Block of the Week: Iron Ore

Ore! Huh! Yeah! What is it good for? Well lots, actually.

I never fail to get a little bit excited when I mine into a vein of iron ore. After a while in every Minecraft world, coal isn't really worth picking up any more because it's so easy to find when you need it. But I never miss an opportunity - even when I'm being pursued by a horde of hissing creepers - to grab a bit of iron.

Iron ore was one of the earliest materials added to the game - way back in version 0.0.14a_01 on 28 May 2009, alongside gold and coal ores. Originally each block of iron ore dropped one to three blocks of iron - a pretty good haul! Then for a while you had to toss the ore onto a fire to smelt it. Finally, on March 20th 2010, the modern smelting system was implemented.

Iron ore is usually found in Minecraft in veins of eight blocks or so (though sometimes as few as four, or as many as ten), and you'll only find it up to a little above sea level - so don't go hunting for it in the peaks of extreme hills biomes! On average, there are about 77 blocks of iron ore in a 16x16 block column of the world, so if all else fails you can always just mine out an open-pit quarry all the way to bedrock. Whew - that's a lot of work!

Real iron! We'd call it 'ore-some!' if puns weren't bad things for bad people. Photo by James St John.

While iron only makes up about 0.6 percent of the world in Minecraft, it's actually almost ten times more common in the Earth's crust. In fact, iron is one of the most abundant rock-forming elements there is, found in many different kinds of ore that vary in colour from dark grey, to bright yellow, deep purple and rusty red. You can see a lovely red one just above this paragraph.

Humans first discovered the joys of iron around 1200 BC, kicking off the appropriately-named Iron Age. People messed about a bit with iron they had found in meteors a little before that, but it wasn't until the 13th century that we developed the technology to reliably build hot enough fires to melt the ores into metal. Once we did, iron was cheaper, stronger and lighter than the bronze tools it replaced, so people got pretty excited! Apart from the bronze tool salesmen, of course, who were presumably FURIOUS.

Today, iron is probably the most important metal in the world - accounting for more than 90 percent of worldwide metal production. It's one of the main raw ingredients that goes into steel, which itself has 20 times more uses than all other metals put together. You'll find it in engine blocks, pipes, fittings, cutlery, the hulls of large ships, the frames of buildings and cars, and many more places. You'll even find iron in the human body - it's why our blood is red! There's about four grams of iron inside the average adult, and it's found in lots of different kinds of food - from beans and leafy vegetables to tofu and red meat. Yum!

In Minecraft, iron is similarly versatile. It's used to make excellent mid-game tools, armour and plenty of other useful things like compasses, buckets, anvils and minecarts. It even has uses in more advanced redstone circuitry, and you can always build iron golems to defend your base.

Be careful with your iron, though! Iron ore is a non-renewable resource, meaning that it never comes back. To get more, you'll need to dig further out into the world or deeper underground. Though if all else fails and you desperately need iron in a pinch, you could try asking a zombie...