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Behind the SymbolHistory

Behind the Masonic Symbol: 24 in. Gauge

By January 11, 2024No Comments
Image of a 24 In Gauge
24 Inch Gauge, Courtesy of Ann-Arbor Fraternity Lodge #262

Throughout history, Freemasonry has provided a way for men throughout the world to live their lives to their fullest potential in association with other like-minded men. Our focus on each member’s social, moral, and intellectual development and well-being is unique among modern organizations. We use symbols in our degrees to convey moral and philosophical lessons to our members, they are encouraged to interpret them and form their own opinions, and remind Masons of their obligations.

The experience of becoming a member of a Masonic Lodge is divided into three ceremonial stages that Masons call “degrees.” The three degrees of Freemasonry are Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason. Symbolically, the degrees represent the three stages of human development: youth, manhood, and age. In the first degree, Entered Apprentice, new members are introduced to two foundational working tools: the common gavel and the twenty-four-inch gauge. This article explores the importance of the twenty-four-inch gauge in Freemasonry and how a Brother can apply its teachings to his life. 

The Working Tools of the Entered Apprentice

When a man completes the Entered Apprentice degree, it is a candidate’s introductory experience with the solemn and meaningful ceremonies of the Fraternity. The first degree is a man’s first step as a Freemason and earns him the title of “Brother.” During this ritual, an Entered Apprentice is taught to use the 24-inch gauge, a symbolic tool used in Freemasonry to represent the allocation of a Mason’s time between the various essential aspects of life. It holds significance as a reminder of balance, discipline, and the importance of managing one’s time wisely in order to lead a well-rounded and meaningful life. 

Renowned Masonic author Albert Mackey wrote of the 24-inch gauge in his book The Manual of the Lodge:

The working tools of an Entered Apprentice are the Twenty-four-inch Gauge and the Common Gavel…An instrument made use of by operative Masons to measure and lay out their work. But we, as Free and Accepted Masons, are taught to make use of it for the more noble and glorious purpose of dividing our time. It being divided into twenty-four equal parts, is emblematical of the twenty-four hours of the day; which we are taught to divide into three parts, whereby we find a portion for the service of God and a distressed worthy brother; a portion for our usual vocations, and a portion for refreshment and sleep.

Dividing Time

The 24-inch gauge is often depicted as a measuring tool with three sections, each measuring 8 inches. These 8-inch segments symbolize the 24 hours of a day. As Mackey wrote, Freemasons are encouraged to divide their day into three equal parts: eight hours for service to God and a distressed worthy brother, eight hours for their usual vocations, and eight hours for refreshment and sleep. 

The symbolism of the 24-inch gauge underscores the importance of balance and moderation in a Mason’s life. Members are encouraged to find equilibrium between their Masonic duties, professional responsibilities, and personal well-being. And to achieve that balance, brethren must be capable of exercising discipline and self-control. By emphasizing a disciplined time allocation, the 24-inch gauge teaches Freemasons the value of self-control and the necessity of prioritizing their commitments.

Using the 24-inch gauge 

It is impossible to fully absorb the depth, beauty, and meaning of the Entered Apprentice degree in one encounter. Men spend years, if not a lifetime, returning to lodge to witness and partake in the ceremony in an effort to understand its significance. Many members complete the first degree only to ask, “How am I supposed to divide my time so evenly?” It’s a worthy question, and each Mason must ponder its meaning while relying on the counsel of his brethren to develop a more complete understanding during his search for light. 

To take the teachings of the twenty-four-inch gauge literally and split his time into strict segments of eight hours for duty to God, eight to labor, and eight to refreshment and sleep can leave a man feeling he must exclude much from his life. Instead, it is paramount to remember the working tool is a symbolic lesson and that rather than divide our time into three equal parts and remove anything that falls outside those categories, we must be judicious with our time and how we choose to spend it.

A symbol of time well spent

Freemasonry is a journey that requires us to strive for a balance that allows us to become more productive and contribute to our communities. At its core, the 24-inch gauge is a tool for moral and ethical reflection. It prompts Masons to assess how they spend their time and whether their activities align with the principles of Freemasonry. Use the twenty-four gauge as a reminder that we must not neglect our duties. While it may occasionally feel like time is slipping away, the Great Architect has designed our days so that we may have enough time to build our moral edifice.

In essence, the 24-inch gauge is a symbolic guide for Freemasons to live purposefully, emphasizing the importance of dedicating time to spiritual, professional, and personal pursuits. Promoting a balanced and disciplined approach to time management aligns with the broader Masonic goal of fostering its members’ moral and intellectual development.

Explore the other installments of our “Behind the Masonic Symbols” series, including Jacob’s Ladder, the Square and Compasses, and The Beehive.