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Wooden gavel
A gavel is a small ceremonial mallet commonly made of hardwood, typically fashioned with a handle and often struck against a sound block to enhance its sounding qualities. It is a symbol of the authority and right to act officially in the capacity of a chair or presiding officer. It is used to call for attention or to punctuate rulings and proclamations. It is customarily struck to indicate the opening (call to order) and closing (adjournment) of proceedings, giving rise to the phrase gavel-to-gavel to describe the entirety of a meeting or session, and to indicate that an item has been sold in an auction. It is also commonly used in United Statesmarker courts by judges.


History is vague, but there are references to the word in Medieval England in reference to a tribute or rent payment made with something other than cash. These agreements were set in English land-court with the sound of a "gavel".

The gavel was also an operative tool used by medieval freemasons for finishing stones, and when they gathered in the lodge for meetings the master and wardens would rap their gavels as a symbol of order.

Proper use

Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised provides guidelines on the proper use of the gavel in deliberative assemblies in the USA. For instance, the chair is never to use the gavel in an attempt to drown out a disorderly member; rather, the chair should give one vigorous tap at a time at intervals. The chair should not lean on the gavel, juggle or toy with it, or use it to challenge or threaten or to emphasize remarks. The prohibited practice of a chair cutting off members' right to debate or introduce secondary motion by quickly putting a question to vote before any member can get the floor is referred to as "gaveling through" a measure.

Demeter's Manual notes that, in addition to an optional light tap after a vote, there are three other uses of a gavel:
  1. To attract attention and call a meeting to order. In most organizations, two raps raise and one rap seats the assembly; in others, two raps raise and three raps seat it.
  2. To maintain order and restore it when breached in the course of the proceedings. (Rap the gavel once, but vigorously.)
  3. To be handed over to successors in office or to officiating officers as ceremonials, etc. (Always extend the holding end.)

United States Congress gavels

The unique gavel of the United States Senate has an hourglass shape and no handle. The gavel in current use was presented to the Senate by the Republic of Indiamarker and first used on November 17, 1954. This gavel replaced an ivory gavel which had been in use since at least 1789 and had deteriorated over the years. In 1952, silver plates were added to both ends of the old gavel in an attempt to prevent further damage to it. In 1954, it broke when Vice President Richard Nixon used it during a heated debate on nuclear energy. Unable to obtain a piece of ivory large enough to replace the gavel, the Senate appealed to the Indian embassymarker. India presented to the United States the solid ivory replica still in use.

In contrast to the Senate, the gavel of the United States House of Representatives is plain and wooden. Used more often and more forcefully in the House , it has been broken and replaced many times.

In both houses, the gavel is generally sounded, that is, struck, once to mark the opening of the session, the adjournment, and to punctuate announcements of decisions by the body (that is, when the presiding officer announces that a resolution or motion is passed, the gavel is generally rapped once to declare the issue finished and to move on). The gavel, particularly in the House, is often tapped repeatedly to call the assembly to order or to restore order when cross-conversation has made it too noisy to proceed.



  1. RONR (10th ed.), p. 374

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