And now for something completely different, and just for fun.

My son and I have been enjoying Minecraft since last fall, working first with the Pocket Edition and mostly with the PC version that supports creating circuitry with the Redstone element. Between my son and I, he’s more of a builder and I’m the one that more enjoys mining.

In one of my worlds,* which I’m just playing by myself, I’ve been working a lot with enchantments for which you need a variety of materials like Lapis Lazuli (necessary to do enchanting) and the quite rare Diamonds (used to make the best armor, tools, and weapons). This has led me to do some systematic mining deep underground where these materials are best found. Because I was specifically looking for diamonds, I concentrated on mining at levels 5-12 (see the Ore page for distribution statistics), where you’ll also find lots of other good stuff too.

This kind of mining is best done systematically. Here’s how I went about it:

  1. Standing on level 11, I circumscribed a 50×50 square tunnel, 2 blocks high (you could do any dimensions), periodically dropping torches on the outer side of the walls for light.
  2. Level 11 is recommended because lava lakes are generated at this same level, so you’ll always come out on the edge of one rather than below one where it’ll drop on you and cook you rather quickly. (Always carry a bucket of water in case you get set on fire, and it’s also handy to dump on top of lava to make obsidian, which is an effective way to remove lava and mine obsidian at the same time.(
  3. I then mines tunnels in one direction all along the square, going every other block. This means that I end up with a bunch of parallel tunnels with a one block wall in between. This accounts for the fact that ores nearly always come in groups of 3 or more blocks, so you don’t have to mine out every last bit to find the ores. You will occasionally miss a single block of something like diamond, but they seldom generate that way.
  4. For the first tunnel near an edge, I don’t bother dropping torches but punch a hole in the wall about every 6 blocks to let light in from the adjacent tunnel. This is pretty sufficient for keeping monsters from generating, though they do show up every now and then. (But they’re in tunnels so very easy to handle.)
  5. I then light the next tunnel (the third) the same way I lit the first. In other words, odd tunnels get light, even tunnels get holes. This way I save on torches.
  6. When I encounter ore, I typically mine the whole thing out, but sometimes leave stuff on lower levels for the next set of tunnels.
  7. Once all the level 11 tunnels were done, I made a hole in each corner for ladders going down to level 8–which allows for a two-block high tunnel with one block for the ceiling.
  8. I then circumscribed the same 50×50 edge tunnels and repeated the parallel tunneling. At level 8 though, you have to listen for lava sources. When you do, be careful as you mine in case lava flows out. However, if you start at level 11, you’ll know where most of these are. When I encounter a lava lake at level 11 I’ll dump water on it to turn it to obsidian and mine a bunch of it out. As lava is exposed at level 10, I’ll water it down too. This reduces the risk of getting cooked, and makes it far less likely to encounter flowing lava in the level 8 tunnels.
  9. Finally, I did the same thing again down to level 5, which is the lowest you can go without encountering bedrock obstacles.

I was quite pleased with everything I was able to extract, especially as I used a pickaxe with the Fortune III enchantment when mining lapis, diamond, coal, and redstone to increase the yield. What I found interesting, though, is that the return on mining at level 5 wasn’t nearly as good as levels 8 and 11 as these numbers illustrate

Coal Iron Gold Diamond Redstone Lapis
Levels 8-12 654 243 38 74 1,637 78
Level 5-6 150 83 4 11 254 0
Totals 804 326 42 85 1,891 78
% Level 8-12 81% 75% 90% 87% 87% 100%
% Level 5-6 19% 25% 10% 13% 13% 0%


In short, the effort to mine at level 5 really wasn’t worth it. I’d have been better off extending the range of the tunnels at levels 8 and 11, or, if looking for Lapis, to extend up to make tunnels at level 14.

In any case, I got quite a good haul out of this effort!

* For this world I used the seed “St Louis” because we’d just visited there. It’s a great challenge, as you spawn on a set of mesa islands with just a single tree to work with, and a little bit of grass from which to get seeds. But that was plenty, as I have a whole forest and farms going strong. There’s also an ocean monument nearby, and if you go straight east for a while (use a boat) from the southeast islands you’ll cross a couple more islands and then get to a desert village and a number of other villages nearby.