By Tim McMahon
Each of the six tools has a specific place in our art and teaching for the Mason: the Twenty-four Inch Gauge and the Common Gavel of the First Degree, the Square, Level and Plumb of the Second and the Trowel, the tool of the Third Degree.
In the first degree, the Entered Apprentice or workman, knowing little of the ultimate design, has to learn the use of the tools of preparation – the 24 inch gauge and common gavel. The skilled craftsman, or Fellow Craft, knowing somewhat of what is required by the plan, has to test the work, and for this purpose he must have a full knowledge of the tools presented to him – the square, level and plumb. The Master has to prepare the plan for the skilled craftsman, and for this purpose he uses all of the tools but especially the trowel.
In operative masonry the apprentice takes the rough stone from the quarry and on it he uses the tools of preparation to achieve the Rough Ashlar. This is done using the 24 inch gauge to take the measure of the stone and the common gavel to shape it. The craftsman then takes this Rough Ashlar from the apprentice and under his skilful hand It becomes the Perfect Ashlar and is placed correctly in the building, using the tools of proof. He uses the plumb, square and level and according to the plan of the Master. The Master, after examining the work sets the stone by using the Trowel to cement it permanently in place.
As Freemasons we use these tools in a more speculative manner than our operative counterparts. We use them to teach and remind us of important lessons in freemasonry.
The Entered Apprentice is presented with the 24 inch gauge and common gavel. The Twenty-four Inch Gauge we are taught represents the twenty-four hours of the day, and that part of the day is to be spent in prayer to Almighty God and in serving a friend or brother in time of need, part in our usual duties and responsibilities and part in refreshment and sleep. This is a reminder to the Initiate not only to help another in their time of need but also that we are mortal, that we have just so many years of life, with just so many days to each year, and just so many hours to each day.
This first lesson for the Initiate is that of time and how to use it, that time is to be divided into three parts: for God, for our neighbor and for ourselves. The first is emphasized throughout our ritual; we are taught to put our trust in God, our Lodge opens and closes with prayer. Prayer is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, but we must not stop at prayer, the act of homage to the Great Architect, but carry out His will through the whole day.
The second part is our duty to our neighbor, and that does not mean to take good care of ourselves and if we have a few crumbs left over to scatter them to the poor. It means that we give and go on giving to our neighbor, but not to make our own families suffer in consequence of that giving. In other words we are to remember our neighbor, but do not neglect our own family in the process. There must be some order in the fulfillment of our obligations, and a man has no right to neglect his family in order to wear a jewel, even one of Masonic charity. And giving does not mean just giving cash out of a large surplus. There is no real gift without the giver feeling it. There are many different kinds of gifts; some have cash from their pocket, others have advice, encouragement or sympathy, and others again may provide help in some sort of practical work or service.
The third duty outlined by the 24 in gauge is our duty to ourselves. This duty has 2 parts work and refreshment. Without work the gifts that we have been given are wasted – the great gifts of talent of mind and body, which have been entrusted to our keeping. The finest steel will rust and lose its temper if it is not used, and the finest intellect will become dulled, and the finest muscles waste, if neither is put to use as planned by our Maker. Excess never yet spelled efficiency. So refreshment is enjoyed. Refreshment, like recreation, means nothing if not renewal. The very word “recreation” means creating again; or, in other words, a renewal of our strength and power.
The Gavel, we are told, represents the force of conscience, which, is the voice of our own soul. It is this inner voice that is ever ready to warn us when without it we would err. If we let conscience guide us, and are prompt to heed it, we will find its voice becoming stronger and clearer with every day of our lives; but, if we fail to heed it, failure becomes a habit, and its voice will eventually become so weak that it is barely audible, so that finally there is no warning at all. Conscience, like the Gavel, will “knock the rough and superfluous” bits away so that the rough stone of our character will become the Perfect Ashlar fit for the Temple.
The Fellow craft is presented with the Square, Plumb and Level. The Square is one of the most important tools in Freemasonry for, besides being one of the working tools of the Second Degree, it is also counted as the only one of the working tools that is placed on the Alter. The Square reminds us to deal straight with everyone we meet. Just as the square is used by operative masons to draw a straight line it admonishes us walk that same straight line in all that we do.
The true Level is the surface of a fluid at rest, and we shall find the true Freemason when we find a man who has passions and desires like our own, but who is master of his own soul, who can endure the worst calamities of misfortune and not become bitter, and who can meet the greatest good fortune and still keep his feet on the ground.
Men differ in nature, heredity and opportunity, but above all, in the ability to make full use of their talents or to overcome their disabilities. We can all, however, do our best with what means we have; the greater a man’s wealth, or the greater his intelligence and ability, then the greater his responsibility. So Masonry and the Level teach us equality of regard. On the floor of the Lodge all men are equal and brothers – equal in our regard, and brothers in the great brotherhood of man.
The Plumb Rule consists of a weight hanging freely at the end of a line; the principle that actuates it is the influence of gravity. No matter where it is placed, it always points to the centre of the earth. So it is in the spiritual world, but there it points unerringly to God.
The Plumb Rule is an emblem of integrity, and with the man of integrity we can entertain no doubt. We know how he will act, and what he will do, because he stoops to nothing mean or petty, a debt of a few cents is just as sure to be paid as one of thousands of dollars; where his attendance is expected there he will be. The man of integrity is ruled by duty and loyalty, and will never take an unfair advantage.
A man of integrity does not envy the wealth, the power, or the intelligence and good fortune of another, nor does he despise those less fortunate than himself. He harbors no avarice, injustice, malice, revenge, nor an envy and contempt of mankind, but holds the scales of justice with equal poise.
The Master is presented with only one tool but is admonished to make us of all the tools at his disposal. The tool presented to the Master is the Trowel.
In Operative Masonry the Trowel is the tool that finalizes the work done by the apprentice and craftsman.
While the Apprentice is engaged in preparing the raw materials, which require only the 24 inch Gauge and Gavel to give them their proper shape and the Fellow Craft places them in their proper position by means of the Plumb, Level, and Square; it depends on the Master Mason alone, after having examined their correctness and proven them true and trusty, to secure them permanently in their place by spreading, with the trowel, the cement that irrevocably binds them together. The Master Mason is therefore taught to make use of all the tools of Free Masonry to complete his tasks, indeed it would be impossible for him to do so without using all of the tools at his disposal.
The Trowel therefore is a symbol of the spiritual cement that binds us together into one fraternity of friends and brothers. This cement is made of equal parts of mutual trust, shared ideals and common goals. We are a disparate group that in other circumstances might not mix. In our ranks you will find the Doctor sitting next to the Laborer, each equal in the eyes of Masonry. This is the cement which unites us.
Once given all of the tools the Mason still needs a plan by which to use them. Tools are useless without a good plan. We all know that in the erection of a building or in following any set of detailed instructions, just how easy it is to misread the plan and build incorrectly. But we not only need good direction and order we also we need a good light by which to read the plan correctly. This light is provided to us by the book of Sacred Law you find placed upon the Alter in every Masonic hall. We have only to seek, and we will find the light that we need.
The Volume of the Sacred Law gives us that light on our duty to God and his plan for the tools placed at our disposal, the Square placed upon the book reminds us again of our duty to our neighbor.
Each of us are the living stones, which form the Temple not made with hands, and so that the Temple may be perfect, each one of us must strive to be so, for the Temple will only be as good as the stones that form it. Masonry is more than ritual; it is a way of living. It offers us a method and a plan, by which we may build a character so strong and true that nothing, not even death, can destroy it. If we act justly, love mercy, walk humbly before God and use these working tools, then we can serenely await the solemn moment when we must quit this transitory scene with a clear conscience and a trust in the mercy of God.