Now that we have a sense of the different game modes, what they are, and why we’d use them, let’s turn toward the subject new players are typically most interested in: surviving in Survival Mode!

Although you can eventually work toward great things in Survival Mode like having a functioning farm, protecting a city, and even saving the world by defeating the Ender Dragon, every adventure starts with baby steps.

The baby steps in early Survival Mode revolve around creating tools, securing shelter, and getting food. While every game is slightly different, the steps involved in going from naked and terrified in a brand new world to armored, armed, and safe in a little Hobbit-hole of sorts, are pretty consistent.

Each Survival Mode game starts with the in-game clock set to just slightly after dawn (you’ll always see the sun just above the horizon to the East). A Minecraft day lasts for twenty real-time minutes: ten minutes of daylight and ten minutes of moonlight.

As you advance in Survival Mode you’ll gain the ability to skip the night by sleeping and you’ll be better protected and armed in the face of nightly threats, but for now let that sink in: you have ten minutes from the moment you’re dropped into the map until the first wave of nightly mobs starts looking for you. Spending your time wisely in the first day is critical to getting off to a good start!

Let’s start a Survival Mode game and walk you through surviving the first night and getting enough tools and food to really dig into the game.

Punch Trees, Craft Tools

This is a right lovely start we have here. Plains to the left with pigs roaming around (starting off with a herd of pigs nearby is practically like getting take out dinner) and a dense mushroom forest to our right (full of wood and likely more animals). We even started sitting in the water right on the edge of a beach so we can feel like proper shipwreck refuges that actually need to scramble to survive.

Our first order of business is to go punch a tree. Why punch trees? We need wood to make a crafting table and our first tools. You can use your bare hands for most tasks in Minecraft but it takes a very long time. Why beat a pig to death with your bare hands after all, when you can wield a sword instead?

Our second order of business, by the way, is to pay attention to time. We realize we emphasized this in the introduction to this lesson, but we’re emphasizing it again because the first night will come much faster than you anticipate. Minecraft days and nights are ten minutes each. Ten minutes passes faster than you realize and you don’t want to get so caught up in playing Chuck Norris the Lumberjack that you never get around to setting up your shelter to weather the onslaught of mobs that come out at night.

Let’s go find some trees to get started.

Once you find a few trees, start wailing on them with your fists of fury and collecting the log blocks, seen in the screenshot above. Gather around a dozen logs to get started. Logs in hand, press the “E” key to bring up your inventory and place the logs in the small crafting box beside your avatar.

Your “on person” crafting box is limited to 2×2 squares and only allows you to craft the simplest items. More advanced items, like tools, require a crafting table. Let’s craft one now. First, you need to put the logs on the crafting box on the inventory screen and then click on the small box beside the crafting space to create the wood planks. Not all items in Minecraft stack, but most do (and can be stacked into piles of up to 64 units). Feel free to convert most of your logs into wood blocks but put a few aside for a later project.

After you’ve converted the logs into wood, go ahead and take four of the wood and fill the small crafting space to create a crafting table.

Drag the crafting table to the quick access bar (the nine-slot space at the bottom of the inventory window). Note, you can’t use items in your inventory, they must be in your quick-access bar.

The crafting table is one of the most fundamental and critical tools in Minecraft as it unlocks most of the initial tools and paves the way for you to explore your way, using those tools, to get material to craft the more advanced ones.

Go ahead and place the crafting table right down on the ground in front of you by selecting in the quick-access bar and right-clicking on the ground. It’s important we crank out a bunch of tools right away so we can make the most of the remaining daylight. Right-click on the table to open up the crafting menu:

We guarantee the pig that hopped up on the crafting table has no idea we’re about to make our first hunting tools and turn him into dinner.

Notice that the crafting table has a 3×3 grid. This opens up a whole new world of crafting tools and items that aren’t available in the simple 2×2 grid found in the inventory menu. The first order of business is to turn some of the wood blocks into sticks as we need sticks for our tools. Two blocks stacked atop each other (anywhere in the crafting box on your person or on the table) will yield four sticks. Craft a few dozen sticks, between tools and torch-making, they go fast.

Once you’ve crafted the sticks, it’s time to make your first simple tools using sticks and wood blocks. Use the following recipes to make a wooden sword, pickaxe, and shovel. These are three of the fundamental tools in the game. The fourth is the hoe, used to till soil and plant crops, but we’re a ways off from agrarian life just yet.

Go ahead and make at least two of each item except the hoe; we’ll be upgrading them soon enough, but you don’t want to be empty-handed while you’re working. Many players only make a wooden pickaxe or two and then immediately start looking for stone to upgrade their tools but we’re going to play cautiously and make sure we have enough equipment (albeit lower quality equipment) to survive if we can’t easily find/craft stone right away.

Tools greatly expedite your work, so always use the right tool for the job. Swords inflict damage on animals and enemies but they’re very poor for manipulating blocks, outside of the rare block like cobwebs, so save them for actual fighting. Shovels make short work of dirt, sand, gravel, clay, and snow. Axes are for chopping wood (and work well on trees, wood blocks, fences, and anything else made out of wood). Pickaxes are best suited for stone and other heavy materials that axes and shovels struggle with.

Using the right tool for the job not only makes the work speedier (you can cut down a tree with a sword for example, but it will take way longer than if you used an axe) but it also protects your tools. Tools wear faster when you use them for tasks they weren’t intended for.

As you advance in the game and begin mining you can start creating tools, using the same recipes, of higher quality materials. Wood is the softest and wears down quickly. Stone is readily available, makes the work go faster, and is more durable. Iron is better than stone and, when you finally mine deep enough, you’ll find diamond you can use to fashion very durable weapons, tools, and armor. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet however, we’ve got a more pressing issue to deal with: shelter.

Give Me Shelter

Now that we have our tools, we have two pressing tasks. The most important task is to find shelter. As tempting as it is to get caught up in the quest for the perfect place to build yourself a dreamy cabin, now is not the time to wander far or aspire to a giant lodge in the woods.

The location where the game started you is known as your “spawn point.” The closer your build your first shelter to where the game started you, the better. This way if you should die while fumbling through your first survival experience, you’ll spawn right back by your shelter. If you raced across the map before settling down, you’ll end up spawning very far away from your cozy home. There’s nothing worse than dying at night and spawning minutes away from your shelter without so much as a stick to beat back the zombies trying to eat you.

The most reliable way to get immediate shelter is to look for a hill or even a slight rise in elevation and tunnel into that hill with your pickaxe. Now is a perfect time, by the way, to highlight one of the golden rules of exploring in Minecraft: Don’t dig straight down or straight up!

While there are times to do it, most of the time it’s a sure way to inadvertently fall in a deep hole or cause a cave-in (like gravel or lava) on your head. It’s best to always approach excavation at an angle (either ascending or descending) to avoid those risks.

Some people like the challenge of building an above ground shelter akin to a cabin as their first survival structure, but we’re way too pragmatic for that. Digging a hole into a hill is a fast and safe shelter with very little work. As you become more experienced with Minecraft you can make your first shelter a tree fort, a cabin, or whatever catches your fancy.

Since we’re not building a hunting lodge on your first night however, our first priority is carving out a little shelter. Second priority is food. If you run across pigs, cows, chickens, or other unsuspecting (but delicious) creatures while scouting a location for your base, by all means give them a whack or two with your freshly crafted wooden sword and collect food as you explore. Remember though, time flies and you have a mere ten minutes from the start of the adventure until sunset on the first day! There will be plenty of time to plan a feast after you’ve survived your first night.

Let There Be Light

Once you’ve dug yourself a respectable hole in the side of the hill (don’t worry about making anything too fancy at first, a single width hallway going into the hill and terminating in a modest room 3×3 room is more than useful for a small starter shelter), you’ll have a bit of dirt and a bit of cobble in your inventory (cobble is the rubble created by mining stone blocks with your pickaxe).

Plop down a crafting table in your new Spartan abode and use some of that cobble to make a furnace. Furnaces are second in importance to only crafting tables in Minecraft, and allow you to do all manner of useful things like smelt ore to extract metal and minerals as well as cook food. Craft a furnace with the following recipe and then pop some blocks of wood in the bottom square, like so:

We have two important tasks before it gets dark: create torches and plug up the tunnel leading into our shelter; the furnace and the blocks of wood we just threw in it will help with the first.

Torches are one of the most important things in Minecraft (and let us tell you, you’ll be crafting and placing a lot of them in your explorations). They let you see in the dark, they illuminate your shelter (and other spaces) to keep aggressive mobs from spawning there, and they serve as useful markers. You can never (ever) have enough torches on hand.

Let us emphasize the bit about mobs again because it’s rather important: hostile mobs only spawn in low light conditions. Placing torches in and around your base, in mines you’ve dug, in caves you’re exploring, etc. is the only way to ensure that hostile mobs won’t spawn there. If you don’t illuminate your shelter, for example, when you return from a day of hunting and gathering you might find it full of zombies. Be liberal with your torch placement.

Torches are made using sticks and coal or charcoal. Since we just started in survival mode and we haven’t done any serious mining yet (nor did we happen to spawn somewhere with an exposed vein of coal) we need to make charcoal in order to light things up before night sets in. After a few minutes in the furnace your wood blocks will become charcoal which will, in turn, allow you to craft torches.

The cooking/smelting process does take a little time so now’s a perfect time to run outside your shelter and gather food: remember from our creature guide that pigs, cows, and chickens all drop food. If you see any sheep, go ahead and harvest some of them too as, although they don’t give you food, they give you wool which is quite valuable early in the game. Remember to check back in on your furnace every few minutes.

Charcoal’s done? Great! Here are the two recipes for torches; we’ll be using the one on the left:

Everything takes time as we’ve learned, and successful Minecraft survivalists get really good at multitasking and timing their projects. As tempting as it is to immediately run around with your new torches, take a minute to throw some food on the old grill.

You cook food just like you burned the wood to make charcoal: fuel on the bottom, item to be cooked/smelted/burned on the top.

With the food in the furnace it’s time to light the place up. We have torches and we need to place them before nightfall. We really don’t want to be alone in our little hole-in-the-ground when it’s dark and mobs can spawn right there with us!

Take a moment to place a few torches inside your shelter to illuminate it, then go outside and place torches on each side of the entrance. We’d also recommend taking some dirt and building a simple obelisk structure on the hill above the door and slapping some torches on it so that you can see your shelter from a distance.

Trust us, when you’ve stayed out too late gathering resources and you’ve lost your bearings, you’ll appreciate a nice bright light to guide you home. Remember our discussion about Hardcore Mode in a previous lesson? We died documenting Hardcore Mode, even though we were trying our best to stay alive, because we didn’t set up a torch marker above our base and got lost at nightfall.

In addition to the torches, we also have the matter of sealing the place up. The easiest way to seal the front door of your shelter is just to pile up two blocks of dirt to seal the hole. It’s easy, but it’s inconvenient as you have to dig through it to get in and out. We’d recommend keeping the dirt-door as a tool of last resort. If you have the time, take some of your wood blocks and craft a door with the following recipe and plop it right down in the hallway you dug out for your shelter:

At this point we have an illuminated shelter (with a door no less), a crafting table, a furnace, and some food. We’re in a great position to survive the first night, perhaps not in style but definitely alive and fed.

Because we don’t have a bed yet (the only way we can skip the night), we’re going to have to hang around for the 10 minutes or so it takes for night to cycle into day. Don’t think it’ll be wasted time however, we’ve got things to do, holes to dig, and adventures to have, all from the comfort of our little shelter.

While you’re waiting for night to pass, have a little snack to abolish your hunger. Put the cooked food in your quick-access bar and then right-click to “eat” the food with the use function, and then take some of that extra cobble you have from digging out your shelter to craft better tools. The wood tools you crafted in the beginning are likely already severely worn as wood tools have very low durability.

Use your crafting table and the same recipes we used to craft the wood sword, pickaxe, and shovel to craft yourself stone versions of the same tool. The recipes for the basic tools never changes, you just upgrade the materials.

Before we leave the crafting table, there’s another handy thing we can craft: a chest. Remember our point about building your first shelter near your spawn point in case you die? Chests are closely tied into that idea.

When you die in Minecraft, you drop all your gear; all your tools, all your armor, all the loot you’ve collected and dug up – it all hits the ground, and you have about five minutes to race back (if you can) and collect it all. Anything you’ve stored in a chest though, stays put. With that in mind, let’s craft our first chest and stash some of our extra gear in it so, should we take a spill while mining or encounter a group of creatures we weren’t prepared to handle, we don’t lose all our gear in one horrible swoop.

Here’s how you craft a chest; place it like you would any other block and then right-click on it to open it.

If you want to double your space, you can craft two chests and place them side by side to create a double-wide chest with twice the storage capacity of your on-person inventory!

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

Now that we have some basic tools, a simple burrow to hide out in, and some food, it’s time to hunker down for the first night. Tomorrow’s lesson will guide you through starting your very first mine, upgrading your tools, armoring yourself against the aggressive mobs, and expanding your range of exploration.

For homework, expand your base a little from the initial 3×3 square, add some torches, and stock your chest with the supplies you’ve gathered so far.

Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
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