Block of the Week: Wool
We're feeling sheepish about this pun.
Beds are great. They're warm, soft, and sleepy. They're the reason I make sure I get at least twenty-three and a half hours of sleep a day. They're available in whatever colour fits your home decor. And they keep you safe from the denizens of the night. We highly recommend them. But to make one, you'll need to go hunting for our block of the week - wool.
Wool was added to Minecraft a looooOOOong time ago - in June 2009 during the game's "Classic" development phase. It was originally called cloth and came in sixteen different colours that aren't quite the same colours we have today. Knowing that wool was originally cloth helps to explain why you use it to make paintings - I don't know anyone who paints on wool in the real world. Leather armour was also originally made using cloth and called cloth armour.
Today, though, it's wool. Most players acquire it from sheep - which have a chance to drop a single piece of wool when they die. But it's actually better to use a pair of shears on them, which yields one to three wool blocks instead. Even better, the sheep will then regrow the wool after munching on grass for a while, so you can shear it again. Endless wool!
If sheep are hard to come by in the biome that you've chosen to call home, there are some alternatives. You can craft a single wool block out of four bits of string arranged in a square in a crafting grid. Or you can buy it off shepherd villagers. Or, if you're feeling a little mean (but not mean enough to kill a sheep) then you can find it in various generated structures - street lamps in villages, and woodland mansions. You thief.
Beds aren't the only use for wool. Banners, carpets and the aforementioned paintings also use wool in their recipes. Wool was once a favoured choice for builders despite its flammability and low blast resistance, thanks chiefly to the amazing range of colours that you can dye it into, but the recently-added concrete has now largely replaced it. So what are you going to do with all the wool you had lying around? Well, in the java version at least, you can burn it in a furnace to smelt exactly half an item per block. Toasty.
Real-world wool is - alongside cotton - one of the most common natural textiles on Earth. It's sheared from sheep like in Minecraft, but also commonly from goats, musk ox, rabbits and camels. Woollen clothes are popular, especially among firefighters and soldiers, for several reasons. Its natural curliness means that it's bulky and holds air in, making it a good insulator while still being pretty lightweight. It's quite waterproof too, and unlike Minecraft, real-world wool doesn't actually burn very well.
What you probably didn't know is that humans are the reason why sheep are so woolly. Wild sheep, tens of thousands of years ago, were more hairy and were actually bred by humans in what is now the Middle East into the delightfully woolly creatures they are today - producing almost two million tonnes of the substance every year. That's a lot of wool. Thanks sheep!