The recipe for salt-mining is simple: hack it from the rock; bring it to the surface; and repeat indefinitely. The classical equipment of the salt miner is equally simple: his pickaxe, his mallet and his muscles. With these alone, the men of Wieliczka searched for the treasure buried beneath their town.
For hundreds of years they laboriously carved their way through solid, unknown rock, guided only by the clues left by their salty quarry. The glint of crystals amid the clay; the angle of a seam; the ring of the pick against the chamber wall - these were signs by which an experienced salt-master could pick up the trail. Meter by meter, chamber after chamber, they gouged their way through the rock.
Rectangular blocks of salt weighing several tons were cut from the rock face with the aid of wedges and levers, an operation that required experience and skill. These were split up into smaller cylindrical blocks that could be rolled to the nearest hoist. Loose chippings were crushed and packed into barrels for transport to the surface. A man-powered windlass or treadwheel could haul and lift a cylinder of salt weighing 400 kilos. For each man hewing salt there were ten more transporting it. Pickaxes, mallets and muscles... By the year 1500 the miners of Wieliczka were producing about 3 million kilograms of salt annually. A hundred years later, using essentially the same tools and methods, they had raised the rate tenfold. The production figure for the year 1610 was 32 million kilograms, almost 90 tons of salt a day!