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( Pick-axe.png
Name pick-axe
Appearance pick-axe
Damage vs. small 1d6
Damage vs. large 1d3
To-hit bonus +0
Weapon skill pick-axe
Size one-handed
Base price 50 zm
Weight 100
Material iron

A pick-axe is a type of tool that appears in NetHack. It is a tool designed for digging that can also be used as a weapon, and is made of iron.

Eating a non-blessed tin while wielding a pick-axe will use the weapon to open it in six turns at most.[1]


Pick-axes make up about 0.5% of randomly generated tools (on the floor, as death drops and in shops). With the exception of bones files, they always generate uncursed.

All Archeologists start the game with a +0 pick-axe.[2]

Live dwarves have a 14 chance of being generated with a pick-axe.[3] Elvenkings have a 23 chance of generating with a pick-axe, and the guaranteed Elvenking on the Plane of Earth will always generate with one.[4]

Pick-axe skill

Max Role

The pick-axe and the dwarvish mattock use the pick-axe skill. The mattock is considered a weapon-tool and primarily classified as a weapon.

Attacking with a pick-axe weapon gives a +2 to-hit bonus against xorns.


Main article: Digging

You can apply a pick-axe to tunnel through solid rock walls or the floor, dig through doors and smash boulders and statues. If you apply it upward, a rock will fall from the ceiling and bonk you on the head; if you apply it downward, you will dig a pit in the ground, and digging down while in a pit will create a hole. If you have the autodig option enabled and are currently wielding a pick-axe, you can dig into walls or the ground by simply walking into them (or pressing >); this does not work for boulders, statues, or doors. You can dig faster by enchanting the pick-axe, playing as a dwarf and/or using other available methods - somewhat unusually, your skill level in pick-axe has no bearing on your digging speed.

Applying a pick-axe down onto a sink will turn it into a fountain.

If digging using a pick-axe on the Plane of Earth, there is a 13 chance of creating either an earth elemental or xorn on each adjacent square.[5] Digging through the Plane of Earth with a non-blessed pick-axe has an independent 16 chance of causing a 3x3 area around you to cave in, which is increased to 14 for a cursed pick - conversely, a blessed has a 13 chance of immediately clearing the same area of rock around you.

Certain tunneling monsters such as dwarves can dig through a level if they have a pick-axe on hand.

Shopkeepers and pick-axes

Shopkeepers will attempt to block off the entrance of their shops if you have a pick-axe in your inventory. Trying to throw a pick-axe in past the shopkeeper will cause them to swiftly catch it and keep it in their inventory. Pulling out a pick-axe from a container you are carrying while already in the shop will cause the shopkeeper to yell at you; there is no other effect, however, and you can continue to shop as normal.

Digging a pit in the floor will have them warn you about falling through; digging a hole while in a pit may cause adjacent items to fall through with you, and the shopkeeper will run to try and grab your pack if this occurs and/or you still have unpaid items in your inventory. Attempting to dig through a shop wall or door will print a message and cause you to abort the attempt, though by constantly resuming you will eventually succeed and potentially anger the shopkeeper.[6][7]

Pick-axes and the watch

Watchmen do not appreciate you digging up the level on their watch, and will warn you if they see you trying to dig through doors or walls with a pick-axe. Continuing immediately after being warned will cause the watch to become hostile.


Pick-axes are generally the long-term digging tool of choice after a wand of digging. One of the more common early uses for a pick-axe is finding and looting vaults for gold to use in shops and/or at temples. You may also unearth gems and gold embedded in the walls - while finding vaults will suffice most times, searching for random gold and gems with the aid of object detection (usually via a potion) is a viable option for those attempting a protection racket, particularly Archeologists.

Another general use is to cut a cleaner and/or shorter path between staircases on a dungeon level, as well as smashing boulders blocking your path; this is particularly worthwhile with Gehennom mazes, especially for navigating your way through later on during the ascension run. A pick-axe can be used to break stuck and/or obstructive boulders in Sokoban - note that breaking boulders here causes a -1 Luck penalty, unless you are on a level you have already solved. Still another use is to break statues and get at their potential contents. Smashed boulders and statues will also crumble into rocks, which you can throw or sling as projectiles or turn into meatballs via stone to flesh.

Pick-axes are fairly heavy at 100 aum, which can prove inconvenient - especially if you start with a low carry cap due to weak strength and/or constitution. A non-cursed bag of holding makes them far more tolerable to keep with you long-term; the wand of digging and wand of striking may be preferred over a pick-axe in certain instances, such as digging through non-Gehennom mazes, though they have limited charges.

As a weapon

Pick-axes generally have low damage output and are usually not sought out as a primary weapon by most characters. Archaeologists start with a pick-axe and Basic skill, and can use their pick-axe effectively against thick-skinned monsters such as mimics that their otherwise-better +2 bullwhip cannot damage.

Unlike attacking with a non-weapon tool such as a magic lamp, attacking monsters with a pick-axe does not produce a "You begin bashing monsters with your..." warning message. If monsters seem to be taking longer than expected to die after digging, check to make sure you remembered to un-wield your pick-axe and or re-wield your primary weapon.

Finding a pick-axe

Pick-axes are fairly common within the dungeon despite their low generation rate - as dwarves are tunneling monsters and very common in the Gnomish Mines, you will usually hear them digging before you see them. Dwarven players, gnomish players and lawful-aligned characters unwilling to risk early alignment penalties can have a pet attack a peaceful dwarf and kill them to obtain one. Other alignments and races instead must contend with fighting off dwarves digging towards their positions, as their digging can disrupt use of chokepoints; pets are still more than useful in this scenario, though dwarves are somewhat tougher for them to kill.

Shopping with pick-axes

If you have a pick-axe and want to enter a shop, you can drop it at the entrance to the shop (not counting the doorway), place it into a container, or try to force your way in by moving behind another monster. Once inside, shopkeepers do not mind you have a pick-axe out, as long as you do not dig through their walls - additionally, if you dig a hole in the floor, objects on that square and adjacent squares can fall through, which counts as shoplifting and will anger the shopkeeper.

Pick-axes can be used to steal from shops by picking up all of the shop's merchandise and digging out of the shop, then through the floor - this will only work if the shop is big enough for you to get enough distance from the shopkeeper, and you may need to place additional obstructions between you and them (e.g., a scroll of earth); a wand of digging may be more ideal. You can also dig straight through the floor, but obstructing the shopkeeper is far more necessary, or they will otherwise steal every non-worn and non-wielded item in your inventory as you fall. Stealing will naturally anger the shopkeeper, and Keystone Kops will begin to generate when you return to that dungeon level, so plan accordingly.


Players who are aiming for the weaponless conduct must be very careful when using pick-axes: bumping into a monster while digging or forgetting to unwield the pickaxe before (re-)entering combat will break the conduct. This is so easy to do that some players recommend not using a pick-axe at all if attempting the conduct.

Digging for victory

Main article: Digging for victory

Finding a pick-axe is one of the primary goals in attempts to "dig for victory". Of note is that the mountain centaur is the fastest form that can wield weapons and thus operate a pick-axe, making it a goal for characters that manage to find a source of polymorph and polymorph control along their route.


The pick-axe first appears in Hack 1.0.2.

Pick-axes are subject to a few bugs in NetHack 3.4.3, a couple of which are listed here:

  • The shopkeeper does not charge the hero for an unsold boulder that is destroyed with a pick-axe. This is bug C343-396, and is fixed as of September 2009.
  • A badly formed message may be produced if a monster removes a boulder while a pick-axe is being applied to that boulder. This iss bug C343-397, and is fixed as of September 2009 via commit e450ca.


The debris from your digging comes to life!
Earth elementals and/or xorns were generated from digging using a pick-axe or dwarvish mattock.
A mysterious force <creates a/extends the> cave around you!
An opening was created by digging with a blessed pick.
Crash! The ceiling collapses around you!
Walls were generated from digging with a non-blessed pick.


Some variants lower the weight of pick-axes, while others ensure that player dwarves can attain skill in pick-axe.


In SLASH'EM, pick-axes have their weight lowered to 75 aum. The Necromancer role starts the game with a +0 pick-axe as their alternate weapon.

Upgrading a pick-axe will produce a dwarvish mattock, and vice versa. This results in a ludicrously game-breaking bug: You can enchant a weapon to +127 by polymorphing it into a dwarvish mattock, upgrading it to a pick-axe, then further polymorphing it into a tinning kit or an expensive camera, charging that tool until it has 127 charges, and finally waiting for it to revert. A +127 long sword can be turned into a super-powerful Excalibur, while a +127 bow or other launcher can fire 40 or more projectiles at once.

A pick-axe is always generated in the mine king level. This is intended to prevent the player being trapped if they entered the level from the Gnome King's Wine Cellar variant of Mines' End - this can occur if a character is level teleported or else falls through a hole or trap door and lands in the gem cache. It may also double as a homage to SLASH'EM predecessor variant SLASH 6: the Gnome role's quest artifact was a pick-axe called The Pick of Flandal Steelskin, and the mine king level is based on the Gnome quest home level.


UnNetHack adds the crystal pick as a tool that uses the pick-axe skill and can be used to dig through crystal ice walls.


dNetHack and notdNetHack lower the pick-axe's weight to 80 aum, and add the hook as a weapon that uses the pick-axe skill.

Fafnir is a spirit that grants skill in pick-axes while bound.

There are two artifacts that use the pick-axe skill:


In xNetHack, dwarven characters can always reach a minimum of skilled in pick-axes.


In SpliceHack, a pick-axe can be combined with an axe at a furnace to create a dwarvish mattock.


In EvilHack, a pick-axe can be combined with a dwarvish short sword at a forge to create a dwarvish mattock.


In SlashTHEM, in addition to SLASH'EM details, the Undertaker role starts each game with a pick-axe as their alternate weapon. Dwarven characters can reach a minimum of Skilled in pick-axes.


The mine is full of holes;
With the wound of pickaxes.
But look at the goldsmith's store.
There, there is gold everywhere.

[ Divan-i Kebir Meter 2, by Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi ]


  1. src/eat.c in NetHack 3.6.7, line 1497
  2. src/u_init.c in NetHack 3.6.7, line 35
  3. src/makemon.c in NetHack 3.6.7, line 384: a pick-axe is given 13 of 34 of the time, and a mattock is given 12 of 14 of the time
  4. src/makemon.c in NetHack 3.6.7, line 254
  5. src/dig.c in NetHack 3.6.7, line 444
  6. src/dig.c in NetHack 3.6.7, line 475: This code is called after the digging energy has been applied to the door or wall
  7. src/dig.c in NetHack 3.6.7, line 407: This code is called if enough digging energy has been applied to break the wall; notably, it comes before the previously referenced line that aborts the attempt