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Taking Inventory: Shovel

Can you dig it?

One of the greatest joys in Minecraft is that when you look out over a blocky landscape, everything you see can be changed. In most other games, the terrain is static and unalterable, but in Minecraft you can reshape things almost infinitely, arranging it exactly how you’d like. Carrying out any grand landscaping project takes a while, of course, but thankfully there’s a tool to help. And it just so happens that it’s our item of the week – the shovel.

Shovels were added to Minecraft very early, in version 0.31 of the Indev phase of the game’s development. Initially, they could only be made from iron, but wood, stone and diamond shovels were added a few weeks later, and gold a day or two after that. I’m sure you know the recipe already, but just in case, you’ll need two sticks arranged vertically and then a block of wood or stone, an iron or gold ingot, or a diamond on top.

The main purpose of a shovel is that it lets you mine certain kinds of blocks faster. Dirt, sand and gravel are the most common reasons to carry a shovel around, but they also work to speed up the collection of clay, soul sand and snow. Higher-tier tools work faster – a snow block that would take a second to break by hand takes 0.2 seconds with a wooden shovel, 0.1 seconds with stone, and a super-quick 0.05 seconds with an iron, gold or diamond shovel. DIGDIGDIGDIGDIG.

Higher-tiered shovels can also dig through more blocks before breaking. A wooden shovel breaks after about a stack’s worth of blocks, a stone shovel breaks two stacks, an iron shovel breaks four and a diamond shovel breaks an incredible 25 stacks! A gold shovel? About half a stack. They’re basically just designed to be shown off, though if it’s any consolation, they do dig through that half-stack very fast.

But digging through blocks is not the only use for a shovel. No sirree. By right-clicking one onto grass, you’ll make a grass path. Contrary to popular belief, grass paths don’t actually allow you to travel faster, but they do look very nice, and mobs won’t spawn on them. You can also use a shovel as a weapon, which is marginally better than punching a spider with your bare hands, or use a wooden shovel as fuel in a furnace.

In the real world, shovels have existed since at least Neolithic times, when early humans used the shoulder blades of large animals to move soil around. For most of history, any kind of large-scale excavation was done by hand, often employing large numbers of workers. Given how important shovelling was to the success of large engineering projects, a lot of very smart people spent a lot of time on “the science of shovelling”, refining and re-refining the design of the shovel to make it as efficient as possible.

You might also be wondering what the difference is between a shovel and a spade. It’s not a difference between UK and US English, as I originally thought, but merely that a spade is square and designed for digging, while a shovel has a round or triangular tip and is used for moving loose materials around. Spades also tend to be straighter than shovels, which curve to hold their contents more securely. In Minecraft, we don’t really differentiate between the two, so call your tool whatever you’d like. I call mine “Michael”. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Michael some dirt.

Duncan Geere
Written By
Duncan Geere

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