Wells are structures that provide access to a water source for your dwarves. A well can be an important feature of a fortress, providing a clean and usually safe water supply compared to rivers, pools and cavern lakes.
Wells provide an emergency drinking source in case the alcohol runs out (don't let that happen!). A well is a water source that (if constructed correctly) will not freeze in the coldest weather, and should last in hot. Enemies that can swim can and will path into your fort through a well. Grates will not stop building destroyers.
A well constructed above-ground, even indoors, will not prevent the water tile beneath it from freezing. When this happens, the "empty space" requirement for the well is no longer met as the space is occupied by the ice, and the well will be dismantled into its original components (Prevent this by placing it one Z-level above the water source if it freezes). Using the well (10 times) will take a small amount of water from the water tile below (1/7 from that one tile), so it will eventually dry up if not replenished. A well can be defined as a meeting area with the key. Un-defining the meeting area will break up any party that is currently formed around a well, and it can immediately be re-defined if you wish.
Using a well provides that dwarf with a happy thought, especially if you make the well with high-value chain/rope, bucket, block and mechanism, and/or the building designer produces a high quality result. Drinking stagnant water from a well will still lead to a bad thought, and will lead to infection if used to clean a wound. If the floor of your water source is covered by a pile of mud (like the floor of underground pools in caverns) then the water drawn out will be 'water laced with mud' unless there are two z-levels of water in it. Badly wounded dwarves will drink only water while recuperating, never booze, so you better have a well or water zone ready for when anyone gets injured, and certainly before the first goblins show up. Ensure you have enough buckets as well, as injured dwarves will not go to the well themselves even if it is next to their hospital bed, but require someone to bring them water in a bucket. If a well is full enough and the water is only one z-level down, the tile can also be used for fishing.
Dwarves will use the well to wash themselves. This means that if dwarves are exposed to contaminants such as blood, it may accumulate around your well. Deadly contaminants from Forgotten Beasts can and will accumulate around your wells, too. Wells in highly trafficked areas can become death traps this way, quickly spreading the syndrome to your entire fort. One approach to decontamination is to build wells off the beaten path, in a nook limiting access to one tile, and placing a drawbridge atom smasher over that tile. Whenever a dwarf leaves a mess by a well, lock the access doors and smash that mess with a bridge. Another approach involves flooding the area around the well and draining the excess water off screen somehow. Removing the contaminants from the map is the only sure way to deal with them permanently and stop them from killing your FPS, and your dwarves if they are deadly.
 Building a well
When constructing a well, it is important to consider placement, safety, the source of the water, and any water pressure to avoid flooding your fortress by accident. For a wider discussion of adding a well to your fortress, see the (recommended) well guide.Wells must have a clear vertical pathway straight down to their water source. That source can be an artificial channel, an aquifer, a river, a lake, or an artificial reservoir, so long as it has water in it that's at least 3/7 deep. Brooks can be used, but you must first channel off the surface of the brook to allow the bucket to dip into the water. The water can be any distance directly below the well. If there is 7/7 deep water somewhere directly below the well, then the depth of the top tile of this water does not matter.
The more common well will be created underground and draw water from a source even lower, but above-ground sources can also be used; you just have to build constructions first (typically up-stairs, walls and floors) that provide support at least one z-level above the water's level where you can then place the well.
To build a well you will need the following components:
To place a well, press the, keys. That will take you through the various components, and you can choose specifically from among the parts you have available in each category. A well needs to be placed over an open space with adjacent floor tiles, there does not need to be water underneath a well for it to be built, only for it to be active.
It requires a dwarf with the architecture labor designated to design, and then a mason/carpenter/metalsmith to finish the construction. Because it's designed, high-value materials can be multiplied by a high-quality effort on the part of either or both the steps involved, and can result in an extremely valuable piece of architecture for your fortress. The dwarves will describe a very nice well as "truly sublime".
For the nicest mechanisms in your well, you can lock a skilled mechanic in a room with some gold or platinum nuggets, then turn those stones on in the economic stone menu (Z, Stone). Remember to turn them off when you're done, or you risk all your nuggets disappearing into stonecrafts and ordinary masonry items.
If a well is working properly, meaning it has direct access to water, it will display "active" when examined with. If there is something obstructing the well, or there is not enough water, it will display "dry".
While in use by a dwarf, you can see the actual rope and bucket travel through the z-level. Although interesting, if your water source is very deep it may take awhile for a single dwarf to obtain his or her ration of water. This becomes especially annoying if you do not have a steady booze supply, as thirsty dwarves will swarm the well awaiting their turn.
It is possible to build wells directly above one another, and they will still function if there is water below, they will not obstruct one another, as they are not impassible structures. Hatches, floor bars and floor grates will block well functionality, if they are between it and the water, but grates and bars will not stop water from flooding out. Grates, bars and hatches will allow functionality again if opened with a lever. It is perfectly reasonable to have multiple well openings drawing from a single water source, as a well only cares about the tile in a straight line below it. Wells cannot function through a stairwell. It is possible to have obstacles beneath a well, with the well continuing to function, if the surface of the water is above the obstacles.
A well is essentially a hole in the floor, so dwarves can fall through it under the right circumstances. Using a well is safe, while fighting or flooding near a well may not be. Any dwarves who fall through may escape drowning if the water source includes an escape route.
When removing a well, the components will generally be scattered around the channeled tile, not fall down into the well. One exception is when the bucket is stuck somewhere on the way down which probably happens when a water hauling job is interrupted by a hostile creature. In this case the bucket will drop down into the water source, but the rope, block and mechanism are saved.
Wells can be removed if it is in an area where ice freezes, and you place it over top of water that freezes, the well will be deconstructed to its original parts, but if the ice melts, the parts may be lost. One solution is to place it one tile over any outdoor water.
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