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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 kind of tool that appears in NetHack. It is made of iron. While classified as a tool and designed for digging, it can also be used as a weapon - the dwarvish mattock is a similar weapon-tool primarily classified as a weapon.


Archeologists start with a +0 pick-axe.[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.

Dwarves have a 14 chance of being generated with a pick-axe.[2] Elvenkings have a 23 chance of generating with a pick-axe; the guaranteed Elvenking on the Plane of Earth will always generate with one.[3]

Pick-axe skill

Max Role

The pick-axe and the dwarvish mattock use the pick-axe skill.


Main article: Digging

You can apply a pick-axe to tunnel through 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 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.

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

Shops and pick-axes

Shopkeepers will attempt to block off the entrance of their shops if you have a pick-axe in your inventory. 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. Trying to throw a pick-axe in diagonally will cause the shopkeeper to swiftly catch it; 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; the real danger is that if you make the pit into a hole, objects on that square and adjacent squares can fall through the hole - this counts as theft and will anger the shopkeeper.

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 those watchmen 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. While digging, 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 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.

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.

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.


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".


The pick-axe first appears in Hack 1.0.2.

Pick-axes were 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 was 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 was bug C343-397, and is fixed as of September 2009; see commit e450ca.


In SLASH'EM, pick-axes weigh just 75 aum.

SLASH 6, a predecessor to SLASH'EM, had the Gnome role, whose quest artifact was a pick-axe called The Pick of Flandal Steelskin. While both the role and artifact are defunct in modern SLASH'EM, a pick-axe can be found in the Mine king level.


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 ]

See also


  1. src/u_init.c in NetHack 3.6.0, line 34
  2. src/makemon.c in NetHack 3.6.0, line 336: a pick-axe is given 13 of 34 of the time, and a mattock is given 12 of 14 of the time
  3. src/makemon.c in NetHack 3.6.0, line 257