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I have a tendency to take on huge digging projects. Not mining projects; digging projects.

For surface digs, these are usually there to add flair to the map; such as a 20m x 20m sinkhole completely finished with stone, and with access minecart tracks to subterranean mines and such; and sometimes they are loooong minecart tunnels (a recent project saw me digging a 3m x 3m x 2800[sic]m tunnel).

The problem with a lot of these projects is that as this is on an SMP server, my access to TNT is somewhat stunted; digging takes forever.

For tunnels there's not a lot to be done for this; but for pits I'm intensely curious as to wether or not I'm using an efficient method of digging:

Usually I'll use a mix of horizontal and vertical digging; digging first down to however deep I need the pit, expanding to cover the entire projected area, and then using the original shaft to create a staircase to go back up to the surface, and digging straight down in 4x4 squares until done.

I've also tried taking off one level of dirt/stone at a time, but the problem with both these methods are that they are intensely monotonous.

Are there any other, less soul-crushingly repetitive methods that can be employed?

(Might be tangentially related to Movement and digging/mining speed.)

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Your main problem seems to be with the monotony of the tasks involved. I'm afraid systematically digging large holes is monotonous, however you do it! –  fredley May 16 '11 at 19:03
    
@fredley: I suppose what I was hoping for was some kind of monotony/speed tradeoff that's good at relieving monotony and also good at not taking away a lot of speed. Given the research related to movement/digging speed, horizontal/level-by-level excavation is faster than vertical (as when you move vertically you lose digging speed), but it's also far more monotonous; and has a worse (perceived) effort/reward curve. –  Williham Totland May 16 '11 at 19:08
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possible duplicate of What's the most efficient Minecraft mining strategy? –  user3389 May 16 '11 at 19:27
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@MarkTrapp: Actually, this question is pretty much the opposite: This is about maximizing the number of blocks removed; and resources gained are completely secondary. –  Williham Totland May 16 '11 at 19:30
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> Well, if you're just trying to maximize blocks REMOVED, the best way to do that is to simply dig out the nearest block, until your tool breaks. –  GnomeSlice May 16 '11 at 19:40

6 Answers 6

up vote 7 down vote accepted

When I dug a pit to bedrock, this is the technique I used after I ran out of TNT.

Overall plan

  1. Dig a vertical shaft down to the bottom level (use safe techniques to avoid dropping into a cave) and place ladders to climb up.

  2. Dig horizontally to make a 2-block-high space covering all of the horizontal area you're planning to dig out. This tells you when to stop digging later, and also checks for deep caves filled with lava. (Note that lava lakes, which can occur at any height, are still a hazard.

  3. From the top, dig down around the edges (vertically) of the area (techniques covered below). This checks for caves intersecting the region you are digging.

    Having made these cuts, you now have a better idea of what hazards the remainder contains that you might encounter while digging out.

  4. If you are not entertained by being the proud owner of a slightly floating landmass, proceed with digging out the middle.

Vertical digging techniques

Caution: These techniques are optimized for simplicity, not safety. You should get a brief glimpse of any caves but you might not react fast enough.

While standing on top stand just on the edge of one block while facing another block, and aim so that your line of sight intersects both. You want to be positioned such that both blocks are supporting you, so that when you click to mine, you remove both blocks before you actually fall.

Then hold down the mouse button. You will repeatedly mine two blocks and fall one block. When you reach bottom, you will fall 3 blocks into your previously cleared space (taking no fall damage since it's less than 4).

If you have an L-shaped set of 3 columns, you can position yourself to do the same all-at-once digging trick, but there's no way to do it with a 2×2 (since your aim can't pass through all four).

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Don't forget that better (or worse!) pickaxes affect your digging speed. Using Diamond pickaxes may speed things up in the long run, (gold is even faster, I believe?) and wood pickaxes will give you intermittent breaks in the monotony as you retreat to get a new pickaxe.

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Gold is fastest, but as weak as wood: speed and a break from the monotony! –  fredley May 16 '11 at 19:19
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@fredley: I'm almost tempted to call that a win/win; but then I recall that I need the gold for boosters for transporting the mountains of cobblestone off to my storage room. :P –  Williham Totland May 16 '11 at 19:24

In addition to Raven Dreamer's answer concerning tools, you can "power mine" sand and gravel. The below applies to both sand and gravel.

Sand normally exists as a block. When a sand block's support is removed, it turns into a sand entity and falls down until it hits another object, at which point it places itself as a block in the nearest on-grid position, or turns into a dropped sand item if that position is occupied (such as by a torch).

I use this method to harvest sand for glass intensive projects by placing torches under the sandstone/stone and then breaking the sandstone/stone. Viola, instant 4-6 sand blocks. It works very quickly, but you have to dig down to the sandstone/stone layer underneath the sand. Obviously this creates large pits where the sand was.

Source:Sand/Gravel Falling

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You mentioned that this is on an SMP server. If you are (or are friends with the person) running the server, I'd suggest you look at WorldEdit. It allows you to perform batch operations on vast areas with insanely minimal time spent. I understand peoples' desires to play the game "legitimately," but I make personal exceptions for undertaking huge-scale projects. I justify it thusly: If I would have gotten enough resources during the excavation to PERFORM the excavation, then I consider things like clearing out huge areas just a time-saver.

Minecraft can be overly addicting, and you can spend hours performing tedious work for big projects. Or you can use WorldEdit and get right to the interesting and creative parts of your project :)

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Good answer; but I'm afraid the rules on the server I'm on are pretty strict. The only exception that has been made so far was the import of some Netherrack, Glowstone and Soul Sand into the economy on account of no nether. There's also the fact that I get some twisted sense of accomplishment from actually digging the hole myself. ;) –  Williham Totland May 16 '11 at 20:47
    
@Williham No problem, I understand the sense of accomplishment gained in being able to say you built something awesome by hand (in a manner of speaking). I took a break from minecraft for a while since I was spending way too much time on projects, and when I came back WorldEdit took care of all the monotonous parts of the project and it was awesome. Either way, have fun digging :) –  Dave McClelland May 16 '11 at 21:01

The Minecraft Wiki has a page just for you on Mining Stategies. Have a look in particular at Shaft Mining and Quarry Mining, which sounds like the kind of holes you're making. There's far too much there to go into detail here, but it covers a great many strategies in a lot of detail.

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I've had a look at those previously, and use the strategies extensively; but the issue isn't one of mining (gathering resources), but rather one of excavation (removing large quantities of blocks). –  Williham Totland May 16 '11 at 19:02
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Then all you need do is diggy diggy hole! –  fredley May 16 '11 at 19:04

One thing that makes any digging task much easier is a fairly simple thing to do - keep your tools, and your means of buiding MORE tools, very close at hand.

If your primary concern is digging and digging alone, you will want mostly Shovels and Picks in your inventory. If you're deeper than a few blocks from sea level, you'll want mostly picks, but if you're largely digging out from the surface, you'll want mostly shovels.

Assuming you don't want to waste a lot of iron or diamond on superior digging/picking tools, 3-4 rows of your primary digging tool and 1-2 row of your secondary digging tool (Shovel/Pick at surface, Pick/Shovel below the surface).

The rest of your space should be used for the following things -

  • A Stack of Food: You will need to keep yourself well-fed while digging.
  • A Stack of Logs (Or two): For building new tools.
  • A Stack of Coal/Charcoal: If you need to keep the area lit throughout the digging proccess.

Most importantly of all, you will want to place a Workbench near your digging area. A nearby workbench will allow you to refresh your tools without having to make long treks back to a base camp.

Finally, if you intend to store the cobblestone and dirt you make, you may want to also invest in a large chest or two near your work area to offload the materials. If you don't care about the materials at all (you should still keep some cobblestone though, for building new tools), you can chuck the excess.

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