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When I'm not exploring fresh caves or lands in minecraft, I'm busy trying to find deposits of diamond, gold and iron deep in the earth. So far I've just been digging around just above bedrock on a whim to look for these rare minerals but I've started thinking that I should be taking a more controlled, efficient approach to mining.

What is the optimal mining strategy that yields the most rare minerals while minimizing blocks removed and time spent digging and traveling?

Edit: The existing answers are great for mining, but no one has addressed travel time to and from the mine which is usually ~60 blocks downward and incredibly tedious. Solutions?

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Minimal descent and ascent time is probably achieved with a waterfall elevator - just fall straight down into the deep water and ride a boat back up. –  sjohnston Oct 15 '10 at 20:39
    
I just saw that recently! It looks like a fantastic travel method. –  authenticgeek Oct 15 '10 at 21:39
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If you're making a large branch mine, you'll get enough iron to make a rail system, with some boosters it'll be the fastest way to the top with the largest volume of materials. –  zzzzBov Feb 19 '11 at 6:16
    
Protected because this is slowly turning into an itemized list. –  badp May 12 '11 at 10:45
    
I've some friends who built an entire automated mining system with tons of supporting infrastructure. Seems pretty easy at this point (... once you design/build the system). –  enderland Feb 25 '13 at 1:37

20 Answers 20

up vote 138 down vote accepted

Mining

Branch mining is the most efficient. Someone did a mathematical analysis on it in the official forums (now mirrored on the VoxelWiki).

Here's a brief description of branch mining:

You dig down to the bedrock, because that's where you're going to find the most different kinds of stuff. One or two layers above the bedrock, so you don't have it interfering with your work, you dig a long tunnel, 2 high and 1 wide, which will serve as the trunk. Then, every 4 squares on either side of the trunk, you dig perpendicular tunnels extending out 20 blocks (or as far as you want). You leave 3 undug blocks between because veins are generally 2x2 horizontally, so you will see ore in the vein even though there is technically one row of unexplored blocks. When you finish that layer, you can start one a layer above, offsetting the branches by one block so that you are more likely to find veins you could possibly have missed the first time.

So essentially, a long hallway (the trunk) with perpendicular hallways (the branches) coming off either side.

██▒▒▒▒▒▒  ██ blocks you should mine
██▒▒▒▒▒▒  ▒▒ blocks you can see
▒▒▒▒██▒▒  __ blocks you can't see if you don't mine ▒▒ blocks (there's none!)
▒▒▒▒██▒▒  Repeat this pattern as many times as needed

From a head on view

Travel

As with any mine, travel is most easily accomplished using minecarts. You can place a booster to get your cart traveling at max speed in a short distance so that you can make the trip up quickly, and you can even attach chests to mine carts to carry all your findings from the mine up the track very quickly.

Short of minecarts, make sure you're using stairs and ladders to their fullest potential. You don't want to be jumping up one block at a time all the way from your mine to your base.

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What does the trunk look like in this case? And how do you get down and up from a surface-level base in a reasonable amount of time? –  authenticgeek Oct 2 '10 at 1:13
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@Nick youtube.com/watch?v=Az4KihqqRGk –  jblaske Oct 4 '10 at 16:36
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This optimizes for minimum space usage. In my opinion, that's a poor choice. I mine vertically downwards, then spiral out horizontally, two blocks between the spiral arms for optimal coverage. What do I win? Time! After 100 tiles dug I'm only 9 tiles away from the vertical shaft, where I have the main storage, crafting, etc. Branch mining suffers from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schlemiel_the_Painter's_algorithm : after 100 tiles dug you're 100 tiles away from your starting point. –  Joren Dec 11 '10 at 2:06
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You didn't seem to finish reading the thread, as it states that the low density mine is twice as effective. –  Theo Belaire Jan 8 '11 at 16:11
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@Joren, branch mining is meant for special resource collection. You'll need to do a lot of branching to get to diamond either way. The truth of the matter is that the running time is marginal compared to the mining time if you bring enough picks of the right kind. I'd suggest mining 10-16 blocks above bedrock for optimal diamond collection. –  zzzzBov Feb 19 '11 at 6:11

Here's a good method for getting up and down from your mine quickly without needing elaborate water elevators or expensive minecart tracks.

First, get some sticks and build at least one full stack of ladders.

Then, dig a single-block column into a mountain two-high and three long. Place a torch at the far end on top for lighting. Then dig three down into your column, and place your ladders heading up to the face of the mountain where your column starts.

Dig away from the ladder into the column, two blocks high and three blocks out, and then down as you did with your initial colum, placing torches and ladders in likewise positions. Continue to mine downward in this manner, and you should have a 'staircase' that looks like this: (X = Walls, O = Open Space)

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
OOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XOOOOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XOOOOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXOOOOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXOOOOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXOOOOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXOOOOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXOOOXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

What this creates is a three-deep 'step' that you can walk down without having to worry about fall damage, and a ladder back to the surface going the opposite direction.

It may take a bit of experimenting to get it just right, and you can't hesitate when walking into it or you'll accidentally climb the ladder a little and take some fall damage (very minor). To reduce the chance of this, you can use a two-deep step instead, though it won't be as fast going down.

The additional benefit of the three-long column is that the middle of each 'step' makes a perfect starting place for branch mining once you reach your desired depth.

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All of the previous answers focus on minimizing blocks mined. However, if you're interested in minimizing time, there is a vastly faster late game strategy than anything discussed above.

The approach, is to use a Diamond pickax, enchanted with Level 5 efficiency, and a Haste level II Beacon. With this setup, you mine stone instantaneously and can clear cut vast swaths of stone in very little time, exposing significantly more blocks / minute than with branch mining.

Ethos discusses this in one of his videos.

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This is way superior to other methods for late game, nice post! –  Sadly Not Jun 13 at 17:40
    
This is definitely the way to go. I've got half a stack of diamond blocks after a few hours of mining this way. Note: it's not cobblestone that mines instantly, it's stone. Cobble actually mines the same speed as ores, which is slightly slower normally and doesn't get the instantaneous effect with Efficiency V / Haste II –  Johonn Aug 1 at 1:26
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Also, this question should be voted higher. From the OP in a comment below: "...I was mostly interested in ways to dig out large swaths of solid rock..." –  Johonn Aug 1 at 1:33

There is a great wiki with some number crunching.

I use this in single player:

▒▒██▒▒__▒▒__   ██ blocks you should mine
▒▒██▒▒__▒▒__   ▒▒ blocks you can see
__▒▒__▒▒██▒▒   __ blocks you can't see if you don't mine ▒▒ blocks
__▒▒__▒▒██▒▒   Repeat this pattern as many times as needed

Normally, I have a 2x1 trunk, and branches like a standard branch mine, but instead of just going outwards from the trunk, I go up one level and out, skip two blocks, then down one level and out. I leave two blocks between branches. And I leave two blocks between floors, and line up the branches the same between floors.

There are some areas left unexplored by this pattern, but they are thin, and it is unlikely that a diamond vein with spawn entirely within that narrow region. (About 3% will). The larger number of blocks uncovered are far more likely to contain diamonds.

If your high density branch mine gets you 100% diamonds, the low density branch mine would give you 212.6% ores in the same time, minus 3% from the earlier probability worked out before.

Also, you ought to build it so that the floor of the lowest tunnel is on level 11, to avoid falling in lava. If you find that there are few cave systems near your mine, feel free to dig lower, but caves tend to cluster, and caves level 10 and below are filled with lava.

I dig my main tunnel on both sides of the area I want to cover, then dig back and forth in a zigzag patten, which means I'm always digging, never walking.

I'm not sure if this is true anymore, but it used to be that larger deposits were formed by the word generator in multiplayer, so you were less likely to miss diamond deposits when using a wider mining pattern. Thus, this pattern

▒▒██▒▒____▒▒____  ██ blocks you should mine
▒▒██▒▒____▒▒____  ▒▒ blocks you can see
__▒▒____▒▒██▒▒__  __ blocks you can't see if you don't mine ▒▒ blocks
__▒▒____▒▒██▒▒__     Repeat this pattern as many times as needed

is more efficient.

As for transit? I use a long two wide straight staircase that goes all the way to bedrock. Minecarts work well for getting me deep into the mine.

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What do the diamond / gold blocks represent in the above diagram? Possible revealed diamonds (gold) / and possible hidden diamonds –  Raven Dreamer Feb 9 '11 at 3:46
    
The Gold Blocks are for blocks directly shown, while the diamond blocks are form indirectly shown blocks. If you do find something in the gold blocks, then you will mine it and see the diamonds blocks. Mostly, just look at the gold blocks. –  Theo Belaire Feb 12 '11 at 15:13
    
@Raven Thanks for that question. Replaced all images here with a diagram with a key. –  badp Feb 22 '11 at 16:21
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@badp, Dr. Dag nab it... I finally got my head around what the images were showing only to refresh the page and find them replaced with much clearer representations. Why must you be so helpful?! :P –  Aeo Feb 22 '11 at 18:06
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@Badp I think the images were fine, if anything they are less helpful now. –  Raven Dreamer Feb 22 '11 at 18:23

Actually I find the most efficient way is to get down to layer 12 (or whatever your favorite layer is) using a 2x2 spiral staircase. When mining, I would suggest starting off with a 2 tall 1 wide tunnel, and then every 3-6 blocks branch out by standing in the main corridor and hitting the walls. This meathod gives you maximized coverage for a short amount of blocks mined. If you see resources you want mine them.

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This doesn't add anything that hasn't already been said. What you're describing is called "branch mining", which is what the accepted answer from 3 years ago already said. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 7 '13 at 16:22

Addressing your travel concerns:

Dig a shaft straight down, with water a block or two deep on the bottom, for fast downwards travel.

Build a Nether portal on the surface, transfer to Nether to spawn a matching portal there. Jump down your drop shaft, then build another portal on the bottom - it will be close enough that it should link to the same Nether portal as the surface one (but the spawning algorithm should have placed the Nether portal closer to optimal coordinates for the surface one so it will be still preferred when traveling from Nether), so you will only need to exit and reenter the same portal in Nether and you'll be transported from the bottom to the surface portal.

For horizontal travel underground still nothing beats railway - if you plan to use horses, you will have to make rather big corridors.

The advantages are definitely cost and simplicity of both solutions (note: you can cast the portals with lava buckets instead of digging obsidian, if you don't want to make a diamond rock pick) and speed - both solutions are faster than most of alternatives offered by others.

The disadvantage is Nether portals are somewhat fickle. Your portal might link to the bottom portal instead of the top one, if the corresponding Nether space happens to be an extremely tall chamber. If you have any other Nether portals within several chunks, chances are you'll get linked to their corresponding Nether exits instead. It's nothing you can't overcome with a calculator, a stack of Netherrack and 10 blocks of obsidian (sorry, can't cast lava into Obsidian in Nether) to place a portal at the correct point in Nether manually, but with a little bad luck the trivial task becomes a rather daunting one, if the "correct point" happens to be an air block far above an enormous lake of lava. Nevertheless, always build a housing around the Nether portal so that a stray Ghast fireball doesn't extinguish it.

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A nice method if you don't like staircasing down is to mine a 1x2 tunnel down to bedrock and then using water to get up and down. To get down, drop a water bucket in and then remove it to float down with the water. To get up, simply place blocks of water above you and then remove and replace them to work your way up. Also, mining around y 3-6 is a good strategy.

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While the "going down" side of you mining tunnel is fast, the "going up" is not. I would recommend using minecart rails with boosters to go up. More work to have it usable, but it would make faster travel (on the way up, and on the way down too. –  Lysarion Apr 10 '13 at 19:31
    
@Lysarion: I used to use this strategy to look for diamonds and it works pretty well. I don't think it's that hard to go back up. –  Nathan2055 Apr 10 '13 at 22:59
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@Nathan2055 Lysarion said "slow", not hard. It's not hard, it's just a terribly slow way to travel. Ladders are faster, even. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 7 '13 at 16:24

Have you ever thought of getting the minions mod? Once you get it you have to get up to 8 levels of experiance (8 levels is recomended) then you press the "m" key then commit to evil in which you then pick one of three things, repeat untill you get the master staff, with it you right click the ground four times, one minion will appear wherever you right click in those four times. Once you have your four minions, you press the "m" key again and select the "dig mineshaft", once you have selected(right clicked) where the mineshaft is going to be, your minions will automaticly dig the mineshaft down into bedrock and place a cobblestone staircase. Once they finish that then you can press the "m" botton (once again!) and select "strip mine", once you have selected an area then one minion will work on it, going a certain number of blocks forward.

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If you place a chest once your minions finish mining and right click on it then your minions will put all their items into the chest so you can get the items. –  the awesome ninja Dec 5 '12 at 21:45
    
If you left click them when they're mining then it will act like you're wipping them and they will work faster. Also, they're invincible! –  the awesome ninja Dec 5 '12 at 21:52
    
If you think of additional info, it should really be edited into your answer, not left as a comment –  shanodin Aug 15 '13 at 1:36

In regards to getting to and from your mine:

My solution is to never leave the mine. Bring down some saplings, some wheat seeds, and whatever else, and build your base underground near your mine. It's a lot safer and more predictable than living on the surface, since you can completely light your cave system.

The only downside is that eventually your character turns pale and starts muttering about "My precious..."

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Referring to your edited question about the distances to and from your mine:

For the way down to my mines I usually use a minecart.
For the way up, this would be a nice construction: Piston Elevator

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When you find a dirt vein, pursue the dirt vein till it is exhausted (usually coming away with 5-10 coal, with the potential of getting 5-10 iron, 2-6 red, 2-6 blue, and/or 1-5 gold.) Dirt is so much easier and cheaper to mine, since you only need a shovel, and it mines twice as fast as cobblestone.

When you hit bedrock mine out all the dirt, and open a huge main mine area (roughly 75/75 blocks. You can get another 40 or so Iron, 20 or so Gold and Diamond, and atleast another 120 redstone (Well, that's what I got anyawy. I might have been really lucky).

Also, to save on resources, use stone picks and shovels instead of iron.

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try to find a huge, generated cave, the deepest place of that cave sometimes has diamond. Most of the time you'll find dungeons too, if you set your difficulty on peaceful, its very easy to get it

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Thanks for answering. I was mostly interested in ways to dig out large swaths of solid rock rather than exploring natural caves. Natural caves do tend to have a lot of ore though! –  authenticgeek Apr 28 '11 at 17:23

Dig down to bedrock with a staircase. Then make a room about 10 by 10. Finally branch out on each side of the wall. Pick one side and go with it untill it is to long. Then get another side. Once all four are branched, branch off them. I now have about 15-20 BLOCKS of diamond 20-23 BLOCKS of gold like 30-50 stacks of coal no red (I don't mine it just go around) and 40-45 BLOCKS of iron all totaling about 7 hrs of work

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I've found that no matter which mining pattern I used I my diamond finds were barely enough to keep me in diamond pickaxes for mining diamonds. It was a vicious circle. I've started mining with TNT now and it's much faster. Here's how I do it:

I use the branch mining technique. For a branch off the trunk I'll use 64 TNT and 32 torches. I'll dig a 2-high tunnel off the trunk, placing a torch every 10 blocks in. When I run out of torches I know I'm 320 blocks away from the trunk.

Now I'll place a block of cobblestone on the ground at the very end with a block of TNT on top. Then I back up while placing cobblestone on the ground only, putting a block of TNT on top of every 5th cobblestone block so there are 4 empty spaces between TNT blocks.

When I get back to the trunk I set off the TNT and then run along behind the blast placing torches on the wall as I go. When I get to the end I walk back to the trunk mining whatever I see along the way and picking up anything on the ground.

Each trunk takes me about 30 minutes to dig, blast and mine. I use only a fraction of a diamond pickaxe in the process. I've been mining 12-13 levels up from the bottom and getting 15-20 diamonds per trunk. The most tedious part is collecting the sand to make the TNT. I have a mob trap that I use to collect the gunpowder at night.

Give it a shot and see what you think, it's working well for me. I have mine cart tack with periodic boosters running along my trunk line to get me back and forth to my storage area quickly.

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Interesting idea, I may try it - I definitely have to agree that my diamond-finding just barely stays ahead of usage. I don't know where people get all these diamonds... –  Cyclops Mar 14 '11 at 2:30
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I usually mine with iron pickaxes. The speed-difference is tiny. Also, enchant your diamond pickaxe to get Unbreakable on it. Makes it last longer. –  Vincent Vancalbergh Aug 28 '13 at 21:21

personally for getting up and down I use 2 vertical shafts, one completely filled with water, and the other with a 1 block deep layer of water at the bottom and use a boat

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The easiest way to mine is to mine a 2x2 tunnel horizontally. You can cover 8 blocks that way, with the same amount of blocks mined as a branch mine, which only reveals 6 blocks. As for getting up and down, use a water fall cushion (to jump into, must be 2 deep) and a water LADDER (check the youtube videos to see what it is).

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A 2x2 tunnel takes 100% longer to mine and only reveals 33% more blocks compared to a 1x2 tunnel. That is clearly less efficient. –  StrixVaria Feb 18 '11 at 4:12

Just dig 2 high in one direction for a very long time, say around an hour... it's not like you'll run out of map.

Then move 3 or four along once you've used half of your axe/s, and go back to where you started.

This will yield more in terms of ore versus time, as you are not mucking around walking between shafts and veins, and are spending almost all the time mining. Bring with you a diamond pick axe, and a shovel, since dirt and gravel still spawn underground. Use the cobblestone you will inevitably mine for traversing lava pools, and make sure you have torches (place them every 10 or so blocks).

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I was thinking this too - loads of people talking about "maximum coverage", but it wastes a load of time - faster mining = more resources. –  Danny Tuppeny Feb 15 '11 at 18:54
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This is faster only for the first few mining sessions. After you mine for long time, you quickly get to a place where you have to run for a very long time to get to new area to mine. The methods described above take a little more planning but in the long term they do seem a lot more productive (just based on my own experience of doing it both ways). To be fair though, it does depend on what you want. Doing this simpler way will probably get you a couple stacks of diamonds before you've used up all the mining area near your base, which is plenty if you only want picks/swords. –  TM. Nov 15 '11 at 18:43
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After the first stack of diamond it just gets ridiculous. –  legacy May 7 '13 at 13:04
    
@legacy – so true! –  Kenny Evitt Oct 8 at 19:59

I find the easiest way to get to the bottom of a mineshaft is to set your ladder 2 blocks onto the wall. That way you can carefully fall almost the entire way to the bottom and simply hold the backwards key to reattatch yourself to the ladder just before you hit the ground.

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You could also place a pit of water at the bottom so that you don't die if you don't quite grab the ladder –  Theo Belaire Jan 8 '11 at 16:25
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Old tactics, this does NOT work anymore. When you fall past a ladder block you take falling damage. The fast way down is to jump into water. It's safer if you jump through a ringed hole rather than just off an edge, this ensures you're properly lined up when you hit. –  Loren Pechtel Jan 8 '11 at 18:43

I've dug straight down to bedrock as well and at the bottom carved out a 40 long by 20 wide room 4 high. This netted me a full stack of redstone, lots of lava. 2 diamond, lots of coal, almost no iron.

The straight down to bedrock approach I find is really good for redstone but not much else. I find that in the generated caves there is a lot more ore along the walls. So you really need both I think.

I've made a waterfall going down my vertical bedrock mine shaft and shoot up to the top with a boat for fast surface access.

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Digging straight down to bedrock mathematically will net you more iron than redstone, since more of the dig has a chance to find iron. Hollowing out an entire room wastes time, so if you're going for efficiency that's definitely not the way to do it. The reason you seem to find more ore in caves is just because there is so much surface area. Overall, however, ore in caves is LESS dense because of all the blocks "wasted" with open air. –  StrixVaria Oct 15 '10 at 19:43
    
@StrixVaria: No, minerals actually do occur more frequently in/near caves. –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Oct 27 '10 at 19:49
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@BlueRaja I'm not taking your word for that unless you have mathematical evidence to back it up. Otherwise I'm attributing it to increased surface area easier access, not increased spawn rate. –  StrixVaria Oct 27 '10 at 19:52
    
But even if it is only easier access, your harvest over time seems higher in caves even if some measure like your harvest over squares passed through is not. –  clweeks Oct 28 '10 at 14:07
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The size of ore deposits in caves is about half that of when digging, as the ore get replaced with air. That being said, it's cheaper (at least in peaceful) to mine, since it doesn't use up your pickaxe. –  Theo Belaire Jan 8 '11 at 16:27

If you're not married to building a completly man made mine, the answer is find a deep tunnel.

Getting down to the bottom is correct, as that is where the highest concentration of useful minerals is located, but digging a tunnel doesn't expose you to nearly the same amount of blocks as using a generated cave system.

In my primary game I dug a mine down to the bottom clearing out a large amount of stone, which only resulted in some coal, and very few iron, where as at the bottom I discovered a cave network (filled with lava, but some water solved that), which resulted in a large amount of coal and iron, as well as diamond and gold.

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+1 for less maths, more observation. It's always going to be faster to use a pre-dug cave. –  deworde May 27 '12 at 14:26

protected by Oak Nov 15 '11 at 17:49

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