The news letter that is sent out to all members of our lodge is referred to as the Trestle Board, but a true trestle board or tracing board was used in ancient times during degrees. Below is a brief background of the early Trestle boards.
The trestle board has been a central tool for Masonic teachings, but the form of the trestle board has changed throughout time. In ancient times the need for secrecy was larger, as dis- and mis-information about Freemasonry required its members to pay particular close attention to what, and how, Masonic “teachings” were given. For this reason, the trestle board, with the several objects and symbols, were drawn in sand from memory. No written copies were available. In former times, it was the duty of the Tyler to literally draw the trestle board in the sand inside the Lodge, or other meeting place, at the beginning of each meeting. In effect, not only was the Tyler responsible for literally tyling the Lodge, but also, by drawing the trestle board, to enable the brethren to commence their work – something most of us would today identify as being the responsibility of the Worshipful Master.
During later periods, meetings often took place in taverns, and chalk and charcoal were used to draw the trestle board on the wooden floor. This way, should the need arise, the trestle board could immediately be erased without a trace. Indeed, as taverns were public, it was standard practice to erase the trestle board at the end of all functions, and it was the duty of the youngest member of the degree in which the meeting was held, to see to it that all traces were erased. It is for this reason that mops and pails were often listed in a Lodge’s standard inventory. The tedious job of having to draw the trestle board before every meeting with chalk and charcoal later gave way in the 18th century to permanent wooden, or cloth trestle boards being fixed to the floor through tape and nails. This was probably because the need for secrecy lessened during this period, and many lodges had obtained a more permanent location to meet than the local tavern. It was also better for the tavern operator, or owner, for despite all the cleaning, chalk and charcoal probably still left some nasty stains.
In former times, a lodge usually had only one wooden trestle board, showing the symbols for all three degrees in one board. These permanent boards eventually were replaced by tracing boards, one for each degree, which were generally smaller, more durable, and illustrated the same points when taken together. With three trestle boards, all the important and relevant symbols of each degree could be included in detail – as they are generally done so today.