Shaft mining—also referred to as shaft sinking—is a type of mining process used to vertically gain access to an underground mining facility. There are many different components which make up the shaft, all of which play a very important role in the mining process. The entrance to a shaft can go by different names, depending on whether or not the entrance is above or below ground. If it is above ground, it is commonly referred to as the shaft or portal; if the entrance is underground, it is known as a winze. Winzes, however, are only used in deep shaft mining for connecting lower parts of the mine.
The vertical central shaft of a shaft mine is known as a service cage and is typically used for transporting personnel. Much like a tree, the service cage will have multiple branches extending off of it. These branches go by a variety of names, such as levels, drifts or galleries. The area in which a level will meet with the service cage is known as the shaft station or inset. Each level is perpendicular to the service cage, allowing a horizontal access route to an ore body.
In most shaft mining practices, the shaft will be split into different sections. Each section is vertical, as they run parallel to the service cage. In most shaft mines, most of these sections are used for lifting purposes. The service cage itself usually contains a large elevator, which is used to transport mining personnel up and down the shaft to different levels. The sections are usually rectangular in shape and are lined with either timber or concrete.
Outside the service cage are small shafts known as skips. Shaft mining often requires the use of at least one skip, as they are used to transport ore to the surface. These are essentially smaller versions of the service cage and do not normally carry personnel. Skips can also be used for other necessities, such as pipelines for water and fuel, along with ventilation systems. These are all very essential parts of shaft mining, as water, fuel and air play an extremely important role in keeping the mine—and its workers—fully operational.
On the surface, a head frame is used to winch lifts up and down the shaft. This is done through a hoist motor, which is usually connected to a sheave wheel. Head frames were once constructed from timber, but demands for strength and reliability has resulted in steel and concrete framing. Another role the head frame plays in shaft mining is providing a storage area for ores.