By metonymy, the gavel represents the entire judiciary system, especially of judgeship; to bring down the gavel means to enforce or compel with the power of a court. It also represents the authority of presiding officers; thus the expression passing the gavel signifies an orderly succession from one chair to another.
Demeter's Manual notes that, in addition to an optional light tap after a vote, there are three other uses of a gavel:
The unique gavel of the United States Senate has an hourglass shape and no handle. Presented to the Senate by the Republic of India and first used on November 17, 1954, it replaced the ivory gavel in use since at least 1789, which had deteriorated over the years. In 1952, silver plates were added to both ends in an attempt to further prevent damage to the old gavel. In 1954, then-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 embassy. On November 17, 1954, India presented to the United States a 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 more unruly chamber, it has been broken and replaced many times.
Interview: Jack Randorff, acoustical engineer, discusses how he designed the electronic gavel for the opening of the Republican National Convention
Jul 31, 2000; 00-00-0000 Interview: Jack Randorff, acoustical engineer, discusses how he designed the electronic gavel for the opening...