The Trowel

MWB Jack Welker, PGM

“The Working Tools of a Master Mason are all the implements of Masonry, indiscriminately, but more especially the Trowel. The Trowel is an instrument used by Operative Masons to spread the cement which unites a building into one common mass, but we, as Free and Accepted Masons, are taught to make use of it for the more noble and glorious purpose of spreading the cement of Brotherly Love and Affection.”
These words, familiar to all Master Masons are the first part of what is commonly referred to as “the Trowel Lecture.” In South Dakota, we have an optional “long Trowel lecture” which further explains that the building arts are distinctly human arts; no other species creatively builds homes and shelters. The long Trowel also tells how Speculative Masonry came from Operative Masonry and that we, as Speculative Masons, are still builders; we are building our lives, our characters, the Temples of our souls.
But what do these words really mean? Why is the Trowel chief among the tools of the operative and speculative mason?
The word trowel is derived from Middle English, French and originally from the Latin word “trulla” meaning ladle, scoop or skimmer. As Master Masons, it is supposed that we have left the rougher, coarser things of life behind us; that we now search for the more significant things such as knowledge, wisdom, how to make the world a better place for all men. Much like the richer, more desirable cream rises to the top and the milk lies below, Master Masons have moved beyond the mundane and profane and left the more common behind. To remove the cream, you use a ladle or skimmer. Therefore, it is fitting that the trowel, (ladle or skimmer) is used to teach Master Masons to desire the more important things and leave the others behind.
The trowel is also one of the last tools used in the construction of a building. All the prep work on the stones, from cutting them from the bedrock, to the final squaring and polishing, must be completed before the stones can be cemented together into a suitable structure. Therefore, it is necessary for a man to learn the lessons taught in the Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft Degrees before he can begin to use the tools of a Master to build his Spiritual edifice.
The optional long trowel lecture also tells us that even though other animals are capable of building shelters; this building is guided by instinct. The nest of the bird, the dam of the beaver, the home of the wasp and the web of the spider are the same as they were thousands of years ago. Only man is able to change the design; to build better and better. It is therefore our duty to constantly strive to do better in everything we do.
Nehemiah 4 speaks to the rebuilding of the Temple wall by the Hebrews. Their enemies were determined to stop them and made plans to attack. The Hebrews responded to this by vowing to work with a tool (trowel) in one hand and a weapon in the other. This teaches us to be constantly on guard against those who seek to destroy the goods works we strive to do.
The symbolism of the Trowel instructs us that as the Operative Mason uses the finest cement to build his structure of stone, so ought we use the finest principles to construct our Spiritual Temple. If the Operative Master uses poor cement or tries to otherwise cut corners, his building will not stand. The same applies to the Speculative Mason; if we do not use only the very best principles and ideals to govern our life, our spiritual building will not stand.
Let us use the lessons of the Trowel everyday to spread the cement of Brotherly love. In doing so, we will not only work toward building a Spiritual Temple that is acceptable to the eyes of God, but will also better the world around us and the lives of those in it.