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THE HOW-TO GEEK GUIDE TO MINECRAFT / HOW-TO GEEK SCHOOL

How-To Geek

Lesson 8: Your First Mine, Armor, and Further Exploration

Minecraft

You’ve built your first shelter and survived the first night. Now it’s time to, literally, dig into the game. Today’s lesson is focused on mining to get your first critical resources, armoring yourself, and exploring away from your main base.

One of the key mechanics of Survival Mode is mining. You can play the game without doing any mining (and some players like to challenge themselves by playing the game without the mining experience) but the core of the Survival Mode experience strongly encourages you to dig deeply into the Earth for resources. Without access to abundance of iron and coal locked in the ground (and later, diamonds, gold, and other rare ores) the game is quite difficult.

Only by mining are you able to upgrade your tools for higher durability, your weapons for higher damage, and your armor to better protect yourself from the myriad of creatures interested in attacking you.

The basic upgrades your first simple mining experience offers will provide you with the necessary tools to branch out and explore: better weapons/armor and lots of coal for the piles of torches you’ll inevitably burn through.

Let’s use our first mining experience to go over the fundamental rules of mining. In a later lesson we’ll talk about advanced mining techniques. For now however, it’s important we just start digging and get the basic materials to build what amounts to a miner’s starter kit.

Starting Your First Mine

With upgraded tools and what precious loot we’ve collected so far stashed away, it’s time to get down to the game’s namesake: mining. Start digging a tunnel from the back of your shelter away from your new front door and living space. If you have spare wood, it’s a good idea to slap a door on this tunnel so you have a way to seal the gate, so-to-speak, if you run into trouble and need to race home.

In addition, make sure you have some extra pickaxes, torches, and food. It’s easy to get caught up in digging and lose track of time. You’ll definitely want something to munch on when you realize you’ve been tunneling for three straight days (in-game days that is, unless you end up liking this game way more than even we anticipated). Place torches to keep areas well lit and prevent mobs from spawning and attacking you in your own tunnels; that’s a cardinal rule of Minecraft, anywhere you don’t want bad guys to appear, illuminate with torches.

After tunneling back for a few blocks, begin to carve downward with your pickaxe, making a rudimentary staircase. Our goal is to get away from the surface as coal, iron, and more valuable ores are typically underground unless you’re in an extremely hilly area where coal can spawn above ground level in the hills.

Given how abundant coal and iron are, and how close to the surface they’re found, it’s no surprise that we find both while simply digging the start of our staircase.

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When you find little pockets of coal like this, poke around until you’ve exhausted the little vein (coal veins are the largest in the game and can be as small a few blocks or as big as 64).

Remember the golden rule: never dig straight down (unless you feel like falling into a dark pit and immediately dying or being eaten alive by the creatures found in your new cavernous grave) and never dig straight up. Here’s a great example, a mere minute or so into our staircase project.

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If we’d been tunnel down instead of stair stepping, we’d have plunged right into that hole. As dangerous as such holes are however, they’re openings to a cave system which means two things: easy access to exposed mineral veins like exposed coal veins and of course, the risk of running into hostile mobs like these zombies who were all too happy to come crashing out of an unexplored side cavern.

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A quick bit of poking around inside the exposed cave reveals a ton of coal and a fair amount of iron. If you stumble across such a fortunate pile, grab as much as you can and head back to your shelter. Don’t be afraid to keep building your staircase if you don’t hit iron, coal, or a cave to explore right away. Deeper mines are useful (and we’ll explore them further in the advanced mining lesson) so you’ll just be getting a head start on that project.

Aim for mining until you find at least 10 iron ore blocks as that will be the minimum you need to upgrade your set of stone swords and pickaxes to iron swords and pickaxes. If you’d like to craft an iron suit of armor to keep you safer on your adventures, and we highly advise you to do so, you’ll need 24 iron ore blocks for a complete set. Let’s head back to the shelter now and show you how to craft yourself some armor and better tools.

Later on, as you build better tools and expand your mining operation, you can begin to use more advanced mining technique like mining through the rock in patterns like pinwheels and branches – wherein you dig small tunnels off a large main tunnel in a pattern that looks like an old aerial TV antenna – to maximize your ore-finding success rate. For now however, be thankful for the pockets of coal and iron ore you find as they’re paving the way to future riches.

We’re All Blacksmiths at Heart

Back at the shelter, throw the iron ore into the furnace with some coal as fuel and wait a bit. If it’s daytime, you can go out and hunt or gather wood. If it’s nighttime when you return to the surface, we’d suggest hanging around and building a second furnace to cook some food and/or sorting your loot in your chest. If you survived a trip underground and made it back alive there’s no need to tempt fate on your first or second night by running around outside without armor and just a stone sword to save your skin!

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The result of the smelting process is a nice shiny iron ingot. Let a few pile up in the furnace and then pull them out to get crafting. The recipes for iron tools are the same as they are for stone tools and will remain the same even when you acquire better materials later in the game.

In addition to those recipes, these are the recipes for the pieces of armor you should craft to better protect yourself: helmet, chestplate, leggings, and boots.

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You can by the way, use this recipe with leather, which we learned in the previous lesson you can get from cows and horses, to craft leather armor but it’s the weakest armor in the game. Iron is the second strongest armor in the game, so it’s typically not worth spending the time gathering 24 pieces of leather when you could be working on your shelter and starting your first mine to find iron. Later on when you’ve mined deep enough to find diamonds, you can use this recipe to create very durable diamond armor.

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Throw on your new armor and sword and then hit F5 to admire yourself properly equipped and in your new home:

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Just look at that guy, snug as a bug in his little Hobbit-hole with furnaces blazing. It’s downright cozy!

Once you’ve secured yourself some shelter, hunted down some food, and begun work on your first simple mine to secure resources like coal and iron, there’s really only one thing left to do to complete the basics of survival boot camp: build a bed.

Home Is Where You Lay Your Head

Beds are so much more than a decoration in Survival Mode. When you sleep in a bed in Survival Mode two things happen: the night passes (so you get to effectively skip the 10 minute barrage of monsters and being stuck in your shelter) and it resets your spawn point to the bed you last slept in (assuming the bed still exists at the time of your death, otherwise you return to your original spawn point).

The value of skipping the night so that you can resume your daytime work without interruption can’t be overstated and shifting your spawn point is an enormous timesaver, especially if you’ve built a base far from your original spawn point.

In order to build a bed you’ll need three blocks of wood and three blocks of wool (harvested by killing sheep). If you have the bad luck to start in a biome where sheep don’t spawn, you’ll need to hunt spiders (either at night or in caves you find while mining) in order to acquire spider silk, which can be turned into wool.

You’ll need three wood and three wool (or twelve spider silk as it takes four silk units to make one wool block). Craft the necessary items on your table with the following recipes.

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Plop the bed down in your shelter and, once dusk comes, hop in to sleep the night away by right-clicking on it.

Now that you’ve got the basics of survival down (you might not be living the Robinson Crusoe high-life yet, but you’ll get there), it’s time to start branching out from your little survival hut and exploring.

The two most important things to focus on when reaching out from your main base are to keep your bearings and to be prepared. On the first count you need to either focus on landmarks and leave torches or cobblestone markers to help guide your way home or if you don’t mind breaking the thematic feel of the game, you can always pop open the debug screen we learned about in a previous lesson (press “F3”) and note the coordinates of your base and the direction you’re traveling in.

As far as being prepared goes, it’s a fine line between over-packing (thus leaving no room for the loot you’re gathering) and under-packing where you find yourself with broken tools and have to waste time making more. If you plan on doing any serious exploration, it always helps to craft a spare bed so you can make a quick shelter by digging a hole and going to sleep to skip a night filled hacking at zombies and dodging skeleton arrows.

We’re sure you’ll quickly find yourself addicted to exploring as you never know what interesting thing lies around the corner. For example, in our Survival Mode tutorial, we focused strongly on immediately bunkering down right by our spawn point but just exploring over a large hill and across a river near our first survival base yielded a pleasant surprise.

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Sometimes you spawn in the middle of nowhere and can spend days (if not weeks) looking for a village, and we ran into one right in our own backyard!

If you have the good fortune of finding a village early on, make sure to have a bed handy so you can sleep through the night and/or be ready to build walls around the village and put torches up to keep the inside of the village illuminated and the monsters out.

Without sleeping through the night to skip the mob attacks or properly defending the village with barricades and light, waves of zombies will descend on the village and quickly render the place a ghost town. Do your poor villagers (and handy trading partners) a favor by properly protecting them or camping out in the woods at least 128 blocks from the edge of the village.

Next Lesson: Thriving in Survival Mode: Advanced Minecraft Techniques

Tomorrow’s lesson will be focused on advanced survival techniques that take you beyond simply scraping by in a dirt hole living off pork chops. We’ll dig our first serious and organized mine, gather rare ores, and even learn how to enchant our tools, weapons, and armor to give us an extra edge.

Your homework for tonight is to continue to explore your survival world and enjoy the thrill of discovering new caves, biomes, and creatures. Remember kids, safety first: bring enough tools, food, and torches to make it home alive and never dig straight up or straight down!

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 06/18/14