dangerous, owing to the great height of the excavations, and fatal accidents from falls of roof are in consequence more common in South Staffordshire than in any other coalfield in this country. The air from the down-cast shaft enters from the gate road, and passes to the up-cast through the air heading above. About one-half of the total coal (or less) is obtained in the first working; the roof is then allowed to fall, and when the gob is sufficiently consolidated, fresh roads are driven through it to obtain the ribs and pillars left behind by a second or even, in some cases, a third working. The loss of coal by this method is very considerable, besides great risk to life and danger from fire. It has, therefore, been to some extent superseded by the long-wall method, the upper half being taken at the first working, and removed as completely as possible, working backwards from the boundaries to the shaft. The lower half is then taken in the same manner, after the fallen roof has become sufficiently consolidated to allow the mine to be re-opened.
|Fig. 9.—South Staffordshire method of working Thick Coal.|
In the working of thick seams inclined at a high angle, such as those in the south of France, and in the lignite mines of Styria and Bohemia, the method of working in horizontal slices, about 12 or 15 ft. thick, and filling up the excavation with broken rock and earth from the surface, is now generally adopted in preference to the systems formerly used. At Monceaux les Mines, in France, a seam 40 ft. thick, and dipping at an angle of 20°, is worked in the following manner. A level is driven in a sandstone forming the floor, along the course of the coal, into which communications are made by cross cuts at intervals of 16 yds., which are driven across to the roof, dividing up the area to be worked into panels. These are worked backwards, the coal being taken to a height of 20 ft., the opening being packed up with stone sent down from the surface. As each stage is worked out, the floor level is connected with that next below it by means of an incline, which facilitates the introduction of the packing material. Stuff containing a considerable amount of clay is found to be the best suited for the purpose of filling, as it consolidates readily under pressure.
In France and Germany the method of filling the space left by the removal of the coal with waste rock, quarried underground or sent down from the surface, which was originally used in connexion with the working of thick inclined seams by the method of horizontal slices, is now largely extended to long-wall workings on thin seams, and in Westphalia is made compulsory where workings extend below surface buildings, and safety pillars of unwrought coal are found to be insufficient. With careful packing it is estimated that the surface subsidence will not exceed 40% of the thickness of the seam removed, and will usually be considerably less. The material for filling may be the waste from earlier workings stored in the spoil banks at the surface; where there are blast furnaces in the neighbourhood, granulated slag mixed with earth affords excellent packing. In thick seams packing adds about 5d. per ton to the cost of the coal, but in thinner seams the advantage is on the other side.
In some anthracite collieries in America the small coal or culm and other waste are washed into the exhausted workings by water which gives a compact mass filling the excavation when the water has drained away. A modification of this method, which originated in Silesia, is now becoming of importance in many European coalfields. In this the filling material, preferably sand, is sent down from the surface through a vertical steel pipe mixed with sufficient water to allow it to flow freely through distributing pipes in the levels commanding the excavations to be filled; these are closed at the bottom by screens of boards sufficiently close to retain the packing material while allowing the water to pass by the lower level to the pumping-engine which returns it to the surface.
|Fig. 10.—Long-wall working-face—Plan and Section.|
The actual cutting of the coal is chiefly performed by manual labour, the tool employed being a sharp-pointed double-armed pick, which is nearly straight, except when required for use in hard rock, when the arms are made with an Methods of cutting coal.
inclination or “anchored.” The terms pike, pick, mandril and slitter are applied to the collier’s pick in different districts, the men being known as pikemen or hewers. In driving levels it is necessary to cut grooves vertically parallel to the walls, a process known as shearing; but the most important operation is that known as holing or kirving, which consists in cutting a notch or groove in the floor of the seam to a depth of about 3 ft., measured back from the face, so as to leave the overhanging part unsupported, which then either falls of its own accord within a few hours, or is brought down either by driving wedges along the top, or by blasting. The process of holing in coal is one of the severest kinds of human labour. It has to be performed in a constrained position, and the miner lying on his side has to cut to a much greater height, in order to get room to carry the groove in to a sufficient depth, than is required to bring the coal down, giving rise to a great waste in slack as compared with machine work. This is sometimes obviated by holing in the beds below the coal, or in any portion of a seam of inferior quality that may not be worth working. This loss is proportionately greater in thin than in thick seams, the same quantity being cut to waste in either case. The method of cutting coal on the long-wall system is seen in fig. 10, representing the working at the Shipley colliery. The coal is 40 in. thick, with a seam of fire-clay and a roof of black shale; about 6 in. of the upper part, known as the roof coal, not being worth working, is left behind. A groove of triangular section of 30 in. base and 9 in. high is cut along the face, inclined timber props being placed at intervals to support the overhanging portion until the required length is cut. These are then removed, and the coal is allowed to fall, wedges or blasting being employed when necessary. The roof of the excavation is supported as the coal is removed, by packing up the waste material, and by a double row of props, 2 ft. from each other, placed temporarily along the face. These are placed 5 ft. apart, the props of the back row alternating with those in front.