Mining is the most obvious and necessary activity you’ll undertake in Minecraft. Virtually no materials are just lying around waiting to be picked up, so you have to dig for them.

There are many approaches to mining, some of which are more efficient than others. Here are a few basic tips on how to approach mining, particularly if you are attempting to undertake it on a large scale. If you’re only after a few hundred units of dirt, sand or stone then you don’t need this – just grab a shovel and pickaxe and get cracking. But if you want 10,000 units of stone and 200 diamonds this might be of help.

Tools

The most basic mining tool in your arsenal will be a wooden shovel. This won’t do for long. I’m going to assume you know how to make tools though, so here’s the basics when applied to large-scale mining.

Stone tools are the bare minimum you can get away with, but expect to rip through them very quickly. When I’m mining using stone tools I typically take a stack of wooden planks with me and when I’m deep within my mining site I create a workbench and use some of the stone I mine to create replacement tools. Most of the time I’ll carry between 6 and 12 picks and 2-4 shovels. If it’s a mining site that I plan on spending a lot of time at I’ll also build a chest and stash a few dozen tools in there so I can skip the manufacturing step some of the time.

Iron tools are where you really want to be starting out though; they cut faster, last longer but are obviously harder to come by. 4-8 picks and 2 or 3 shovels will see you through a short mining grind and if you’re smart about it you can easily gather much more material than you burn on tools. Again though you will want to consider setting up and furnace and workbench if you’re staying long-term at the site simply to reduce your travel times.

Diamond is not just a women’s best friend, it’s also a miner’s. Diamond cuts through stone twice as fast (roughly) as iron, which is more than twice as fast as wood. You will not be able to gather materials on any significant scale without diamond tools, not unless you have the patience of a statue. This is a trickier value proposition though because you need to be very efficient to gather more diamond than you burn on tools. I typically carry two of each tool if I’m using diamond, maybe three if I’m feeling like taking the risk. But remember, when you are carrying diamond tools understand the risks involved. Losing a full set of 3 picks is 9 diamonds gone.

Depth


The depth at which you dig controls what you will find. Minecraft maps are built based on a series of rules, many of which are statistical in nature. Once the terrain layout is determined ore is placed on a probability system. For example, you will never find a diamond above a depth of 20. But first, a quick refresher on directions…

When you move around, you are moving on one or more axis. If you are heading north, you’re heading in the negative direction along the X axis. x:-1000 is 1000 blocks north of the centre. The Z axis is east/west, with east also being negative. This is probably a bit counter-intuitive to most people, but it’s the way the designers did it so that’s what we have to work with. To display your location hold down F3 and read the bottom three lines. Ignore the decimal places, they’re useless for this discussion.

The Y axis is depth. It’s all positive numbers, with zero being unreachable bedrock and 128 being the upper limit. This depth is what controls the things you are likely to find as you dig.

This diagram should give you a good idea what you’ll find at each depth, and was taken from http://www.minecraftforum.net/ (click the image to visit the specific page). Here’s how it works, in simple terms: the deeper you dig, the better the stuff you’ll find. Coal is the most common type of ore, and will appear anywhere on the map. Iron doesn’t start showing up until you are below 64 on the Y axis. When you get deeper you’ll find the cooler stuff. Gold starts appearing below 32, and diamond below 16.

Of course, the deeper you go, the more risk there is. Lava turns up most frequently below 10, although lava sources can appear much higher than that. Water sources are also common down below, often right near lava. Here are some reference depths that might be handy:

Sea level: 63

Sea-bed: 32

Lava level: 10

Diamonds: 10 – 16

Of course, there are small chances of finding these items outside their designated bands. Not very high chances, but you can add a +/- 3 bracket around each band if you like. But stick to the middle of the band you’re after and you’re set.

Don’t forget though, everything appears at the level at or below the highest point that it starts appearing. So you WILL find Coal down at y=5. Iron will also definitely appear at y=30, but not diamond.

Access

Getting in and out of your mine is a pain in the neck to be perfectly honest. Some people use complex setups involving boats, water, ladders, etc. Me, I just build a simple spiral staircase. I do NOT recommend just digging a vertical shaft and dropping into your mine. You’ll eventually die that way and it’s not sustainable. The best mining sites are the ones you can use to source many thousands of units, not the one-off sites. Stone stairs are great and you can cover a lot of ground really easily. You can start with a simple step setup, dropping by one block per step then later on when you have the time you can add steps on top of the ones you started with. Here’s a bit of an example of how to get started:

Make sure it’s well lit (zombies don’t spawn in lit areas), and leave a 2×2 platform at the bottom of each section. Wind around in circles until you hit your desired depth. If you’re lucky you’ll find some useful ore when digging – when I dug this example to write the article I found half a dozen units of iron and some coal, not a bad haul for 30 seconds of work. Notice also that I buit it two units wide? There are plenty of reasons for this (some of which we’ll get into next) but the main one is that I just don’t like confined spaces. Plus I’m digging for materials so if the access path generates me a result in that area then I’m getting myself a double bonus! Once you’ve got the materials and interest you can drop steps onto it and avoid all that jumping on your way back up. If you’re really dedicated you might even take out the original underlying stone, much like this:

Just don’t forget to light it well. If you go with big stair sections like I have, a full can be really dangerous. Since creating that second example (it was my first big mine) I’ve moved to double-width spiral staircases to try and cut down on fall-related-deaths.

Pattern

There are many approaches to digging, but basically the idea is always the same. Get the most of the rare stuff without filling up on junk. To me, this is directly controlled by how much you can see. If you can see all the good blocks, then you can just dig those ones up, right?

Every block has 6 sides, so if you lay out your dig in a particular way you’ll be able to see the maximum number of blocks for the minimum amount of work.

This ensures that no block on the horizontal plane is hidden from you when you dig, so you won’t miss any of those critical deposits. I typically dig this way either two units high or three high – three feels more natural but is not quite as efficient as two.

The cross tunnels are there to make sure you don’t lose your bearings, and again lots of lighting is required. For a small mine like this I’d probably use around 30-40 lights. Remember that if it’s an enclosed space and is well lit mobs will not spawn in it. Darkness = danger.

Once you have dug out the pattern you will have a decent haul of goodies and you’ll have found little pockets of ore on your way. Don’t hesitate to dig up, down or sideways either if you find something you need to have. The layout is an example and a starting point, designed only to give you access to ore. Just try to stay on a single level long-term if you can. If I have to dig downwards to grab ore that I’ve found I’ll often refill the holes with dirt (easier to dig out than stone later on) to keep things reasonably tidy.

If you’re really efficient you might have three or even four layers like this stacked on top of each other (again, two units apart). This way you’ll miss virtually no precious items, get plenty of stone, and use the minimum amount of effort.

Something else to remember is that the scale of this design isn’t important. In many cases my east/west passages are over a hundred units long but there are only three or four of them. In interconnect them more frequently in those situations though, and put up signposts so I know how to get out. One of the risks here is getting lost, as it will all look the same pretty fast so write down the co-ordinates of your entry.

Finally, pick your depth carefully. My suggestion is to dig your first one of these at 12 and to make it two units high. Then your second will be at 16. This gives you two diamond-layer mines in a relatively small footprint.

There are other patterns that you might find useful. Open-cut mining is popular, where you basically just dig a big hole as far down as you can. The hole might be 10×10, or it might be 100×100, but the sides are consistent. This has one very important benefit – natural lighting. It also has one very significant problem – extremely high dirt/rock to metal ratio. You end up with a lot more junk than this approach.

Risks

This almost should go first, because we all forget about the risks.

Basically, the entire exercise is a risk. You will get stomped many times while doing this. Common problems include:

  • Lava – digging a single hole and being drowned in lava does happen. Have stone on your shortcut bar so you can plug the hole really fast and be ready to warp out and find some water to put the flames out real quick
  • Caverns – stumbling onto a natural cave is awesome, but it’s also a common way to get lost and eventually killed by mobs. If you’re farming for materials mark the cave’s location, warp home, dump your valuables, THEN explore it. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it one day
  • Mobs – dark = zombies, and zombies = death if you’re not ready for them. Manage the risk by only carrying what you need to carry, lighting your mine carefully and sealing the entrance so strays can’t get in (doors are great for this)
  • Falls – you’re digging holes so it’s kind of obvious that eventually you’ll take a fall. More often than not it isn’t the first fall that kills you but the third or fourth
  • Cuboids are a great fix for the mob-related issues but expect to stray outside your cuboid if your mine gets big enough.

Finally, remember that there are just bugs and strange things that happen which can kill you. If you have a lucky find, take it home and store it safely. Don’t wander around with two stacks of diamonds and a big grin on your face only to have it seared off by a lava waterfall!

Also, warping home once in a while can result in death too, so be ready for that particular nuisance.

Interesting tricks

If you happen to like finding cool underground formations, keep an ear out for zombie groans and running water. The two almost certainly mean there is a cave formation nearby. Lava flow (which is actually technically magma until it reaches the surface) sounds just like water, and the two are often near each other. Stereo will help you figure out which side of your tunnel the cave is on too. Sound carries a lot further through stone that it does in reality though, and travels vertically as well as horizontally. Oh, and ready to deal with those zombies when you do break through to them. They won’t negotiate – they’re kind of rude like that.

Other Tips

Use storage chests at your mining site and leave the necessities there. Sticks and coal for lights, sticks and metal/diamond/stone for pickaxes, planks and sticks for signs, etc.

Use a lot of light. More is better, at least up until a certain point.

Use signs. They really will come in handy. If I spot a lava pool I’ll typically block off access to it and leave myself a sign so I know how to find it should I need to pick up some molten lava. This both protects me and means I can find my key resources again in the future.

Diamond only spawns once per node in the game (a node is the small area that is stored in each individual file), which leads many people to believe that once you find diamond you should abandon the area. As it happens, the areas are so small and the placement so random that there is no point moving on just because you found one diamond patch. Also, diamond, gold, and iron often appear in close proximity to each other so moving on is wasteful.


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