Mining: Drilling & Blasting

In order to access the precious material laying hidden underground, miners would drill and blast rock faces to get behind it. The Hutchings Museum has a large collection of drilling and blasting artifacts used in this process.

Drill Bit (Blue) by Archive MaterialHutchings Museum Institute

Drill Bits

To access precious ore hid deeper in the rock, miners would use diamond drills to drill holes into the rock face. Early on, single and double jacks were used to pound, by hand, the drill into the rock face about three to four feet.

Drill Bit (Red) by Archive MaterialHutchings Museum Institute

Once miners had drilled a hole into the rock face, they would clear out the debris and place dynamite in the hole. The fuse would be lit, the blast would go off, and miners would clean the dust and debris that settled. The process would repeat as they drilled further into the rock. 

Drill Bit (Wide) by Archive MaterialHutchings Museum Institute

As pneumatic (air) and water powered drills came around, miners could drill eight to ten feet into the rock face. This required a longer scoop to clean debris so they could place the dynamite in and blast the rock. 

Drill Bit (Long) by Archive MaterialHutchings Museum Institute

Holes were drilled into the face about a foot apart. There would be about 12 holes before they would place the dynamite and blast the wall. 

Drill Bit (Rusted) by Archive MaterialHutchings Museum Institute

Drilling and blasting created a great deal of dust that would get blown around and breathed in by the miners. Many miners suffered from silicosis and black lung because of the dust and soot they were constantly breathing in. As water powered drills came along, the drills would spray water through a hole in the drill bit. This created a slurry of mud, but was significantly better for the miners health.

Drill Bit Container (Red) by Archive MaterialHutchings Museum Institute

This Liddicoat drill bit box would have held a small drill bit. 

Reinforced Drill by Archive MaterialHutchings Museum Institute

Drill bits usually have a hollow core. As they pulled out the hollow core, a cylinder of the rock came out with it and provided a sample of the rock they were drilling. 

Drill Core with Galena by Archive MaterialHutchings Museum Institute

Drill Cores

The hollow opening of the drill bits extracted a cylinder of rock as the bit was pulled out. Miners would label the cores, box them, and take them to a geologist to be analyzed. This core is comprised of galena.

Drill Core with Galena (Thin) by Archive MaterialHutchings Museum Institute

This drill core is also partially comprised of galena. Galena is lead that has not been processed and is safe to have and handle.

Drill Core with Open Crystals by Archive MaterialHutchings Museum Institute

A geologist would analyze the drill core samples to see if the ore was worth mining. This drill core features open pockets from crystals. 

Drill Core with Pyrite by Archive MaterialHutchings Museum Institute

Iron pyrite, commonly known as "fool's gold," resembles real gold due to the metallic gold color. The cubic structure of pyrite and other properties differentiate the two materials. This drill core showcases beautiful pyrite veins. 

Drill Core with Pyrite Slide by Archive MaterialHutchings Museum Institute

Pyrite, quartz, and calcite were not mined for their intrinsic value, but if miner's encountered samples containing those specimen, they knew they were drilling in the correct direction. This core has a sample of pyrite inside.

Blasting Caps Container Blasting Caps ContainerHutchings Museum Institute

Blasting Caps

Blasting caps worked as detonators. They contain a small charge that, when ignited, set off a larger explosive. Blasting caps, in turn, would set off the sticks of dynamite that were placed in the drill holes.

Hercules Blasting Caps Tin (circa 1920) by Hercules Powder CompanyHutchings Museum Institute

The purpose of blasting caps was to improve safety for the miners. Dynamite and other explosives were able to have a higher activation energy (energy required to start the reaction) so as to protect against accidental drops that would set the blast off. They also helped to regulate the timing of the explosion and allow time for the miners to leave the area. Black powder fuses are difficult to control, so using blasting caps was a safer way to blast rock. 

Union Explosives Co. Blasting Caps by Union Explosives Co.Hutchings Museum Institute

Although blasting caps tried to help improve the safety of miners, they also proved to be quite dangerous. The cap ends needed to be crimped, but if they were crimped too close to the explosives inside, it would ignite. Miners would often crimp caps with their teeth, presenting the same problem. If they crimped in the wrong spot, they were at risk for an explosion in the mouth and face. 

Respirator (circa 1940) by DustfoeHutchings Museum Institute


The dust and soot that is kicked up while drilling and blasting was extremely harmful for the health of miners. "Black lung" for coal miners and silicosis for others were very common illnesses that miners suffered from. When miners could no longer work, many went to nursing homes where the eventually died of asphyxiation. Unions pushed heavily for required filters. Even once water powered drills came along, filters were still worn as an extra precaution.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps