Tools of the Trade – Stone Masonry

Stone Masonry

“Murus” – craft of a mason; stonework. Latin.

The craft of stone masonry is one of the oldest trades in the world, it involves creating buildings, structures and sculptures using stone from the earth. Thought to be more than 12,000 years old, evidence can be traced back to the Neolithic Revolution, where humans first began to domesticate animals and build communities.

Stone is well known for being a victim of the elements over time and suffers from the effects of weathering, which is essentially why stone masonry repairs come up frequently in our restoration works.

We’re currently working on the Jacobean mansion Bank Hall in Bretherton, where the stonework was literally crumbling to pieces, not quite beyond repair when we arrived but it was getting close.

Stone finials belonging to the top of Bank Hall. Some we are able to tidy up and some we are creating from new.

The lavish stonework and finials which decorate this unique mansion are receiving some much needed attention from our skilled craftsmen on site, where modern day techniques are being met with historic processes to recreate what once was.

The Poppy – one of many crafted by our team on site using mallet headed chisels (opposed to a hammer this is much easier on the tradesman’s arms/wrists.

Historically, the working tools of an apprentice mason were – the twenty four inch gauge – the common gavel – and the chisel.

Image credit: http://duanespoetree.blogspot.com/2017/09/umid-ali-writes.html

The twenty four inch gauge was the first instrument placed in the hands of a workman to enable him to measure and ascertain the size and extent of the work he was about to engage in – thus enabling him to compute the time and labour it may cost.

The gavel, being an important instrument of labour, was highly esteemed as an implement of art and though recognised by various artists under different names it was admitted by them all that no work of manual skill could be completed without it.

The chisel is a small instrument and whilst solid in its form it is of such exquisite sharpness as to fully compensate for the diminutives of its size. It is calculated to make impressions on the hardest substances and the mightiest structures are, and have been, indebted to its aid.


Image credit: https://www.sacred-texts.com/mas/dun/dun03.htm

The ancient operative masons, or Freemasons, also taught their apprentices about the morals that could be derived in the use of these tools, and applied symbolism to them.

From the twenty four inch gauge they learned a lesson of daily instruction, because as it is divided into 24 equal parts, it recalled to their mind the division of the natural day into 24 hours and directed them to assign them to what was then considered their proper purpose – prayer, labour, refreshment and sleep.

From the gavel they learned that skill without any exertion was not productive and that labour was the lot of man, for the heart may conceive and the head devise in vain, if the hand were not prompt to execute the design.

From the chisel they learned that perseverance was necessary to establish perfection and that the raw stone could receive its fine polish only by repeated effort, and that nothing short of the most indefatigable exertion could induce the habit of virtue, enlighten the mind and render the soul pure.

From the whole of this they deduced the moral:

That knowledge, grounded on accuracy, aided by labour and prompted by perseverance will finally overcome all difficulties, raise ignorance from despair and establish happiness in the paths of science.

Put simply, the 24-inch gauge, showed how a stone mason should spend his day, the common gavel indicated that bad thoughts and feelings are unproductive, and the chisel encouraged new masons to continue the process of education.


Incorporated in 2006, Aura Conservation have existed for over twelve successful years. We have a sound and experienced management team. We can assist you in any of your conservation needs and have a body of long standing and experienced tradesmen we can call on with specialist knowledge of the conservation world. Along with prudent financial management, we have a sound financial foundation that will see us prosper in the coming years.

You can contact us at:

Dunham House, 181 Wellington Road North, Stockport, Cheshire, SK4 2PB. Tel. 0161 442 9850 Fax. 0161 432 8478

Email  enquiries@auraltd.co.uk
Web    www.auraltd.co.uk

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