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

How-To Geek

Lesson 9: Advanced Mining and the Magic of Enchanting

Minecraft

In our previous lesson, we showed you how to keep yourself alive in Survival Mode. Now it’s time to highlight how you can go from living like a castaway to living like a king.

There are a few major areas of growth in Survival Mode without leaving the comfort of The Overworld: mining to create advanced tools, enchanting to enhance those tools, farming, redstone machines (big and small), and enchanting. Brewing potions is another area of growth but as it required extensive exploration of The Nether to achieve, we’ll leave the thrill of that exploration to the reader.

As we’ve repeated many times, you can play Minecraft anyway you wish and never go beyond running around like a shipwrecked adventurer, but it is pretty thrilling to move beyond living in a hut and actually have things like sustainable food and automated tools.

Before we get into advanced work like setting up a farm or building a furnace that can load itself, however, we need to focus on something a little more basic and fundamental to the game: establishing our first extensive and purposefully guided mine to acquire resources and then learning how to upgrade our weapons, armor, and tools.

Then, armed with better gear, we’ll show you how to enchant and repair that gear so you can take more hits, hit harder, and mine faster.

Let’s start off by taking a look at what exactly we’re mining for and where we can find it.

Meet the Ore

We’ve already talked about two ores found in the game: coal and iron. In addition to those fundamental ores, there are five more: gold, diamond, redstone, lapis lazuli, and emerald. Knowing where to look for these ores, how to extract them, and what to do with them once you’ve mined them, is key to effective minding and forward progression.

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In the above image we’ve stacked two of each ore and then used a frame to hold what that ore looks like in its final form (either smelted or just extracted through mining). From left-to-right: coal, iron, diamond, gold, lapis lazuli, redstone, and emeralds. Let’s take a more intimate look at each of them.

Coal Ore

Coal is the most abundant ore in the game and is found at all elevations. You can find it clustered together on the tops of mountains all the way down to the bedrock. In the Extreme Hills biome you can even find large exposed coal veins just ripe for the mining. Coal is found in veins ranging in size from 5-64 units.

Coal, as we’ve learned, is important for making torches, smelting ore, cooking food, and is much preferred to charcoal as it is easier to acquire once the player has their mining operation underway. Mining coal is also a great source of experience as it is low risk (coal won’t pick a fight with you), gives you something you need, and can be done early in the game.

You do not need refine coal into anything as it drops from the coal ore in its usable form but you can, to save space, fill the grid on your crafting table with coal to “stack” coal into coal cubes (9 coal lumps yields 1 coal block). Creating cubes is a more efficient way of storing large volumes of coal.

Coal may be mined with any grade pickaxe.

Iron Ore

Iron ore is the second most common ore in the game and can be found anywhere between layer 68 and the bedrock (it’s best to get below layer 50 if you’re looking for iron). Iron ore veins range in size from 4-10 units.

Iron is critical for a wide variety of crafting recipes. You need it for armor, weapons, and tools, as well as buckets, hoppers, minecarts, rails, anvils, and other more advanced game items.

As we learned in our earlier survival lessons, you need to smelt iron. When you mine the iron you collect the raw ore blocks which then need to be smelted in a furnace. Unlike coal you receive no experience when mining iron; you gain the experience when you remove it from the furnace after smelting. Like coal you can stack iron into cubes for more efficient storage.

Iron requires a stone, iron, or diamond pickaxe to mine.

Diamond Ore

Diamond ore is the second rarest ore in the game (second only to emerald ore) but the more valuable as it is critical to so many advanced game creations. Diamond ore is found in veins of 1-9 units and located between the bedrock and layer 16 (with most diamonds found at or below layer 12). If you want diamonds you’ll need to dig deep and thoroughly.

Diamonds are required for diamond armor and tools (the strongest and most durable in the game) as well as advanced creations such as the enchanting table, juke boxes, and various end-game tools.

You do not need to smelt diamond as the ore breaks and reveals the diamonds at the time of mining. Like coal, diamonds drop experience when mined. You can, if you find yourself so lucky as to have a surplus of diamonds, stack diamonds using the crafting table to create diamond cubes.

Diamond ore requires an iron or diamond pickaxe to mine. If you use any other pickaxe you will still break the block, but it will yield no diamonds.

Gold Ore

Gold is a rare ore that appears between the bedrock and layer 33, with the bulk of the gold ore appearing at or beneath layer 29. Gold ore is found in veins of 4-8 units.

Like iron ore, gold ore must be smelted to yield ingots and you gain the experience during the smelting process not during the mining process. Gold is required for a variety of advanced (and quite useful) in-game creations like the clock and powered minecart rails.

Gold ore requires an iron or diamond pickaxe to mine.

Lapis Lazuli Ore

Lapis lazuli ore is fairly uncommon. It’s found at layer 33 and below with the highest concentration of ore located around layers 13-16. Lapis lazuli ore appears in veins of 1-8 units.

The ore requires no smelting; each mined block drops 4-8 units of lapis lazuli. Like other non-smelted ores, it also grants experience when mined. Lapis lazuli is one of the more limited use ores in the game as there is very little you can do with it beyond dying things blue or turning the lapis lazuli into blocks on the crafting table and using the blocks as decorative accents.

Lapis lazuli ore can be mined with a stone, iron, or diamond pickaxe; it’s the deepest ore in the game that can be mined with just a stone pickaxe.

Redstone Ore

Redstone ore is a relatively rare ore found at layers 15 and below. The ore occurs in veins of 4-8 blocks.

The ore requires no smelting. When mined the ore drops 4-5 units of redstone and experience (like other non-smelted ore). Most players begin amassing redstone (found during their quest for diamonds) early on in the game, long before they start actually using it. It’s wise to store the redstone away in a chest as it’s relatively difficult to find and it is used heavily in more advanced creations like compasses, clocks, dispensers, and as Minecraft’s version of electrical wiring. We’ll delve more into redstone creations in a later lesson.

Redstone ore must be mined with an iron or diamond pickaxe.

Emerald Ore

Emerald ore is the absolute rarest ore in the game. Not only does it only spawn in the Extreme Hills biome (a biome that is rare enough on its own), but it only spawns one block at a time and only drops one emerald when mined. It is found between the bedrock and layer 32.

The ore requires no smelting as it drops its contents just like diamond ore. The emeralds serve one purpose and one purpose alone in the Minecraft universe: trading. Emeralds are the only currency-like substance in Minecraft and you use them to trade with villagers. Given the difficulty of mining for emeralds, however, it is much easier to engage in some trades with villagers that have emeralds but want things like chicken and wheat, or to look in Temples and Dungeon chests, than it is to spend days mining out the entire inside of an Extreme Hills biome looking for individual ore blocks.

Emerald ore must be mined with an iron or diamond pickaxe.

Preparing for Extended Mining

Now that we’ve learned about the ores, where they are located, and what tools we need, let’s focus on preparing to mine.

Proper preparation can turn your mining experience from frustrating (and potentially lethal) into a Zen-like scavenger hunt for the next big ore vein. Here’s an example of the kind of equipment a new miner would potentially bring on their first major mining expedition.

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In the above screenshot you can see we’re wearing a full set of iron armor and we have iron tools. If you haven’t found enough iron to make multiple sets, be sure to at least have an iron pick axe and sword, then make the rest out of stone. Stone pickaxes work just fine on stone, coal ore, and iron ore, and you can save the iron pickaxe for the higher level ores.

In addition to armoring yourself and bringing extra tools, be sure to pack enough torches and food as running out of either is a rough fate if you’re lost underground. Beyond those basics it’s helpful to have ladders in case you want to get up a steep cavern wall without mining a staircase to do so (or need to get out of a hole you’ve fallen in), as well as signs (after some time underground everything starts to look the same). Making things with signs like “Lava Pools” or “Finished Mine” can make navigating much easier and safer.

You can create ladders and signs with the following recipes.

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If you have the iron to spare, crafting a bucket offers you a way to bring water with you underground and bring lava back if you’d like. Why bring water? It’s useful for making lava safe. You pour the water on top of the lava to turn it into solid and harmless cobble or obsidian, and you can use water like a sort of elevator. It pours over high surfaces and falls straight down, providing a slow moving and safe “chute” for you to descend and ascend. Here’s the bucket recipe:

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In addition to all that gear, you may have noticed we brought what amounts to a mini camping kit: a crafting table, bed, chest, and furnace. Many players find it very handy to build a mining base camp. Once you start work on a large mine it’s a pain to keep hauling all your loot back to your main base. Setting up a small base below the surface where you can dump your inventory, craft tools, etc. is very handy.

Some other items you might consider bringing, but aren’t shown in our inventory screenshot above, include sticks (you can craft torches with the coal you find as well as turn sticks and cobble into basic tools) and logs (unless you find an Abandoned Mineshaft you can harvest wood from, the logs will be the only wood for tool making you’ll have below the surface). Further, having a furnace or two down in your mining base makes it easy to smelt all that ore you find.

If you don’t have the resources yet for the full inventory list we have above, don’t sweat it. Start mining and you’ll quickly get the supplies you need.

Types of Mines

There are as many ways to mine as there are ways to play Minecraft, but an overview of the fundamentals should get you productively mining in short order. While you can just start digging and keep on digging for the fun of it (we’ll admit to often enjoying just digging in a meandering line looking for caves and Abandoned Mineshafts), if you’re looking to maximize your time spent mining, it’s best to use some sort of system that’s more sophisticated.

Stair Mines

Remember the simple mine we started in the Survival Mode tutorial? That’s one of the most basic kind of mines. You simply dig a little forward and a little down, building a staircase into the ground.

If you keep moving forward and down with your staircase you’ll quickly get rather far from your main base and, potentially, outside of the chunk update radius your main base is in. When you’re outside the update radius the game essentially pauses any activity in that zone (furnaces stop smelting, plants stop growing, etc.).

A variant on the stair mine, the spiral stair mine takes care of that: instead of going down and over, down and over, until you’ve moved far away from your base, you build the staircase but turn left (or right) every few steps to create a corkscrew shape. The benefit of this design is that you can easily stay within the chunk update radius of your base.

Although you can make very tight staircases (in as a small as a 2×2 block footprint) they aren’t the most effective for mining, but they are effective for getting you down to the bedrock quickly and safely. Most players prefer larger staircases with 3×3 or larger footprints as they move more stone and cover a larger area.

Vertical Mines

If stairs aren’t getting you down to the bedrock as quickly as you’d like, you can always build a vertical mine. We’re not huge fans of the design (never dig down ‘n all, you know) but it can be done safely if you are careful.

The best type of vertical mine is a 1×3 design. You’ll need ladders and some patience for this method. Mine a 1×3 trench then, while standing in the trench, mine 2 blocks out (creating a little trench within the trench). Step into the trench and place a ladder on the wall of the center of the trench. Continue side-stepping back and forth, adding to your ladder, as you go down.

Remember, never mine straight down while working in a vertical mine as you might reveal a pool or lava or a lethal vertical drop. When digging out a vertical mine, many players leave little ledges here or there so should they fall off the ladder, they won’t fall the entire length of the shaft.

Vertical mines are simple in design but can be tricky to pull off safely. Remember to be liberal with laying down the ladders and try to stagger everything so you can never fall far.

Horizontal Mines

The simplest horizontal mine is the least effective: mining forward in a straight line. Horizontal mining should really be called “branch” or “feather” mining, because the best way to use it is to dig a horizontal shaft and then create branches off the sides of the main tunnel. When viewed from above, a branch mine looks like an old aerial TV antenna with a central tunnel and dozens (or more) of single small tunnels branching off the central location.

While building a staircase down and digging a vertical shaft is pretty self-explanatory, let’s take a look at a simple branch mine.

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The image above is a bird’s-eye view of a simple mine we dug after generating a “superflat” stone world (we’ll talk more about map generation in an upcoming lesson). We just dug a 2×2 tunnel forward and then, every 2 blocks, dug a 1×2 horizontal shaft. In just that short distance, extending our little branches/feathers out 8 blocks out, we uncovered three iron veins and two coal veins (and if we dug a little further we’d uncover one more of each, as seen on each edge of the screenshot).

Stack and stagger these mines every five vertical blocks and there’s very little chance you’ll miss any ore.

Quarry Mining

Speaking of not missing any ore, when you absolutely positively must get every single bit of ore between you and the bedrock then it’s time to build a quarry.

Quarry mining is very labor intensive but has a very high yield as there is no chance you’ll miss even a single ore block. To construct a quarry mine, simply decide how large you want it (players typically make quarries that are 20×20 or 30×30 in size), and then begin stripping away all the blocks in the initial footprint, layer by layer, leaving behind a ladder or a simple staircase along the walls of the huge hole you’re digging. Evenutally, you’ll burrow straight down into the earth until you hit bedrock.

It’s labor intensive, it takes a long time, you’ll go through a ton of pickaxes, and it leaves a huge hole in the ground that’s a bit ugly (and a bit dangerous), but in the process you’ll amass stacks of coal and iron, lots of gold, redstone, as well as quite a few diamonds.

Enchanting Your Gear for Fame and Glory

After building your first mine and investing some time swinging a pickaxe, you’ll have amassed a pile of two things: ore and experience. What to do with the ore is pretty obvious at this point in the game: craft weapons and armor, and later move into crafting more advanced tools and devices. What Minecraft doesn’t make so obvious, is what to do with all that experience you’ve been gathering.

You get experience orbs (the little green glowing balls) from mining, defeating hostile mobs, smelting and cooking in the furnace, breeding animals, and fishing (more on those last two in a later lesson).

These orbs fill up the meter above your quick-access bar but the game doesn’t make it immediately clear what you do with them. Unlike most video games increasing experience levels doesn’t translate directly into increasing abilities. For example, you’re not better at fighting or finding ore as your levels increase.

In Minecraft experience is used as a type of “magic” storage unit that allows you to expend the stored magic to both enchant weapons, tools, and armor on an enchantment table, as well as repair the said weapons, tools, and armor on an anvil.

Crafting Your Enchantment Table

Crafting your first enchantment table is a pretty big occasion in Survival Mode as it marks your progress up the achievement ladder. In order to create one you’ll need advanced tools, obsidian, diamonds, and books.

Let’s look at the prerequisites you’ll need to get started. You’ll need to have found diamonds both to use in the actual enchantment table recipe and to craft a diamond pickaxe in order to mine obsidian (also for use in construction of the enchantment table). Obsidian is a rare block that can be found naturally in the game, but it’s much faster to simply create your own by pouring water over lava source blocks.

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Look for standing pools of lava (source blocks don’t flow and have a smooth and still surface) and then pour water over it to turn the blocks to obsidian. You can see in the screenshot above how the water that poured over the source blocks turned to obsidian but the water that poured over the moving lava turned to cobblestone.

Once you have a source of obsidian, you need to mine at least four blocks of it using a diamond pickaxe. Don’t be surprised by how long it takes, obsidian is one of the more stubborn blocks in the game: it takes 9.4 seconds to mine a single obsidian block with a diamond pickaxe, and over four minutes to mine it with any other pickaxe (but you don’t get the block).

In addition to the obsidian the other new ingredient you need is a book. You can’t very well be a powerful wizard casting enchantments on armor without a spellbook, now can you?

Books are crafted using leather, which you can get from killing cows and horses, and paper. Paper isn’t naturally found in the game but instead crafted from sugar cane.

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Sugar cane is found (as seen in the screenshot above) growing along the edges of bodies of water. It’s relatively rare but not difficult to find if you do a bit of hiking. Although you only need three sugar cane units to make a book, we recommend gathering as much as you can and, if near your base, replanting some on the shoreline where you found it.

First you need to create the paper from the sugar cane and then you need to combine the paper with the leather to create a book. Here are the recipes.

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Once you have the book in hand, it’s time to combine the obsidian and diamonds into an enchantment table. Craft an enchantment table with the following recipe and place it down in your base. Leave at least 2 blocks open on all sides of the enchantment table. Your enchanting space should ideally be 5×5 blocks with the enchantment table in the center – two blocks from each edge of the space (we’ll explain why in just a moment). Here is the recipe for the enchantment table and an example of an enchanting space hollowed out of the wall of our shelter.

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Poor guy looks a little lonely in that great big room but don’t worry, we’ll get around to sprucing the place up in a moment.

Using Your Enchantment Table

Enchantment table placed, it’s time to look at the process of enchanting. If you click on the enchantment table (just like you would the crafting table) you’ll see the enchantment interface.

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When you place an enchantable item in the slot beneath the book, the book will open and display the available enchantments in the three slots to the right of the book. You’ll note that the available enchantments are labeled but in a strange language.

Fun bit of Minecraft trivia: the enchantment names aren’t exactly gibberish, even though they appear to be, but are actually words written out using the glyphs from the Standard Galactic Alphabet, which in turn is from the 1980s video game series Commander Keen.

That said, while you can translate the text of the enchantments, it doesn’t directly translate to the name of the enchantment. Actual Minecraft enchantments are like “Unbreaking,” “Knockback,” and “Lure,” which actually describe their function.

If you take the time to translate the cryptic names on the enchantment list the translations read like “undead embiggen humanoid” and “cube range scrolls.” Although the text on the enchantments says something it’s not directly related to which enchantment you’re going to get nor is the glyph text even consistently related to the actual enchantment.

The only definitive thing you can read from the enchantment list is the level of the enchantment you’re going to get, e.g. you’ll see the glyph text and then a number like 1, 6, 11, etc.

After you place the item on the enchantment table and click one of the three enchantments, the book will close and your item will now be shimmering with the power of its new enchantment.

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Mousing over the item will display the enchantment. The sword we enchanted is now imbued with “Smite I” which increases the damage it deals against undead enemies.

Enhancing Your Enchantment Table

One thing you may have noticed in the earlier screenshot that displayed the actual enchantments was that they were all lower level enchantments (the highest one was level 6). In order to use higher level enchantments you need to enhance your enchanting area with bookshelves. Just like a storybook wizard holed up in his tower surrounded by spellbooks, the more tomes of knowledge you amass, the more powerful your enchantments become.

We already know the recipe for books, let’s learn the recipe for bookshelves and then fill our enchanting chamber with them.

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The above configuration represents a balance between aesthetics and function. The maximum number of bookshelves that provide a boost to enchanting power is 15 (anything beyond that is purely decorative or a very inefficient way to store books). In our enchanting room above we filled the far corner of the room with 2 oak wood blocks, which are the same color as the bookshelves, and then flanked the room with two banks of eight shelves. That’s an extra shelf that provides no benefit, but it looks nicer so we happily added it.

Let’s take a look at the enchanting table now that we’ve added in the bookshelf boost.

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Now we’re talking! With the bookshelves surrounding the table, you can max out the enchantments (assuming you have the available experience) up to level 30. Let’s use the level 30 enchantment and see what we get.

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Not only did we get a higher level enchantment, we got two higher level enchantments: “Bane of Anthropods” (higher damage to spiders and the like) and “Unbreaking” (increased item durability).

The power provided by the bookcases is line-of-sight, if you want to temporarily decrease the enchantment level you can place something between the bookcases and the table like torches or a fence post.

Before we leave our discussion of the enchanting table, there’s one handy trick to keep in mind. Often times you’ll have a lot of experience stored up but you might not necessarily have an item you want to enchant.

This carries a risk because, upon death, you lose all of your experience (some is dropped at the site of your death but even if you run back to recover it all you never get the full amount). A tricky way to store up experience to use on enchantments is to enchant books. The book takes on the enchantment and can be stored in a chest for later. You sacrifice the book in the process but you gain the ability to store the enchantment and selectively apply it to the item you wish to enchant later.

Back to Blacksmithing: The Anvil

After enchanting a few items, you may be thinking “Wow, this diamond sword with dual enchantments is awesome… but what do I do when it wears down?”

That is a dilemma, you make a high-end weapon, you enchant it, and of course you want to use it but every use decreases the durability. Fortunately there’s an in-game mechanic to deal with worn tools: the anvil.

Crafting Your Anvil

The anvil recipe is a simple one but expensive early on in the game as it requires 30 iron ingots. You’ll need to take 27 iron ingots to craft three iron cubes. Remember the coal cube recipe: nine units on the crafting table yields one cube.

Once you have the iron cubes you place them across the top of the crafting table like tabletop and make a base out of iron ingots.

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You can place your anvil anywhere you like as, unlike the enchanting table, it requires no additional support objects. We like to help out the poor village blacksmiths by replacing their stone brick anvils with a more thematically appropriate iron anvil (and once he has a proper anvil, we’re sure he won’t mind if we stop by to use it).

Using Your Anvil

The anvil is a surprisingly diverse tool and is used to repair, rename, combine, and believe it or not, even enchant items. Just like using the enchantment table, using the anvil incurs an experience cost.

The function of earliest and highest importance to the player is using the anvil to repair gear. If you have a really nice sword with a high level enchantment on it, you’ll want to repair it and keep it in good working order rather than incur the cost of crafting a new one and applying new enchantments.

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In the above screenshot you can see that our damaged iron sword requires additional iron ingots and uses up experience in order to return it its former brand-new-state. For those of you who have been taking close notes at home, you’ll remember that an iron sword is simply a stick plus two iron ingots so obviously, you want to save repairs for items with good enchantments. It makes no sense to repair a normal item when the repair cost is pretty much the production cost of the original item plus a lot of lost experience!

That said, there is one instance where repairing normal items makes sense. You can combine normal items on the anvil for a very minimal cost and their durability levels will be combined. Two diamond swords worn down to 50% durability can be combined into a 100% durability sword. This is a much better deal from an energy and resource standpoint, than searching out enough diamonds to make more swords.

This recombination trick becomes more costly but more useful when you are dealing with enchanted weapons as it allows you to stack the enchantments.

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In the screenshot above you can see how two damaged enchanted swords can be combined into one sword that has full durability and the stacked enchantments of both items. This is a great way to create really powerful weapons. After all, if you’re going to spend the resources and energy to keep repairing a weapon, it should be worth it.

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You can also add enchantments to normal and enchanted items alike by combining them with enchantment books. Remember our previous tip about storing experience and enchantments in books to avoid losing the experience when you die? With the anvil you can take an item, add in an enchanted book, and imbue the item with that enchantment.

The experience cost is pretty minimal which makes this a great way to stockpile enchantments and selectively apply them. The book is named after the enchantment it applies.

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The final anvil trick is naming. It’s not a critical game feature but it is pretty fun to customize your items with special names. To rename an item on the anvil, simply click on the tan-colored box at the top of the interface and erase the base name, e.g. “Iron Sword”, and replace it with your own name, e.g. “The How-To Geek Sword of Infinite Might!” Renaming items is tad expensive compared to for example, combining two normal items, so think of it as a vanity tax.

Next Lesson: I’m a Farmer, You’re a Farmer, We are Farmers All

At this point in your Minecraft experience you might be picking up on how important resources are and how much energy it takes to find and collect them.

In our next lesson we’ll take a look at the concept of “farming” and how you can farm items in the game so you can spend less time looking for food, wood, and other renewable resources and more time looking for precious diamonds.

For your homework, work on expanding your first mine and tunnel down deep enough to hit diamonds (and lava pools) so you can experiment with enchanting. You should find enough iron in the process that building an anvil and repairing your armor, tools, and enchanted weapons is no sweat.

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 06/19/14