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Suyanisqatsi: Life in Balance | Quackenbush Woodworks

Suyanisqatsi: Life in Balance

Winding sticks, ebony and basswood inserts

The video projector displayed rows of hotdogs, forming into escalators of people. Clouds formed into waves. Sunbathers with a power plant in the background. The juxtapositions range from witty to jarring. One of the movies we watched in my alma mater’s Film and Video Production program was the documentary Koyaanisqatsi, named from the Hopi word for “life in turmoil.” The art film is set to a beautiful score by the master Philip Glass, and it is quite the sensory experience.

It never occurred to me until recently to find the opposite word: Suyanisqatsi. Life in harmony, balance. I have to fight for this in my decisions. Our world loves to pendulum and polarize and I find often that my core beliefs lie in the middle, between the poles, utilizing a little of both “sides” to come to what I believe is a better place.

A life in balance. The concept is common in many cultures, such as in the Chinese belief of yin and yang.


Reprofiling Tools


As I work a job utilizing that aforementioned Video Production degree, primarily at a desk, I find the tactility of unplugged woodworking suits me well. While I kill electrons at the office, I come home and use a plane, saw, and chisel with minimal noise. I bask in the pure zen that comes with creating entirely by the power of my own hands.

Carry the idea of balance over to antique tools and the restoration process and into the decision to use instead of display. There is rarely a right and wrong with a life in balance. The truth of the matter lies somewhere in the middle.



Outliers always exist: the delicate, one-of-a-kind antique plane may be best served being clean and out of rigorous use. The Craftsman planes, while typically well-made, rarely find themselves as display-only pieces.

What about the great expanse in between? As we seek to use a tool functionally, we must not forget its form, its beauty, its patina. British moulding planes are oft cited as being well-kept, preserved and oiled, and ready to use at any given time. I can’t say the same about so many American planes I come across.

Look after the tools in your care. Flea markets and antique stores seem to proudly display items which show neglect, rather than love. They once belonged to a someone like you and me.


Side bead plane lineup


Conversely, in the desire to preserve the form of the tool, we do well to not neglect its function. It was made for a purpose, for use, and for creation. Some engage in near-worship of tools, ignoring the purpose of crafting.

The mindset I find more prevalent, and more sinister, is the willful or more-often ignorant abuse of tools in the pursuit of form and function. Sandpaper does an excellent job of removing dirt, grime, and rust. But with the exception of flattening a metal-plane sole, it almost always strips a tool of its life, its soul, the tsukumogami within. More on that another time.


Small ogee


Music is made to be shared, to be enjoyed by one’s self and others. The instruments are not the end goal, rather they serve to create. In that process, the instrument is used vigorously, but protected and preserved between uses.

The musician takes great care to how he looks after the instrument, and should he find a discarded one to restore, he does so with great caution and research. The balance of intense use with delicate care.


Small ogee profile in maple


Likewise, let us take care in how we restore, use, and preserve our instruments of woodworking so that they may continue to create shared experiences for the generations to come.

Fight to balance the modern consumerist lifestyle that sees everything as expendable, with one that sees antique tools as trophies for a shelf.

The truth is somewhere in the middle.

Author: Jordan

Jordan Quackenbush is a hobbyist tool restorer (focusing on moulding planes) and 100% unplugged woodworker. The tactility of woodworking contrasts perfectly with his mostly-digital day job, Creative Director for a Video Marketing Agency in Atlanta, GA, USA. He lives in metro Atlanta with his family. He is on the admin team at the Unplugged Woodworkers & Antique Tools Buy-Sell-Trade Facebook groups.

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