Working Tools of a Master Mason

by MasterMason


The Working Tools of the Master Mason Degree, are the Skirret, the Pencil and the Compasses – characteristically and unmistakably the tools of the Architect, the Designer and the Master builder himself.


You are unlikely to discover the word “skirret” in any modern dictionary or encyclopedia – at least, not in the context with which we, as Freemasons, are familiar.  It seems to have disappeared from the language of the operative builder.  But if the word has been forgotten, the instrument itself has not, and it is in as general use as ever.  It is better known as the “chalk line” – a length of cotton string impregnated with French chalk, and contained on a spindle similar to the “skirret” of our ritual.  The line is drawn out in exactly the manner described in our Master Mason Degree, and stretched between the previously determined points on the floor.  It is then given a slight “flip”, and as it strikes the ground along its length,

It leaves a line of chalk, which is subsequently rendered permanent with paint, or with a tightly stretched steel wire.  This line becomes the centre-line from which all principal dimensions are measured.  Any serious inaccuracy in its position could lead to chaos at subsequent stages in the work, therefore the responsibility for determining, verifying and approving this line is that of the Chief Engineer, or Architect – ” “The Master Builder himself”.

Our ritual leaves us in no doubt as to the symbolical significance of the skirret and its line, –

“a straight and undeviating line of conduct laid down for our guidance in the Volume of the Sacred Law.” 

How familiar to us are some of the points along this straight and undeviating line, –

Thou shalt not steal.

Thou shalt no bear false witness.

Honor thy father and thy mother.

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy mind, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength and thy                    neighbor as thyself.

We well know how any serious deviation from this line leads unfailingly to social chaos of one kind or another.  In a time of permissiveness and moral laxity, this “straight and undeviating line of conduct” is more than a guideline, it is a life-line.


The Pencil, in the sense that it is the instrument of original design, is again demonstrably an implement of the architect or master-builder, the means whereby his inspired talents are set down for the instruction of the workmen and the guidance of the supervisors.  On a recent visit to England, I saw, in a book, a copy of a beautiful drawing, executed in pencil on vellum, by the master builder Hans. V. Kohn, in 1442 – his design for the great open-work twin spires for Cologne Cathedral.  The work was not immediately undertaken, perhaps for financial reasons, but in the meantime Hans was offered an assignment in Spain, where he took his drawings and used them in building the almost identical open work twin spires of the great cathedral at Burgos. Hans subsequently died, and the drawings, like the “genuine secrets” of our traditional history, were lost. But,“time and circumstance eventually restored them after several centuries, for they were discovered in 1817, and the lovely spires of Cologne Cathedral, as they exist today, were faithfully completed to Hans’ original design.  Truly, the pencil of the Master Builder is an impressive tool.

Our ritual reminds us, however, that the pencil is an instrument, not only of design, but also or record,

“that all our words and actions are not only observed but are recorded by the Most High, to whom we must render an account”.

The shabby act, the unkind word, the dishonest deal, may be forgiven and forgotten by him upon whom it is perpetrated, and he is blessed by his act of forgiveness.  But it will not be easily forgotten by the perpetrator, on whose character it is an ugly stain.

“The moving finger writes, and having writ Moves on; not all the piety and or wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line. Nor all the tears wash out a word of it!”


Although the Compasses, together with the Square are said to

“convey the abstract means and end of the science in the most clear and comprehensive Manner”,                            the symbolic significance of this familiar instrument of design is perhaps a little more obscure.

To the schoolboy, the compasses is an instrument of two hinged legs, with a pencil on one end and a point on the other, which enables him to draw circles with a degree of accuracy he could not achieve by freehand efforts.  But the compasses of our Masonic Ritual have points on both legs.  They are of the type known to Architects, geometricians and navigators as “dividers”.

They are not drawing, but measuring, instruments and their function is proportion and symmetry.  By means of the compasses, a distance of one side of a centre-line can be readily marked off on the other side of the line, and thus the designer is enabled to maintain balance and symmetry in his design.

Symbolically, a balanced viewpoint and a sense of proportion are essential attributes of good and sound judgment and of the mature, sterling character which is our Masonic ideal.  We are told in our ritual that the Compasses “remind us of His (God’s) unerring and impartial justice.”  The ideal Master Mason is a well balanced  and just man, and one in whom, to quote Shakespeare, “mercy seasons justice.”  Perhaps this is what we mean when we say to the Fellowcraft, about to be raised, as he enters the darkened porch way and the points of the compasses are applied to his breast, that

“the most essential points of Freemasonry, which are Virtue, Morality, and Brotherly Love, are contained within the points of the Compasses.”

And so, Brethren, as we have each progressed through these three Degrees of Masonry, we have been presented, at the appropriate intervals with these nine simple tools, common implements by which physical material may be measured, cut and finished in accordance with a master craftsman’s design.  And, as we have been taught, each has been accompanied by a corresponding symbolic tool, to be employed by us, figuratively, to measure, cut and finish the all too frail material of our human nature, in our efforts to erect “an Edifice, perfect in its’ parts, and honorable to the builder.”

By Bro. Phil J. Croft, King David Lodge No. 93, BCR;

Published in MASONIC BULLETIN, BCR; January and February, 1974


Just a few little quotes that struck a chord with me, I do trust they may do the same for you.

“One is taught by experience to put a premium on those few people who can appreciate you for what you are”       Gail Godwin  1937

“Of what help is anyone who can only be approached with the right words”  Elizabeth Bibesco 1897-1945

Thank you all again for allowing me into your homes, Have a wonderful Day & God Bless.

Norm.  (in friendship and brotherly love)

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