Square-Set System of Mining

Gardner, E. D. ; Vandenburg, William O.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 63
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1982
This chapter on the square-set system of mining em¬bodies the results of a special study of the subject made as a part of the US Bureau of Mines (USBM) general investigation of mining methods and costs. Data for the chapter were gathered by the authors during visits to mines using square-set mining, from information circu¬lars prepared by consulting engineers to the USBM on mining methods at individual mines, and from articles in the technical press and the Transactions of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers. Al¬though some of the properties discussed are no longer in operation, the methods described are still valid. The square-set system of mining has been very widely applied and is one of the oldest methods in use in the US. It is mainly employed for extracting rela¬tively high-grade ore in heavy ground. It is also useful in taking out pillars left in mining by other methods. It is used to some extent as an auxiliary method with many underground systems and as an alternate with cut-and¬fill, shrinkage, and open-stope methods when heavy ground is encountered. In some cases as much as 50% of the ore may be extracted by square setting at mines listed as using some other method of mining. A large tonnage has been mined yearly by square setting, prin¬cipally in the western states. Due to the high cost of timber and the relatively low average production per manshift, this system generally is not used when the ore can be mined by some other method; it usually is adopted as a last resort. Square setting, however, has a special field in that ore bodies not minable by other methods can be stoped by this system. As square-set mining was widely known, there was a tendency for years to use the method regardless of its suitability. With the increasing need for economy and the development of other methods, square setting has been superseded in many mines by cut-and-fill, top slic¬ing, or sublevel caving methods. The term square-set mining as used in this chapter includes all stoping methods in which the space made by the removal of the ore is timbered with framed sets. The sets usually are square in horizontal section. The stope may or may not be filled with waste rock as stoping progresses. HISTORY OF THE SQUARE-SET SYSTEM Prior to 1860, open-stope methods with stulls for casual support accounted for most of the mineral pro¬duction from underground mines. Attempts to mine large ore bodies that required artificial support resulted in disastrous cave-ins and loss of life. The art of mining received a tremendous impetus following the introduc¬tion of methods for mining the bonanza ore body which was discovered in 1860 in the Ophir mine on the Comstock lode, Virginia City, NV. This ore body was phe¬nomenally rich and eventually proved to be 122 m (400 ft) high, 27 m (90 ft) wide, and 98 m (320 ft) long. The mining of this large high-grade ore body taxed the best engineering talent of the time; the problem was finally solved by Philip Deidesheimer. According to Eliot Lord (1882): "At the 50-foot level the vein of black sulphurets was only 3 or 4 feet thick, and could be readily extracted through a drift along its line, propping up the walls and roof when necessary by simple uprights and cap-posts. As the ledge descended the sulphuret vein grew broader until, at the depth of 175 feet, it was 65 feet in width, and the miners were at a loss how to proceed, for the ore was so soft and crumbling that pillars could not be used to support the roof as in coal mines. They spliced timbers together to hold up the caving ground; but these jointed props were too weak and ill-supported to with¬stand the pressure upon them, and were constantly broken and thrown out of place. The dilemma was a curious one. Surrounded by riches, they were yet un¬able to carry them off and their mass of black sulphurets bade fair to become a white elephant on their hands. The Ophir Company began to wish themselves less for¬tunate, as their miners narrowly escaped burial day after day in their attempts to stope out the ore. "A young mining engineer, Philip Deidesheimer, was in charge of a quartz mine in Georgetown, El Dorado County, Calif., in the autumn of 1860, when this serious check to the development of the lode occurred. At the request of William F. Babcock, a trustee of the Ophir Company, Mr. Deidesheimer left his California mine and crossed the mountains with a letter from the direc¬tors of the Ophir Company, authorizing him to inspect the workings of their mines and make such changes in the method of timbering as should seem to him expe¬dient. After examining the vein he designed, in the course of a few weeks, a system of timbering which proved to be exactly adapted to the requirements of the work. Experiments which he had previously made in California gravel and quartz mines furnished the out¬line of his plan. This was to frame timbers together in rectangular sets, each set being composed of a square base, placed horizontally, formed of four timbers, sills, and crosspieces from 4 to 6 feet long, surmounted at the corners by four posts from 6 to 7 feet high, and capped by a framework similar to the base. The cap pieces forming the top of any set were at the same time the sills or base of the next set above. These sets could readily be extended to any required height and over any given area, forming a series of horizontal floors, built up from the bottom sets like the successive stories of a house. The spaces between the timbers were filled with waste rock or with wooden braces, forming a solid cube when¬ever the maximum degree of firmness was desired. By adjustments of these sets the ore bodies along the line of the lode were extracted with comparative ease and security." Most mining methods are evolved slowly and are the result of the combined efforts of a number of minds; Deidesheimer's feat was remarkable in that his system was immediately successful. He died in 1916 at the age
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