Make a Miner’s Stove

Here’s a fun activity that really works. But first, let’s find out what a gold-rush miner was and why he needed a “miner’s stove.” Hang on for a scary ride into the dark!

The Midas mine in Goldtown (Goldtown Adventures) is a “hard-rock mine.” In this type of gold mine, the gold is embedded (stuck) in the quartz ore. Shafts are dug deep underground using blasting powder or (in later years) dynamite. It takes many men, mules, and equipment to bring the gold ore to the surface. Some men go to work before sunrise and work all day. Other miners start their shifts at sunset and work all night. Day and night does not matter underground. It is dark and damp. Ground water sometimes leaks in, and they have to pump it out. Some tunnels might be hot, especially if they uncover a hot spring while digging. Air shafts are drilled so there’s plenty of fresh oxygen in the lower tunnels.

 A miner carries his lunch in a tin pail. To heat it up or have coffee, he hammers a circle of nails into a board and sets his pail on top. He lights a candle under the pail. After lunch, the miner’s lunch pail is taken to the surface. That way, the miner can’t sneak gold ore out of the mine. 

 A miner wears a stiffened cloth hat (made from layers of cloth strips held together with glue) to protect his head from falling rubble. He fashions a candle holder around his hat, so both hands are free to drill and swing a pick. A miner might also carry a lantern or fasten candles to the rocky walls.

 What does a miner do all day long in eerie underground tunnels? At the beginning of each shift, the miners ride together into the mine then split up into smaller groups. Each group is assigned a different area of the mine and a different task.

 Drillers: these men swing heavy picks to loosen ore from the walls or break up large rocks. Some walls are too hard to break with a pick. The drillers hammer a long drill bit into the rock with a sledgehammer, creating deep holes for blasting powder.

 Blasters: they make explosives by stuffing paper tubes with gunpowder and inserting a fuse. The blaster puts the tube in the holes the drillers make then yells, “Fire in the hole!” Everybody runs for cover. Each explosion extends the mine three feet. Later, dynamite replaced black powder explosives, and it could blast away much more rock.

Muckers: these miners shovel piles of broken rocks into ore carts. Mules pull the carts to the surface along iron tracks, or men can push them.

 Tool nippers: young boys (at least ten years old) often work in the mines. The boys look for and pick up broken tools so the blacksmith can repair them. They also light candles under the tin pails so the miners’ food will be warm by lunchtime.  

 At the end of the shift, miners are transported out of the mine. They change out of their sweaty clothes. Why? First, to prevent illness when they hit the cool, outside air. Second, so the mine owner can make sure a miner is not smuggling out gold ore.  

 Sadly, there is always a chance a miner might not return home. Nearly every week, someone is injured or killed underground. Falling rocks, explosions, falling down a mine shaft, or a mine cave-in are some of the ways a miner can lose his life. If there is an accident, the mine’s loud steam whistle blows. Everyone on the outside drops    everything and pitches in to help with the rescue—no matter the danger.

 Fire is also a danger. Candles and lanterns are the only sources of light, so miners keep their burning candles far away from the timber beams that hold up the tunnels. If a fire should block the main shaft, the miners will be trapped.

Miners also suffer from miner’s consumption, brought on by breathing in all that fine rock dust. They often develop a lingering cough, which can lead to death. Miners work long, hard days in dangerous and unhealthy conditions. No wonder Jem’s father in the Goldtown Adventures series says, “I’d rather starve on our ranch than work in a hard-rock mine.” 

Make a Miner’s Stove
What You Need
  • a sturdy block of wood at least an inch thick         
  • six to eight  2” nails with heads     
  • a hammer 
  • a pencil
  • a small, flat tea candle
  • a small tin can half full of cool water 
  • You can also try heating hot chocolate or tea!     
What to Do
  1. Stand the tin can on the block of wood and draw around it to mark the size of the circle.
  2. Pound the nails into the block of wood just inside the circle outline of the can.
  3. Place the tea candle in the middle of the circle of nails. Light the candle.
  4. Heat the can of water over the candle flame until warm to the touch. How long did it take? Think how long it must have taken a miner to heat his coffee!

If you make a miner’s stove, send a picture to and I’ll post it!

Published by Andi Carter

I'm the main character in the Circle C Adventures series. I live on a huge cattle ranch in 1880s California. These are my adventures.

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