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A ubiquitous NetHack tool of decent utility. Not as good as a wand of digging, but close. Applying a pickaxe in the direction of a diggable wall (most walls are diggable) eliminates that section of wall and sometimes creates a pile of rocks in its place. This is usually the only way to get the luckstone that is at the bottom of the Gnomish Mines. As every dwarf and gnome seems to carry one, you'll rarely have trouble finding a pickaxe.

A precautionary note: when you apply a pickaxe, you will wield it as you do so. You will need to re-wield your preferred weapon when you are finished digging. This leads to the obvious problem that if your pickaxe is inadvertently cursed, you will be stuck wielding it until you can do something about it.

A friend of mine had this problem once. He was making his way back up through Gehennom after securing the Amulet of Yendor when he found himself surrounded by liches, dragons, and other horrible monsters. After some futile combat, he started digging through a nearby wall in an effort to escape. He extricated himself from the melee, only to find that when he tried to wield Mjollnir again, he couldn't -- his pickaxe was welded to his hand! After more futile combat with another group of demons using a cursed pickaxe (it does about 1 damage if you can even hit someone with it), he finally committed suicide. The scoreboard entry:

No Points  Name               	          Hp [max]
.	.	. . .			   .. ..
4  44563   Aardvark-Val-Hum-Fem-Cha died   - [380]
           in Gehennom on level 42. Killed
	   by kicking a wall.

May his soul rest in peace.

Like its brother, the axe, the pick-axe was an early used weapon and tool- and one of the most useful innovations in history. Whereas most weapons have been modified or changed- axes evolving smaller heads and longer handles, some becoming swords or daggers being balanced- the pick-axe still exists as it always has: A sharp prong on top of a good shaft.

Whereas the axe begot the sword, the pick-axe has created no new weapons (save possibly the obligatory polearms, like the warhammer, lucern hammer and halberd) because of its wonderful simplicity. It has had no need to be modified.

Evolved like its brother from the dagger and hammer, instead of using the edge, the pick-axe uses the point of the axe to deal damage, resembling the dagger more than the hammer. Superior to the hammer from the point and the dagger from its weight, the pick-axe was one of history's most effective- and underrated-weapons due to the horific damage caused by it if it penetrated the flesh.

Again, it was a useful tool; while the axe was used to cut things up or break things down, such as wood and trees, the pick broke things up and cut things down, such as rocks people. Where the axe cut trees to gather wood for building and making fire, the pickaxe dug the earth to plant crops and break slate for one's rooftop.

Due to the stabbing end of a pick-axe, the internal wounds it deals a creature are deep and blood well; they would take much time to heal and would normally scar if the beast survived much longer.

As metal came into use, the pick-axe played less of a role than the axe, due mainly to the fact that an axe took less effort to use; once you hit with a pick, you also have the difficulty of pulling the head out of the reciever.

Double-headed picks evolved mainly for mining, and were quite effective; the additional weight from the pick allowed it to strike deeper into the rock, but the second pick also meant that you had to be careful when swinging it around. The last thing you want to do is accidently kill your best miner. It's probably also the last thing he wants too, actually.

One of the reasons it was a less popular weapon-though horribly effective when it hits- was that they were normally overweighted. The fact that one could swing it to impale a target was more than enough damage ability, the added weight that was normall added tended to be overkill, dead weight stopping one from using the pick effectively, with speed or skill, and as the damage was so high it increased the chance that the pick would be stuck or even break!

While a pick is a weapon for a skirmisher due to the large amount of room needed, it was used by many mercenary footmen; its presence of the battlefield never caused a general to start rethinking his plans (unless he suspected they were hiding pikes), and being confronted by a pick-wielding warrior was no worse than meeting a sword-wielder. Few tactics that used a pick were developed, and the pick wasn't a weapon in every general's army "just in case they have an elephant".

With good resources and knowledge, a pick and an axe, one could happily build a house and live in the wilderness.

A pick is that tool you see on old films of miners, with a wooden handle and a long, curved double-ended blade made from mild steel. In some cheaper tools the handle is made from fibreglass, but that can break so wood is better, and frankly, there's not a lot of difference in cost, so if you get the choice, select a wooden handle.

Tem42 says, where I live (rural NC, USA) the wooden handle is actually cheaper.

The handle is about 4 feet or a metre and a half long, while the blade is about the same length, extending half that distance either side of the handle. One end of the blade of the pick is fashioned into a point. The other is formed into a narrow blade which runs perpendicular to the handle, like an adze.

Although a pick axe can be used as a weapon, as Sofacoin indicates (above), it is a little unwieldy for use in close combat. Not that I've ever tried deliberately to hurt someone with a pick. Now the handle on its own would be a different matter, but the pick itself is a bit heavy for battle. Or maybe I'm not strong enough to wield it. Whatever.

Rather than causing mayhem on the battlefield, I use mine in the garden for either removing rootballs or for digging narrow trenches or breaking up old brickwork or paving.

A note on using a pick to break up a concrete slab.

A concrete slab is best broken up using the pick and a heavy sledgehammer. The technique is to first use the pick to get underneath the slab and lift it. Once it is raised slightly, put a chock or wedge underneath the raised slab and then start using the hammer. The concrete will break easily.

If you just hit the slab with a hammer, it won't break (except with a great deal of very hard work), as the soil underneath will support the concrete. By raising the slab slightly, the hammer can apply a load which puts the lower part of the concrete in tension. Concrete is strong stuff, at least in compression. It is fairly weak in tension. So when you hit the supported slab, you are applying compression to the top of the slab. Once it is raised off the supporting base, the slab bends when hit and this puts the bottom part in tension, which then cracks, and the crack then propagates through the whole thickness of the slab.

This, incidentally, is why reinforced and pre-stressed concrete is so strong. Reinforcement bars are positioned to take the tension load, while pre-stressing applies a heavy compressive load throughout the concrete. A bending load on top that would normally apply a tension force merely reduces the compressive force somewhat, leaving the load in compression.

rootbeer277 notes that when using it to dig rocks, if you hit a pipe or other hollow object, the noise will be a resonant echo. Hitting rocks and other solid objects will result in a more or less silent strike. So the advice is, first to check for pipes, cables and so on in any area you are using a pick. And second, if you get a hollow sound, then stop and use a more sensitive instrument to find the source of the echo.


Swung properly, a pickaxe will smash through almost anything found in the garden. That includes roots and concrete, but it also includes flesh and bones. Steel-toed workboots are helpful, but more sensible is careful use of the pick. Never, ever swing the pick in a way that it is likely to hit your own body. Swing the pick so that it makes contact with the ground or the plant at the end of the swing. However, stand with legs apart so that if the swing goes wrong for some reason, then the business end will pass safely between your spread legs. Second, if you are tired or fatigued, then stop using the pick.

Also, note that the two ends of the pick have different designs. One is a point, designed for deep penetration, or intensive breaking operations. The other is a blade designed to cut through things and give leverage. Use the appropriate end for the task in hand.

Protecting your back

Using a pick incorrectly can put a large strain on your back. I know this from personal experience. If you are used to swinging a heavy axe, or a large hammer then your lower back muscles might be strong enough to cope with a pick, but a pick is a heavy instrument and many people won't have developed the right muscles to swing it repeatedly.

However, a pick also gives rise to risk of strain as it is used like a lever. An ordinary axe or hammer can be swung and the impact marks the end of its action. However, a pick is designed to be used as a lever. Swing it, bury it in the soil, or under a concrete slab and you then have the opportunity to use the handle to lever up the concrete, or to break up the soil. It is this action which runs the greatest risk of straining a back muscle.

Follow the advice, keep a straight back. Use your thighs and arms to apply pressure; keep your back straight, both when swinging it and when using it as a lever.

Pick"ax`, Pick"axe` (?), n. [A corruption of OE. pikois, pikeis, F. picois, fr. pic. See Pick, n.]

A pick with a point at one end, a transverse edge or blade at the other, and a handle inserted at the middle; a hammer with a flattened end for driving wedges and a pointed end for piercing as it strikes.


© Webster 1913.

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