First Degree Working Tools of the Freemasons

As soon as we begin to study and meditate upon the working tools of the first degree we perceive almost at a glance that these tools were by no means chosen at random from the equipment of an operative Mason’s tool bag. On the contrary, their philosophical and symbolic meaning is so profound as to take us right to the heart of our most fundamental conceptions of life and work.


Before we enter upon this study, it may be interesting to

note in passing the correspondence which clearly exists between the three working tools of the degree and the three principal officers of the Lodge. Thus the 24” gauge used to measure and plan the work, corresponds to the wisdom of the Worshipful Master, who also has to measure and plan as he rules. The gavel which is used to strike a blow, stands for the Senior Warden, whose quality is that of strength, whose function is the transmission of force, or power.


The chisel stands for the Junior Warden, for as he represents the element of beauty, so is the chisel, the tool with which the Mason dresses the rough stone, creating out of it the lines, surfaces, mouldings and so forth which go to beautify the building.


Looking deeper than this, however, into the, meaning of our working tools, we cannot but perceive that they represent the whole of manifested life in its three aspects of cognition, emotion and activity. Now knowledge is derived from observation, from measurement, obtained by the use, in one form or another, of the 24” gauge. Action is the application of force, which we carry out with the gavel, whilst the chisel is the tool with which we come into actual contact, and with which we execute our will upon the matter of the outer world, this contact being, in terms of consciousness, feeling. Thus we ‘know’ with the 24” gauge, we ‘feel’ with the chisel and we ‘act’ with the gavel.


Going still further, we find in all intelligent work that three things are necessary: first, our plan or design: next the power or force which we propose to apply to our task: thirdly, the actual instrument or tool with which we execute the work. Clearly these three elements are graphically symbolised by our three working tools. For we plan with the 24” gauge, we apply our force by means of the gavel and we actually execute the work with the chisel. These three tools are thus archetypes of every possible variety of instrument in each of the three classes.


Turning then to a detailed consideration of each of the three working tools in turn, we will first study the 24” gauge for man, the most fundamental and far reaching of all. Its function is of course to measure length. Now length measurement is the basis of all measurement of every kind, in every department of life, as is well known to students of the sciences. We have no other basis, nor can we conceive any other possible basis. We can only measure objects and understand them by measuring lengths. This applies, of course, not only to lines, but equally also to surfaces and volumes, as well as to angles, for all of the units in which these are expressed are based ultimately on units of length. So also, we can only locate the position of an object relative to other objects by using terms of length measurement, i.e. by the 24” gauge. We can only describe the shape of a body in terms of measurement of length.


Further, not only material objects, but any happening or phenomenon in nature can only, in the last analysis, be measured and described in terms of length measurement. Thus, for example, we can only measure, and therefore describe, light or colour by wave length or velocity, both involving measurement of length as their essential ingredient. The same applies to all other forces, such as heat, sound or electricity. The weight of a body, which is only another way of describing the force of gravity, is measured in terms of units of length. All the properties of matter with which we are acquainted are represented, ultimately, in terms of length measurement, whether it be their texture, hardness, elasticity, specific heat, strength, durability, or what not. The same principal applies to measurements of velocity or motion of any kind, whether it be that of atoms or molecules, railway trains, planets or stars. In measuring power, whether it be of muscle, steam, electricity, atomic energy or radio activity, we know no other means than that of the gauge for expressing what we observe or calculate.


It is also a well-known scientific fact that we can only measure time in terms of space, for the only way we gauge the passage of time is by recording phenomena of movement, those units being of course, expressible only in terms depending on length measurement. If our means of measuring space were removed we would have no method of recording the passage of time.


We thus see that both time and space, matter and force, and all known combinations of those primary elements, out of which our whole ordinary life is built, can be measured, known and understood by means of length measurement alone, by the 24” gauge, that is to say, the basis of all knowledge or science lies in the use of the gauge. This principle applies in every department of human knowledge or experience. For, even in art, philosophy or religion, we can only know and understand those ideas which we can in some way gauge or measure: where measurement ceases, guesswork or ignorance commences. Our knowledge goes just so far as our ability to measure, whether we are dealing with the weight of a stone or the spiritual worth of an idea.


There is yet another field for the use of the 24” gauge. It is of necessity the first working tool placed in the hands of the Mason, because no other tool can be used, for any useful purpose until the 24” gauge has first been applied. All useful work is done by applying tools at the right spot, and this can only be ascertained by the gauge. Unless they are placed at the right place, they become mere instruments of destruction. The whole craft and art of life depends upon bringing our powers and our faculties, which are our tools, to the precise place where, and at the precise moment, they are needed. The reason for the 24” gauge being the first working tool to be placed in the hands of the Entered Apprentice is thus abundantly clear. It is in the very nature of things the first essential of all executive work of every possible kind, and it is also the first essential in the acquirement of knowledge, upon which the skill of the Craftsman depends. A full realisation of the nat

ure and purpose of the 24” gauge is thus a revelation of the wonderful wealth of symbolic meaning which it is possible to convey in the familiar symbols of Freemasonry, and this preliminary study of the first working tools which we encounter in our Masonic career will pave the way to an understanding of the other tools of this degree.


We have already seen that the gavel stands for force or power, it being an instrument for delivering a blow. Representing as it does the simplest and most elementary method of applying force, it stands as a symbol for all forms of force, physical, mental, moral or spiritual. That this is so is made clear in the explanation of the working tools in the first degree, the gavel being held up as a symbol both of the work of the hands and of the highest part of man’s nature, his conscience.

Now the whole of the life of man consists in moving matter, transferring it from one place to another. This applies to the highest forms of spiritual or philosophical work, as well as to the most purely manual or mechanical. All action ultimately resolves itself into moving matter, whether it be the substance of the earth and all the objects we make of it, whether it be the matter of men’s minds, the substances of their souls, or even the imaginative stuff of which dreams are made. The force which man wields, the power which he has over matter and events consists, in the last resort, in this, that he can move matter from one place to another. On the material plane the gavel is the first primitive tool that man could devise to enable him to move matter, and, when the first man made his rough and primitive gavel, probably a piece of rock grasped in his hand, he founded a new era, the era of tools, the era of using other things outside his own body to achieve his purpose. So important and far-reaching was this step in evolution that some scientists have defined man as a tool-making animal. If we translate this into Masonic idiom, we should say that man was a creature with a gavel in his hand. The fact that man dared to grasp in his hand that gavel was an act of tremendous significance: it was the dawn of the consciousness of power, which gave him the first glimpse of his latent divinity. To this say day, as we know, the Master of a Lodge is the man with the gavel in his hand, the symbol of his right to rule his Lodge.


The forces of nature are all blows of various kinds. Light consists of some form of impulse given to wave, corpuscle or quantum; the same applies to sound, electricity, magnetism, and, in all probability, chemical affinity and gravitation. The wind is the striking of particles of air on other particles: the music in the trees is the beating of twigs against each other. The waves of the ocean hurl themselves on the shore, the particles of water push each other down the rivers to the ocean. No matter where we turn, in every phenomenon we observe particles of matter beating and pushing each other ceaselessly. Nature has a gavel in every one of her myriad hands.


The machines, too, which man makes are but glorified gavels, for they are one and all based on the delivery of blows. He makes the fire to thrust asunder the particles of fuel and give him heat and gases. He makes the steam to urge the piston, and each member of the engine or machine to push some other member where his will directs. He makes the magnetic force to rotate the armature, and electricity is generated for his service. He makes the electricity strike the ether and so carry his voice or message round the earth. At first, in the early stages, he is his own gavel, using the power of his own muscles: but as his mind develops, he wrests nature’s gavels from her grasp, and bids her do his bidding, harnessing her powers to his service. Nature herself becomes his gavel, his servant.


Such then is the first lesson of the gavel. The lesson of power: power of muscle, of feeling, of emotion, of intellect, of spirituality. To that power there is no limit, for at the centre of ourselves is a reproduction of the G.A.O.T.U., and His power, as the opening tells us is omnipotent. We may return to this subject a little later, when we come to consider the special significance of the gavel, or more properly, the maul, working in conjunction with the chisel, for it is at the edge of the chisel that the individuality of the Mason finds its expression.


Let us now turn to a consideration of the chisel. The essence of the chisel is its power to cut, to cleave its way through matter. To fulfil its function properly, it needs to have a keen edge, to be able to stand up to the work demanded of it, and also to be capable of receiving and transmitting the power that is applied to it by some means or other of mallet. In the great majority of arts, crafts and industries cutting tools of some kind are used, and a careful examination of such cutting tools will reveal the fact that they are all based on the common chisel: they are all modifications and applications of the chisel, in one form or another. To illustrate this, consider the arts of working in wood, metal or stone. The great variety of planes which have been devised for the purposes of smoothing the material, or of forming grooves or mouldings in it, consist simply of chisels of various shapes fixed in holders or frames. Similarly, every kind of drill, auger, or bit for boring holes in any one of these substances, or any other substances, cuts its way into the material by means of the keen chisel edge formed on the end of the tool. All kinds of files and saws, again, consist of numbers of chisels, each tooth being a small chisel, and cutting precisely as every other chisel cuts. The tiller of the soil uses a chisel shaped into a ploughshare, whilst his sickles, scythes, mowing machines and so forth are all obviously chisels shaped to his particular requirements. For workers in fabrics, scissors or shears are clearly chisels fixed together in pairs. Even in grinding, the basis of many crafts and needed in almost every one, depend on the principle of the chisel, for the minute particles of the grindstone act each as a tiny chisel, cutting a fragment from the material they contact.


Without expanding this list unnecessarily, it will be seen that every one of the many thousands of cutting tools used by man is a chisel, the particular style and shape of that chisel being a detail depending on the exact nature of the work it is to perform.


In the moral and mental worlds the application of the principle of this tool is equally clearly perceived. Just as the chisel of the operative Mason needs to be of sound material, well tempered, brought to a keen edge, and capable of receiving and transmitting the power applied at the handle, so does the speculative Mason need to possess moral qualities, mental faculties, and spiritual powers with characteristics to correspond. Man can only act on the world around him, including his own nature, by applying the powers within him through the agency of his various faculties. The material out of which his faculties are formed must be sound: generous and kindly feelings, a well-equipped and well-trained mind, and a deep and spiritual nature. In every act he is called upon to perform, his powers must, so to speak, be brought to a point or edge, concentrated on the task before him: without concentration, his force is scattered, and success is impossible. He must cut his way clean and true through the intricacies of life, never allowing himself to be diverted from the object he is aiming at. Morally, he must not be led aside from the strict path of virtue: mentally, his mind must not swerve or lose its direction, it must cleave its way through falsehood and appearances, disregarding non-essentials. Spiritually he needs true and keen insight, so that he may penetrate to the heart and core of all things, and, behind the visible, see the invisible.


In life, moreover, a man’s powers must be able to stand the test of difficulties, obstructions and shocks of disillusionment and failure. Then it is that the true temper and quality of the powers he has gained are tested. Sometimes he breaks under the strain, as the edge of a tool snaps, and sometimes he is turned from his purpose, as the edge of a chisel may be turned. A man’s nature may crumble or be crushed as the material of a badly fashioned tool may fail in its work, or it may stand up to its work true, undeviating, with perfect elasticity and spring, like well tempered steel. So much then for the chisel.


We have studied the three working tools separately, it may be useful to compare and contrast the functions which we have discovered appertain to each. We cannot help being struck at the outset by the radical and the fundamental differences between the function of the 24” gauge and those of the gavel and chisel. The former is essentially a static instrument, the latter are dynamic tools. The one indicates the way, the others travel along it. The 24” gauge can only be used when it is held rigid, whilst the other two are only of use when they are in movement. The gauge is rigid, inflexible, fixed and determined once and for all: the other two on the other hand are essentially mobile, flexible and capable of infinite adaptability to the requirements both of the work and of the individual craftsman. The gauge is essentially impersonal, whilst in the gavel and chisel there is a great deal of the personality of the individual workman.


The meaning and significance of all this to the E.A. is clear. In all life we have ever the poles of spirit and matter: whilst the principles of life are fixed, the applications of the same in practical work should be infinitely flexible. Impersonal ideals should determine and direct personal energies. And just as every blow of the mallet on the chisel should be aimed at cutting the stone to the measure marked out by the 24” gauge, so should every action of the Mason be determined by the injunctions of his controlling mind. In all intelligent work, it is necessary to plan ahead, a task which can only be achieved by the mind, which measures means to ends and directs all activities towards bringing about the result aimed at.


Thus, the three working tools of the first degree represent the threefold nature of man, or at least his threefold outer nature, viz.: body, feelings and mind. That which differentiates him from the animals is his mind, his intelligence, his power to plan things, in a word, his 24” gauge. And as the 24” gauge is primarily and always the first and all-important tool of any operative Mason, determining the use of every other tool he possesses, so is mind in man the element of supreme importance, upon the correct use of which depends his very manhood. It is the function of the intelligence to command: desires and body must obey.


Much more of value to the Mason is to be discovered from a careful study of the significance of the mallet and chisel, considered jointly as a pair of tools used together. Let the apprentice study his own nature with patience and perseverance, separating his consciousness as clearly as he is able the three factors of his outer self – body, feelings, mind. Then let him see in the gavel a symbolic representation of all the power that energises him and that he must learn to control and to wield, this power which is his being an individual portion of that strength which is omnipotent: in the chisel let him see all those faculties of his which are to be developed, trained and finely tempered for the purposes of the work which lies before him, the building of the Holy Temple. And in the 24” gauge let him perceive his manhood, that divine power of reason which must become master in its own house, controlling and directing all things to the one great objective, the service of man and the glory of The Great Architect of the Universe. And as he ponders on all these things and perfects his faculties so that through them the power that is in him may carry out with beauty of craftsmanship the behests of his mind, he will presently discover the secret of his own individuality, which emerges at the very edge of his chisel and enables him to make that single, unique mark which is the sign of his birthright and which none but he can make.


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