We know that the ashlar is important in Freemasonry because we know it to be one of the moveable objects referred to in the 1st degree lecture, but what significance does it have? What does the ashlar symbolize? The rough and perfect ashlar, are two of the most significant symbols in Freemasonry, yet is only barely mentioned in the rituals. What does the ashlar signify, and why is it so key to Masonry?
The dictionary defines an ashlar as nothing more than "hewn or squared stone." At first this seems to show the historical connection between Freemasonry and operative Masons, however, in our EA ritual we are taught that "the rough ashlar we are reminded of our rude and imperfect state by nature, by the perfect ashlar, of that state of perfection at which we hope to arrive..."
However, we cannot say that the rough ashlar (both literally as a stone, or symbolically as man) is imperfect, for both were created by the Grand Artificer of the Universe, that created nothing imperfect. The ashlar, therefore, can be seen as symbolizing our mind, which becomes more "perfect" the more effort we exert individually. The chisel and other tools therefore can be seen as representing education, past experiences of others, lessons learned and the like.
An EA is said to represent the rough ashlar, who, by expanding his mind (remember the symbolism of the compass) becomes a perfect ashlar, or a MM, ready take his place "in the house of God." In some Lodges, a newly initiated EA is asked to symbolically chip away a piece of the rough ashlar, to signify that his learning, and expansion of the mind, has begun.