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When I'm mining Obsidian I keep either missing the broken block and watching it burn up in the lava, or dying when I try to catch the broken block. Why? I keep falling in lava below – is that the problem? I'm new to Minecraft.

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    Kind of funny actually. "I try to mine obsidian, but I die because I fall into the lava below the block I just mined". Pretty sure there's a valuable lesson in there somewhere. (Hint: Don't chop (mine) the branch (block) you're sitting on) – user1337 Aug 14 '13 at 19:51
  • @SevenSidedDie That final sentence was edited in after I commented.. >.< – dlras2 Aug 14 '13 at 20:30
  • @DanRasmussen Oh! The dreaded "edited so quickly it didn't leave an edit timestamp." No problem then. :) Either way, I gave it an edit for clarity. – SevenSidedDie Aug 14 '13 at 20:31
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    @SevenSidedDie We should get notifications saying "a question you commented on was just edited - go double check to make sure you don't now look like an idiot!" – dlras2 Aug 14 '13 at 20:33
  • @DanRasmussen That would be a nice feature. Maybe a MSO request? I don't imagine it would be high priority for the devs, though. :/ – SevenSidedDie Aug 14 '13 at 20:36
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Don't mine the block under your feet. Lava is bad for your health. It also burns up items, including the obsidian you're breaking.

The Minecraft wiki entry on Obsidian has a helpful guide on how to harvest it without either you or the obsidian blocks falling into the lava. In particular, this paragraph:

Natural obsidian "lakes" provide a great deal of obsidian, but mining them can be somewhat hazardous, because there is likely to be lava remaining underneath the obsidian surface. However, the danger can be minimized with a bit of forethought. First of all, fence off any water flows so they won't push you around, especially if the water flows to the edge of remaining lava. Then, look for the edge of the obsidian "lake", or at least a convenient point to begin. Dig a one block deep hole on a level area next to the obsidian, or even in it. (If there is lava under the hole, you may lose the block you just mined, but this is minor.) Place the water source in this hole — if there's lava beneath, place it against the side of the hole, and it will solidify the lava.) Now mine your obsidian, moving outward from the hole. When you expose lava, the water will quench it so quickly that the lava usually won't even burn your newly-mined obsidian. Continue mining outward from the spring as far as the water will travel, after which you can move the water. This method lets you stand on solid blocks rather than in running water.

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    Why waste the first block? Mine BESIDE the obsidian. – Loren Pechtel Aug 15 '13 at 1:09
  • @LorenPechtel Yeah, there are various optimisations possible once you've got the basic principles the wiki describes. It's just a nice simple example that's easy to visualise, so it's a good starting point. I use this method to mine in all kinds of weird, non-flat lava formations. Especially since I use the Custom Ore Generation mod (which spawns large diamond deposits around an angled lava tube!) I've spent a lot of time carefully placing water, cobble, and picking my blocks to mine so that I can deal with lava safely. – SevenSidedDie Aug 15 '13 at 2:51
  • Actually, I prefer to bucket the lava and cast the obsidian in it's final place rather than use up diamond tools on it. Keep a little lake nearby in case you catch on fire but that's a good precaution any time you're near lava. – Loren Pechtel Aug 15 '13 at 15:29
  • @Loren I do both depending on purpose. When I'm running mods there are often lots of recipes that call for obsidian, and it's easier to harvest it at the source then (assuming you've gotten good at doing it safely). – SevenSidedDie Aug 15 '13 at 16:11

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