Vol. XXXIX No. 8 — August 1961

Presenting Working Tools

Conrad Hahn

Masonic education generally begins with the ritual. Since “Freemasonry is a system of morality illustrated by symbols,” nothing in the process of instructing the initiate is more important than the presentation of the working tools in the ritual of each of the three degrees. The newly-made craftsman must grasp the all-important idea that the implements of Freemasonry are symbols that, when properly understood, enable a Mason to work for the improvement of mankind by the practice of positive moral and ethical principles.

Unfortunately, the ritualistic explanation in each of the degrees is really too short to do this teaching by itself. Even more unfortunately, the recital of this instruction is sometimes too careless or too hurried to suggest the vital importance of these ideas to the newly-made Mason. He must be impressed by the moral and spiritual uses to which he can put those useful and valuable instruments that teach friendship, morality, and brotherly love. He must be stimulated to consider their importance to his own life in all its relationships with his fellow-man. He must be inspired to use the working tools effectively.

Consequently, the brother who presents the implements of Masonry should give careful, serious thought to the manner and meaning of the presentation speeches. He cannot explain all the moral implications in the uses of the tools; but at the same time he cannot convey their crucial importance to personal Masonic progress unless his own knowledge and his own convictions shine through his rendition of the presentation address.

Memorizing the ritual should include a mastery of the pronunciation of each word, a thorough understanding of the meaning of each word in the context in which it is used, and a cadenced recital of the various phrases and sentences that make up each of the presentation speeches. This requires some preparation and rehearsal on the part of the brother who is making them. However, it is not the most important step in his preparation for this significant instruction to the initiate.

What are the uses of the working tools? The ritual tells us briefly of the operative and speculative activities for which each instrument is designed; but the explanation of “the more noble and glorious purposes” is so generalized and so archaically expressed that only a skillful and impressive recital will persuade initiates that this experience is crucially important. The brother who presents the working tools must convince the newly-made Mason that he speaks “as one having authority,” that the uses of the working tools are as infinite as the manifestations of fife itself, and that their employment is the fundamental purpose of all Masonic labors. He must speak as one who has pondered thoroughly the myriad applications of Masonic symbols to the art of building universal brotherhood.

To the Entered Apprentice are presented the twenty-four inch gauge and the common gavel. To the operative apprentice, whose job was to shape a rough ashlar into a smooth stone of certain dimensions, the need for a measuring device like the rule is perfectly obvious; but thought should also be given to the hundreds of other situations in which craftsmen, including the master builder, required the use of a gauge to measure and lay out their work. It was the fundamental tool, the prime need, in all planning and designing.

Free and Accepted Masons are taught to use it as a symbol for dividing time, i.e., as the symbol of proportion in living a useful and benevolent life. But what is time? Are the divisions of the twenty-four hour day as given in the ritual to be taken literally? Do all men work exactly eight hours a day? Do all men need precisely eight hours for refreshment and sleep? Is service to God and a distressed worthy brother to be limited to eight hours a day, cut out of the twenty-four like a measurable piece of pie? If honest toil is a prayer to God, if helping others is doing God’s work, and if proper attention to one’s physical needs is caring for His holy temple, does not all activity become a service to God?

Time, it has been said, is a habit of the human mind. Given the gift of memory, man learned to arrange experiences in his mind according to a definite pattern, which he calls time. Since he can also arrange future experiences in a similar pattern, he enjoys the ability to plan and to control his present and future activities for satisfying and constructive purposes. This is the real use to which a speculative workman puts his symbolic twenty-four inch gauge — to shape and control his present and future behavior so that he may promote the fundamental Masonic objectives of brotherly love, relief, and truth. It is such a philosophic impression that a brother should convey to the initiate when he presents to him the first of the working tools of an Entered Apprentice.

A similar treasure trove of ideas should shine through his recital of the uses of the common gavel. What are “the vices and superfluities of life”? How does one divest the heart, as well as the mind, of these disabling handicaps? Jesus told the young ruler who wanted to inherit eternal life to go home and to “sell that thou hast and give to the poor” (Matthew 19:21); but even that was insufficient to achieve the great spiritual goal that the young man had in mind, for Jesus then added the most difficult requirement, “Follow Me!” How does one “fit the mind as a living stone for that spiritual building . . . not made with hands”? What is that spiritual building?

The presentation of the common gavel provides one of the few opportunities for a dramatic gesture in the ritual of presenting the Masonic working tools. While explaining the operative workman’s procedure, “to break off the corners of rough stones,” a brother may actually demonstrate the work by pretending to break off the corner of an imaginary stone represented by the end of the other arm extended in space. A similar opportunity comes during the presentation of the trowel in the Master Mason Degree, when that implement can be made to spread imaginary cement on a pretended wall between the speaker and the initiate. Of course, each of the working tools could actually be “applied” in some way during its presentation, but not all the actions would seem so natural as these.

Such a dramatic demonstration, however, calls attention to the fact that the proper “common gavel” should be employed. Operative apprentices used gavels with a head resembling an axe-head, one edge blunt and the other sharp. The gavel employed by a presiding officer is properly a mallet; Webster’s definition of the gavel as “a mason’s setting maul” does not apply to the common gavel of the apprentice stonemason. He used a gavel with a sharp edge to cut the fissure in the stone that would permit him to make a clean break when he knocked off the corner of a rough stone with the other, the blunt edge of his instrument. An initiate would be completely confused to see an imaginary rough corner broken off by a setting maul!

The ritual passage accompanying the presentation of the working tools of a Fellowcraft frequently “goes in one ear and out the other” because it is the most compressed of the three in the Symbolic degrees. While the operative and symbolic uses of the plumb, square, and level are pointed out specifically, too much is left to the imagination or to the architectural and literary experience of the listener to guarantee complete and thorough understanding of the uses of these implements. Here a thorough knowledge of the builders’ skills and of the symbolic uses of their tools will help the recitation to become rich and pregnant with Masonic meanings. The teacher must know his subject if his brief instruction is to be convincing.

Builders use the plumb “to raise perpendiculars.” What are perpendiculars? How are perpendiculars raised? How often is the plumb used in raising so simple a perpendicular as a garden wall six feet high and forty feet long? Why are columns perpendiculars? Why is perpendicularity so important to the strength and stability of a structure? What is the relationship of a perpendicular to a horizontal? Is the one really dependent on the other? The level is used “to lay horizontals.” What determines a true horizontal? Is there a relationship between real levelness and the structure of the world, which in turn is related to the structure of the universe? The square is used “to square their work.” How is squareness related to perpendiculars and horizontals? Is it correct to say that “a square is a plumb and level combined”? How is the square used by operative stonemasons, in fashioning the stone, in placing it in position, in testing the completed project?

Obviously, the functions of the Fellowcraft’s tools are closely related; their symbolic uses are likewise interwoven. The plumb teaches uprightness of conduct; the square symbolizes the universal standards of morality by which upright conduct is determined, and the level suggests the universal experience of all men, whose common destiny is death and the life after death. The last idea, however, depends on the recognition of the literary allusion in the phrase, “that undiscovered country from whose bourn (boundary) no traveler returns.” The brother who would recite this passage convincingly should read and digest Hamlet’s famous speech, “To be, or not to be,” in Act III, Scene 1, of Shakespeare’s play of that name.

The working tools of a Master Mason “are all the implements of Masonry indiscriminately (i.e., collectively), but more especially the trowel.” The recitation of this definition becomes much more authoritative if the speaker gestures toward a collection of the working tools displayed in the three degrees; but it should also be remembered that another important implement lies on the Great Light (itself a symbol of a working tool, the trestleboard), its two points now fully revealed to symbolize progressive enlightenment. Furthermore, the operative builders used other tools and instruments that have not been specifically presented to the initiate, probably because the authors of Masonic rituals found no universally recognizable moral interpretations for them.

In learning the symbolic use of the trowel, it is important for the initiate to grasp the meaning of the word emulation. This is defined in the ritual itself. Contention is first referred to as an undesirable quality among Masons, but it is then used again in the phrase, noble contention, to make clear what emulation really means. However, the initiate’s understanding depends almost entirely on the effectiveness with which the speaker renders the entire passage. He must emphasize the contrasts; he must pause to let one idea “sink in” before he goes on to the next. He must enunciate each word clearly and precisely. He should practice it aloud until he feels sure that he’s “putting it across.”

More might be written about the operative and symbolic uses of the working tools of Freemasonry. This is one of the areas in which brothers are capable of discovering more and more light, especially as they seek to apply each tool to the thousand-and-one facets of their daily fives. Enough has been said, however, to demonstrate the importance of a rich and well-informed mind in those who present the working tools of the Craft to new members. A few “practical” suggestions may also prove helpful.

The presentation of the working tools is generally regarded as a portion of “the master’s part.” Nevertheless, it is common to find the worshipful master requesting a worthy brother, often a past master, to perform this part of the ritual for him. It is an amiable custom, which honors a past master or distinguished guest, and often succeeds in keeping a past master’s interest and enthusiasm alive and active. It is also worth considering, where constitutional requirements raise no barrier, to ask the sponsors of a candidate to present the working tools. A recommender and avoucher bear a special responsibility toward the new member they have recommended. Participation in the work of the degrees may not only help to encourage the attendance of such sponsors at the ceremonies for the candidates they have promoted; it will help them to realize the fundamental duty they owe to the initiate, to instruct and to teach him in Masonic customs, philosophy, and ideals.

Nevertheless, the master’s chief concern should be the effect of the presentation on a newly-admitted brother. For this reason he should invite only well-qualified Master Masons to perform this significant ceremony. They should be willing and able to memorize accurately, to dramatize their recitals by good enunciation, correct pronunciation, contrasted pauses and rhythmical phrasing, as well as by an appropriate gesture or two. They should speak loudly and clearly; mumbling ruins any delivery.

After the description of the operative use of each implement, it should be handed to the initiate. After all, the ritual declares, “I now present you with . . .” just before the words, “Free and Accepted Masons are taught to make use of it. . . .” each working tool should be placed in the hands of the new member. He shouldfeel it and handle it. Children who cannot learn to read by the modern “Look-See” method are frequently speeded on their way by feeling the letters they are trying to learn, either as cut-outs in wood or by tracing them in sand. Many a poor speller has been helped by writing words correctly so that he gets a kinesthetic (muscular) memory of words, which in his case is stronger and more enduring than a visual or auditory recall. Athletes practice certain motions until their muscles automatically perform the skill without hesitation or conscious planning. Good automobile drivers depend on their muscles to remember and to act. Man remembers a great many actions in his muscles long after his memory has ceased to visualize the events in which they were involved. Every Masonic initiate will intensify his recollection of the presentation of the working tools if he has actually held them in his hands. To paraphrase an ancient saying, “Feeling is believing.”

The presentation of the working tools should be “a high moment” in every Masons initiatory experiences. Let us do everything in our power to make those moments so impressive that they are literally “unforgettable.” That is certainly one aim of Masonic education. What a craftsman cannot forget will positively affect his future actions with all mankind, especially a brother Mason.

The Masonic Service Association of North America