for the landfill. (PHOTOS BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Alex Woodbury, of Kamuela Hardwoods, stands in his warehouse filled with milled wood, salvaged from logs that would have been otherwise been unused or destined for the landfill. (PHOTOS BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

<p>Alex Woodbury, of Kamuela Hardwoods, stands in his warehouse filled with milled wood, salvaged from logs that would have been otherwise been unused or destined for the landfill. (PHOTOS BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)</p>

Alex Woodbury, of Kamuela Hardwoods, stands in his warehouse filled with milled wood, salvaged from logs that would have been otherwise been unused or destined for the landfill. (PHOTOS BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

Sometimes a great idea comes along and people think, why didn’t someone think of this before? For example: What if, instead of cutting down trees and dumping them into our landfills, we recycled them into usable lumber?

That’s exactly what Alex Woodbury is doing.

“It started out as a hobby and turned into much more,” said Woodbury, who has a warehouse filled with 500- to 600-pound slabs of wood that otherwise would have gone into the landfill. “It feels like we’re sitting on a treasure trove.”

That hobby, which turned into Kamuela Hardwoods LLC, started out as an experiment to see what the wood would look like when it was milled. The Hardwood’s warehouse is now filled with 500,000 board feet of recycled lumber from 31 different species of trees. While the desirable big three in wood for building and turning in Hawaii are koa, monkey pod and mango, Woodbury mills everything, including trees that are not necessarily considered worth anything.

“We hear it all the time, ‘It’s junk, it’s garbage, why would you want that?’” he said.

But one man’s junk is another man’s opportunity.

Woodbury started to mill Bermuda cedar, silver oak, Robusta eucalyptus, avocado, kukui, cypress and sugi pine, and the results were surprising.

The wood is not only beautiful, but practical. Cypress, for example, is an equivalent to cedar, and can be used for exterior decking, beams, doors, and is equally as rot resistant as cedar or redwood and equally as available. The mills run on local biodiesel and the wood is not treated with any chemicals, not even motor oil for lubricating the saw blades; an organic soybean oil is used.

“We’re as green as possible,” he said.

Woodbury is also owner of Woodbury Inspection Group Inc., specializing in building inspection and Green and LEED home certification. He also has a background in construction.

Woodbury stressed that a tree is never taken just for the lumber. Trees are taken down because they are in danger of falling over or need to be cleared from our roadways.

“There is a network of arborists and tree companies; they give us a call and we come and pick them up,” he said.

“A lot of trees in Waimea were planted as property markers and have reached the end of their lifespan,” he said, as an example. “However, it is important to remember that every single piece of wood has a story and we know where it came from.”

This includes cypress trees planted in Waimea in the 1800’s. They tend to come down in storms, often causing property damage.

The problem for tree cutters is how to dispose of fallen trees. The logs are heavy, hard to handle — up to four feet in diameter and weigh 9,000 pounds or more. Some get dumped in fallow land. Others go to one of two facilities in West Hawaii that accept the logs but have restrictions on size: West Hawaii Organics Facility, adjacent to the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill in Pu‘uanahulu, and the Kealakehe Recycling and Green Waste Facility in Kona.

And then there is the moral dilemma of taking what is perhaps a historic tree and just dumping it in the landfill. According to a waste composition study done in 2006, green waste accounts for 44 percent of what goes into our landfills.

“Wood is one of the biggest carbon syncs on the planet and one of the most durable building materials,” Woodbury said.

While Kamuela Hardwoods is an idea that’s time has come, Woodbury still keeps his day job. He works long hours on the weekends, cutting logs that can be five feet in diameter and weigh 5,000 pounds. The resulting slabs of wood can easily weigh 500 to 600 pounds each, and Woodbury cautions people not to try this at home.

Milling equipment is expensive and not cheap to maintain. A circular saw mill like the one Woodbury uses at a mill site in Lalamilo costs between $15,000 and $20,000. Carbide tools need to be sharpened; saw blades cost about $200. And it can be a dangerous trying to avoid steel or rocks that can be hiding in the logs. Recently, a saw blade hit a nail for Woodbury, irreparably damaging the blade.

“It takes a certain amount of grit. You can’t just go out and start milling trees,” he said, adding “We’re not getting rich off of this, we’re lucky at the end of the day if we can pay for the equipment.”

Woodbury’s recycled trees take many forms. Customers sometimes commission projects from their felled trees, like a dining table from a tree downed in a storm on Opelo Road. Alia boards are used to make Hawaiian style surfboards. A lot of the material is also donated to various community projects. Sawdust is piled in a trailer and used in the gardens at Hawaii Preparatory Academy and four other gardens in the community along with boards for raised garden beds, and soon, Woodbury hopes, boards for repair work at Waimea’s popular Anuenue Playground.

As for larger projects, this recycled wood is an alternative that not all builders are comfortable using — yet. But Woodbury has a vision and is hoping to give the most commonly used building materials in Hawaii some competition.

“It’s grown here, felled here, and there is no shipping cost,” he said. “We’re as green as possible. Even fuel for our mill is local biodiesel. We’re trying to bring awareness that this wood is not coming out of a rainforest (like other building materials). What we’re doing has a virtually non-existent environmental cost.”

To learn more, visit Kamuelahardwoods.blogspot.com.