The Masonic Trowel

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Broached Thurnel & the Ashlars

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

“It is always in season for old men to learn.” Aeschylus

“As I approve of a youth that has something of the old man in him, so I am no less pleased with an old man that has something of the youth. He that follows this rule may be old in body, but can never be so old in mind. Cicero

Broached Thurnel & the Ashlars

Our good Brother Dr. George Oliver in his Dictionary of Symbolical Masonry tells us that the Broached Thurnel was one of the original Immoveable Jewels, and was used for the Entered Apprentice to learn to work upon. In the early part of the 18th Century the Immoveable Jewels of the Lodge were said to be “the Tarsel Board, the Rough Ashlar, and the Broached Thurnel.” The explanation of these “immovable jewels” was that “The Rough Ashlar was for the Fellow Crafts to try their Jewels on, and the Broached Thurnel for the Entered Apprentice to learn to work upon.” [i] The Broached Thurnel has the form of a little square turret with a spire springing from it. Broach or Broche is an old English term for a spire.” Thurnel is from the old French tournelle, meaning a turret or little tower. So the Broached Thurnel we’re speaking of here is a Pointed Cubical Stone.

The Broached Thurnel was a model on which the Entered Apprentice might learn the principles of Operative Masonry because it had on it the forms of the Square, Triangle, Cube, and the Pyramid.

Brother Clegg in his edition of Mackey’s Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry says that on an inspection of an Entered Apprentice tracing board, where the Broached Thurnel is depicted, there can be seen three symbols on it: the Trestle Board, the Rough Ashlar, (much as we see them today depicted,) and a Cubical Stone with a pyramidal apex. This is the Broached Thurnel.

The Broached Thurnel mentioned by Brother & Dr. Oliver, and which can be seen on some very old tracing boards of the Entered Apprentice is a Pointed Cubical Stone. It is pictured sometimes with an Ax inserted in the apex, and this is known by our early French Brethren as the Pierre Cubique.[ii]

Today in Freemasonry, according to some sources, the Broached Thurnel has been replaced by the Perfect Ashlar. Speculative Freemasonry has taken the Ashlar in two different states, (the rough and the perfect,) as symbols in the first degree. All Freemasons are familiar with the explanation of the Rough and Perfect Ashlar that is given in the lecture of the First Degree.

Once the Rough Ashlar has been worked on and has been made ready, or in other words made perfect, for its final resting place in the structure it is then known as the Perfect Ashlar. The form of a Perfect Ashlar is said to be a cube because the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle and of Solomon’s Temple were cubical in shape, and the Prefect Ashlar is a symbol of the summum bonum of Freemasonry, because everything else in Freemasonry leads up to it.[iii]

In order to understand the further symbolism of the Perfect Ashlar we need to remember the original term as it came into Speculative Freemasonry from Operative Masonry. It is perfect only because it is completely adapted to its purpose; that is to exactly fit into its place in the building and act as a binder for the other stones. It has two faces to be exposed and both must be absolutely upright. It does not have one standard for the world and another for home; the same fair face, square and true, is presented to both the world and the Lodge. It teaches that we should not have one code of morals for one place and another for another. Right and justice are the same no matter where we are and no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.

In Freemasonry there is a slogan we like to use that says, “We make good men better,” which means we only accept good men into our ranks. We don’t accept bad men and then try to improve them, we start with good resources; good men. The same is true of the Ashlar to make a Rough Ashlar perfect the nature of the stone has not changed; the workmen cannot take a poor or flawed stone and make it perfect. They may be able to make it smooth, but they cannot change the nature of the stone.

When the work is completed and the Ashlar has been made perfect and ready to be fitted, the litter, dust, chips, and tools are all cleared and put away, and nothing visible is left on how the stone became what it then is.[iv] This should teach us that the symbols of Freemasonry are the tools we use to form ourselves into perfect, or better, living stones to be fitted for that house not made with hands eternal in the heavens.

“Masonry is not an end in and of itself. We strive to form a perfect man and Masonry is but a means to that end.”[v] Freemasons are as concerned for their Brothers welfare as with their own, and when this is uppermost in our hearts and minds our work can be said to be good work; true work; square work.

“Youth comes but once in a lifetime.” Longfellow

Definition of the word “Perpendicular” From Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Robert Clegg edition 1929

“In a Geometrical sense, that which is upright and erect, leaning neither one way nor another. In a figurative and symbolic sense, it conveys the signification of Justice, Fortitude, Prudence, and Temperance. Justice, that leans to no side but that of Truth; Fortitude, that yields to no adverse attack; Prudence, that ever pursues the straight path of integrity; and Temperance, that swerves not for appetite nor passion.”

“Kindness gives birth to kindness.” Sophocles

From the Great light of Masonry = “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6 NIV

“Among the attributes of God, although they are all equal, mercy shines with even more brilliancy than justice.” Cervantes

[i] Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Revised Edition 1929 Robert Clegg
[ii] Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Revised Edition 1927 Hawkins and Hughan
[iii] Masonic concordance of the Holy Bible 572F1,2,3
[iv] ibid 572F12
[v] ibid 572F13

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Last modified: March 22, 2014