The Masonic Trowel

... to spread the cement of brotherly love and affection, that cement which unites us into one sacred band or society of brothers, among whom no contention should ever exist, but that noble emulation of who can best work or best agree ...

[What is Freemasonry] [Leadership Development] [Education] [Masonic Talks] [Masonic Magazines Online]
Articles] [Masonic Books Online] [E-Books] [Library Of All Articles] [Masonic Blogs] [Links]
What is New] [Feedback]

 Masonic quotes by Brothers

Search Website For

Add To Favorites

Help Me Maintain OUR Website!!!!!!

List of Contributors

PDF This File

Print This Page

Email This Site To ...


book i

the scholar the builders rejected

w. bro. j. s. m. ward

"The Common Gavel is to knock off all superfluous knobs and excrescences, and the chisel is to further smooth and prepare the stone for the hands of the more expert craftsman."

Before considering the moral significance of this sentence it is perhaps desirable to point out that the gavel is not strictly the same tool as the mallet or the setting maul. The tool with which the Master and the other Officers keep order is really a mallet. The gavel is the same as the Adze, which was the principal tool used by Asiatic workmen and by European masons up to the close of the Norman period. Norman work in stone was dressed and carved with this implement, and it was the introduction of the chisel in the 12th century which enabled the craftsmen to produce the more finished carvings and mouldings which constitute one of the characteristic features of early English architecture.

The most casual glance at Norman sculpture work shows that it is comparatively rough and shallow, and entirely lacking in the polish and finish of the chisel-cut sculpture of the succeeding styles. Thus the gavel, or adze, is a different tool from the mallet, which is used with the chisel, and the general use of the term "gavel" for the Master's mallet is almost certainly erroneous. The main difference between the two tools is that while the gavel has at one end a cutting edge, the mallet should be cut of f blunt at each end.

The fact that a chisel is given to an E.A. is in itself an anachronism for it is a tool used, not for the squaring of rough stones, but for the finishing of a perfect ashlar, or for the carving of a delicate piece of sculpture. This anachronism appears very markedly in the ceremony itself, for whereas the first degree deals practically entirely with the training of the moral character, we are told that the chisel points out to us the advantages of a liberal and enlightened education. Now it is the second degree which symbolically sets before us the advantages of education, whereby we are permitted to extend our researches into the hidden mysteries of nature and science: thus the work of the gavel must precede that of the chisel.

With a few deft blows of the adze (or gavel) the skilful mason knocks off the rough knobs and excrescences and produces the rough ashlar. It might be possible to produce the same result with mallet and chisel, but it would be slow and laborious, and one would probably produce no better results than with the adze. We are told that the latter represents conscience and it is an apt simile, for conscience enables a man to roughly shape his character, in broad sweeping lines, and to tell in an instant whether a particular course of action is right or wrong. If it is wrong, he must cut it away, otherwise it will form an ugly excrescence on his character.

A very usual figure of speech is, "So and so is a rough diamond." It implies that he is a man of a fine disposition but lacking in those little refinements which go to make a polished gentleman. To acquire this polish it is necessary to apply the chisel, or, in other words, education, and a man spoken of as a rough diamond is so described because he lacks this polish.

Now it should be noted that if the conscience of a man is defective, although you may produce what appears to be a polished gentleman a closer inspection reveals the fact that there is a serious moral defect in his character. In masonic language, the rough ashlar has not been trimmed square, and although the chisel of education has been applied to the block of stone, the finished ashlar, even though the surface be smooth and polished, is not a true square and would prove useless in the building. It may be that one side is longer than the other or that one surface is convex. Whatever be the defects it is not after all a "Perfect ashlar." In other words, we must first apply the gavel of our consciences before utilising the chisel of education.

We now perceive why symbolically it is wrong for the Master to use the gavel. Each man must use his own conscience, it is the very first tool he should apply, and nobody but he can use it, whereas the Master, who represents a spiritual teacher or instructor, may be fittingly described as using the mallet, that is to say, as directing the education of the junior members of the Craft, for it is with the mallet that the skilled craftsman applies the force required for the chisel and controls the direction in which it shall cut.

Although in a masonic lodge it is almost the universal rule that the E.A. should pass to a F.C., in real life it is not the case, and certainly every one is not capable of directing the education of others. This work requires a skilled teacher, one who has himself learnt thoroughly that which he has subsequently to teach, and also possesses in addition the ability to impart the knowledge he has acquired, qualities which are not by any means always found residing in the same person. On the other hand, God has given to every man a conscience, which will enable him to define the broad principles of right and wrong, and although education may do much to assist the conscience, education without a good conscience may prove a curse instead of a blessing so far as the moral development of the man is concerned.

Thus it will be seen that to call the Master's mallet a gavel and to say that it is given to him as a sign of his power and rulership is flatly to contradict the explanation of the working tools in the first degree. Every workman must use the gavel, even if he be only an E. A., and no man hands over his conscience to the control of another, certainly not one who has had the benefit of our Masonic training. On the other hand, the Master is specifically told that it is his duty to employ and instruct the brethren, and if we choose for the moment to regard the brethren as chisels directed by the Master, we shall probably obtain a true picture of the real intentions of our Masonic system.

So far as Operative Masonry is concerned there seems no shadow of doubt that the first tools given to an E.A. were the gavel and straight edge; the latter being merely a piece of wood five feet long, whereby he could mark out a rough square on a piece of stone, which he then shaped with his adze. No craftsman would place in the hands of a beginner a delicate instrument like a chisel, a tool more quickly damaged than almost any other builder's implement.

Nevertheless, although we can cavel at the presence of the chisel among the working tools of all E.A. from the Operative standpoint, there is for all that considerable justification for its presence at this point in a Speculative Lodge. It is exceedingly probable that by education our 18th century revisers were thinking more of moral instruction than of technical, literary, or social training. Although every man possess a conscience, it cannot be denied that definite moral and religious training is necessary for the boy, whereby he is helped to perceive more clearly those finer distinctions between right and wrong which, without some such training, might not be so apparent to him. In this sense the chisel may fitly be regarded as a companion tool to the gavel, for it is impossible to draw any hard and fast line between our natural conscience and our acquired instinct of what is right and wrong, since the latter begins to grow within us even before we can talk or run about.

There is one point about both the chisel and the gavel which must ever be borne in mind since it teaches an important lesson to every sincere freemason. Both necessitate friction, and we may almost say, wounding blows, on the raw material. Now this is precisely the effect alike of conscience and of any system of training. It is not always pleasant when our conscience forbids us to do something; it often means losing something we should like to have, something perhaps which seems actually a part of ourselves . Moreover, often it is through coming into contact, we may almost say friction, with other human beings, that our conscience is brought into play or we acquire education.

A solitary man on a desert island would hardly have any occasion for consulting his conscience at all, but one living in a crowded city is constantly brought into conflict with other men and his conscience alone will help him to decide whether his attitude towards them is just and unselfish. In like manner, a baby on a desert island might grow to man's estate but would acquire little real education without someone to teach him, even if he found a box of books cast up from a wreck he could not read them with out being first taught by another human being.

Now one of the great advantages of a lodge is that men rub shoulders with each other and learn that each is not the sole person in the lodge, but that others have their rights and are entitled to consideration. The friendly intercourse possible therein is undoubtedly of inestimable value in helping to mould the character of every member of the lodge. We are taught to subordinate our wills to the general good and to think unselfishly and for the interest of the lodge as a whole, rather than to try each to go our own way careless of the interests of others. In short, we not only polish our own characters but have them polished for us by the other members, while we in like manner render them a similar service. If, therefore, at any time some incident should occur which hurts our feelings or ruffles our equanimity, let us remember that this may be a well-directed blow of The Master Builder, which is intended to remove some excrescence from our character and thereby mould us hearer to the perfect ashlar.

back to top

[What is Freemasonry] [Leadership Development] [Education] [Masonic Talks] [Masonic Magazines Online]
Articles] [Masonic Books Online] [E-Books] [Library Of All Articles] [Masonic Blogs] [Links]
What is New] [Feedback]

This site is not an official site of any recognized Masonic body in the United States or elsewhere.
It is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion
of Freemasonry, nor webmaster nor those of any other regular Masonic body other than those stated.

DEAD LINKS & Reproduction | Legal Disclaimer | Regarding Copyrights

Last modified: March 22, 2014