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This article is about the current version of DF.
"To get a job done, a dwarf has to do it." - Boss Urist McOverstates-the-obvious

Introduction to labor[edit]

At the most basic level, labor is how you get things done. When you want a dwarf to do a job of work, you must assign that dwarf to a "labor" type that corresponds with the job. You, as the fortress overseer, create jobs to be done by designating them, and the dwarves who have been assigned the corresponding labor type appropriate to the job will complete the job. Your dwarves function as semi-autonomous entities, fulfilling their own basic needs as they see fit, while also meeting the demand of work to be done when time and conditions allow. Assigning specific labors to your dwarves tells them what type of work you want them to do. A labor "preference" simply designates whether a dwarf is allowed to do a particular job or not. Multiple labors can be assigned to a single dwarf, (unless they are exclusive - see below) but specialization within a category is usually best as this will result in highly skilled (faster/ higher quality) labor.

Basic terminology[edit]

  • Labor: the ability to complete a job specific to a given type of work, which must be assigned individually to each dwarf.
  • Preference: a somewhat ambiguous term associated with the process of assigning a labor to a dwarf. Dwarves do not merely prefer assigned labors over unassigned labors; instead, they will completely refuse to do unassigned labors.
  • Skill: the level of proficiency a dwarf has when performing a specific labor. Skill increases with experience in completing the work. (The terms labor and skill are NOT synonyms. Skill is a measure of proficiency for a given labor, while a labor is the ability to do the work.)
  • Profession: Each dwarf is assigned a professional title, which is determined from the dwarf's assigned / preferred labors that has the highest skill level.
  • Job: a specific task or work order queued to be completed, which can only be completed by a dwarf assigned to the labor that corresponds to the job. Typically there are multiple jobs that can be completed by a specific labor.
  • Additionally, basic needs also appear as jobs, such as eating, sleeping, drinking, etc.. These are not assigned, but are created automatically as needed.
  • Social Skill: Social skills are not labors, in that no work is performed using them, but they are similar in that they are unique abilities which will increase in competency the more they are used.
  • Miscellaneous Abilities: are similar to labors and social skills, but, again, are not used in the performance of work. An example is swimming.

Assigning labors[edit]

There are several steps required to assign a particular labor to a dwarf. For an example, let's say you have designated a section of underground rock to be mined in order to make a tunnel for your fortress. This designation of work is a "job", and will now appear in your jobs menu as "dig". In order for a dwarf to complete the job, you must assign a dwarf the mining labor. This can be done as follows:

  1. From the main map screen, select the unit list menu, u, which will list all your dwarves and show their current activity.
    • Alternatively, you can use the view menu.
  2. From the unit list menu, arrow scroll down to select the dwarf whom you want to assign a labor to then select z to zoom to their location. Your view will change to the main map, and the dwarf you have chosen should be flashing on and off. In the task window on the right you will see information about the selected dwarf, in the Dwarf Details menu.
    • The default view for the selected dwarf in the Dwarf Details menu is 'general' g, which will list the dwarf's nickname or first name, dwarvish last name, and profession, followed below by their nickname or first name and last name as it reads in English, and their noble title if they are a noble. This is followed by a list that shows the current job (or lack thereof) in blue text, combat role c, labors b, and miscellaneous social skills and abilities m. To see only the current labors, turn the combat c and miscellaneous m sections off.
  3. From the Dwarf Details screen, select p for preference, and then l for labor. This will take you to the Labor Categories screen, which categorizes the individual labor options into various categories based on similarity of work. (See Labor Categories below.)
    • Note that Mining is unique on the list, as it is the only item that is a labor in its own right, and not a category of several labors.
  4. Scroll through the list using the + or - keys, select a category, and scroll through the individual labor list, and once you have the desired labor selected, press Enter. For this example, since Mining is a labor and not a category you need only select Mining from the category menu.
  5. Exiting: To return to the Dwarf Details screen, select preference p then general g, and you should see the new assigned labor in the list. You can also exit directly to the main screen by selecting Esc.
    • Note that changes in labors will not always take effect immediately, if a labor, say Mining, is deselected on a dwarf who is performing the job, they will first finish mining the current tile and then stop mining.
Pink-colored labor choices.

If the dwarf is undergoing military training, then activated labors will be marked in pink, denoting that a dwarf is not able to perform those labors.


You may have noticed that the UI for managing dwarves is a bit difficult to use. If you are using a supported operating system, Dwarf Therapist and/or DFHack can make this much easier.

Note: The word "preference" can be confusing, as it suggests that a dwarf will do work associated with any labor, but will 'prefer' and prioritize work associated with labors you have assigned. This is not the case. A dwarf will only do work associated with assigned preferred labors, so it is not a preference, but in fact functions as a switch to enable or disable the labor. (Prioritization of work is based on several factors that are not fully understood, but are presented in micromanaging tricks.)

Once designated as a labor preference, a single labor can be applied to many different jobs. For instance, a dwarf with the bone carving labor designated might carve a totem out of a skull, craft bone practice bolts for a crossbow, create bone armor, or carve bone crafts to trade. Each of these is a different possible job allowed by designating the associated labor.

Labor and tool requirements[edit]

For a few specific jobs, a matching tool is also required for a dwarf to obey the job assignment. Any active miner needs a pick, any active wood cutter needs a battle axe, and any active hunter needs a crossbow (with quiver and bolts). If a labor needs a tool, the labor is considered exclusive such that you can only assign one of the three labors listed to any single dwarf at any one time.

This means that a dwarf cannot be, for instance, a Miner and a Hunter simultaneously, since both labors require a tool. If a dwarf is assigned a tool-labor and another tool-labor was previously assigned to said dwarf, the (old) tool-labor is automatically and silently unassigned, and that tool is immediately dropped where they stand at the time.

Additionally, the assignment of these tools overrides any uniform assigned to a dwarf's squad, so military dwarves should never be assigned any of the aforementioned labors.

To be used, a tool cannot be forbidden, nor in possession of another dwarf (even one that does not currently have a job), and a path must be available from the dwarf to that type of tool. If a tool is not available, the dwarf will typically stand around as if on break. It is possible, by using locked doors etc. to limit the paths, to force a specific tool to be assigned to a dwarf, but otherwise the tool will be randomly assigned, sometimes involving a dwarf walking long distances and past perfectly useful tools to find the one they think they want.

Labor and facility requirements[edit]

Many jobs require a workshop or some other facility in order to be completed. Jobs are designated by way of the workshop, and any dwarf with the corresponding labor associated with the workshop will go to the shop, provided they are not eating, sleeping, drinking, etc..., and begin to complete the task. Most workshop jobs also require some raw materials in order to complete the production.

Labor categories[edit]

Labor is divided into the following categories which are typically related by function or material, and for which there are multiple labors associated with each category:

Carpentry, Crossbow-making, Wood cutting
Masonry, Stone detailing
Animal care*, Animal training, Hunting, Small animal dissection*, Trapping*
Diagnosis, Dressing wounds, Feed Patients/Prisoners, Recovering Wounded, Setting bones, Surgery, Suturing
Beekeeping, Brewing, Butchery, Cheese making, Cooking, Dyeing, Farming (Fields), Gelding, Lye Making, Milking, Milling, Plant Gathering, Plant Processing, Potash Making, Pressing, Shearing, Soap making, Spinning, Tanning, Wood Burning
Fishing, Fish cleaning, Fish dissection
Armoring, Blacksmithing, Furnace operating, Metalcrafting, Weaponsmithing
Gem cutting, Gem setting
Book Binding, Bone Carving, Clothesmaking, Glassmaking, Glazing, Leatherworking, Papermaking, Pottery, Stonecrafting, Strand Extraction, Wax Working, Weaving, Woodcrafting
Mechanic, Pump operating, Siege engineer, Siege operator
Animal/Food/Furniture/Item/Refuse/Stone/Trade Good/Water/Wood Hauling, Burial, Push/Haul Vehicles
  • Other Jobs:
Alchemy*, Architecture, Cleaning, Construction removal, Lever operation, Road building, Wall/Floor construction
* Useless / Limited Labors:
  • As of 8-2014, Animal Care & Alchemy are not functioning.
  • Trapping, Small Animal Dissection, and Fish Dissection have limited utility.

In the preference screen, a labor category is dark gray if there are no labors under it enabled, light gray if there are some jobs enabled, and white if all jobs are enabled. (These distinctions can sometimes be very hard to tell apart in the default color scheme.)

Jobs that are not associated with a labor[edit]

Managing labor and demand[edit]

  • To quickly change a dwarf's labor preferences, access the labor screen by viewing the dwarf, then select preferences and labor. Use + and - to move the cursor up and down to highlight different categories or skills to enable or disable. Or, use Dwarf Therapist/DFHack.
  • Using u can help you quickly locate dwarves. Select a dwarf, hit z for "zoom to creature" and you'll automatically be placed in view mode on that dwarf. Use p-l to get to the labor configuration menu.
  • You can view a list of all current, queued, and suspended jobs on the jobs menu. A list of what job each dwarf is currently performing is visible on the units menu.
  • A manager is incredibly useful for managing production jobs (workshop based). He or she can queue up a significant list of jobs without the need to select the various workshops, and place orders in bulk (or to be repeated). That said, there are some caveats, the most important being that queued jobs must be done in the correct order of materials required, or the orders will auto cancel. Also, you should not assign your manager to labors that are in high demand, as this will keep them from going to their office to place the orders.
  • Migrating dwarves will typically arrive with a certain number of labors already active. You will probably want to change the assigned labors, as often they will not meet your demand, or may be useless based on your access to raw materials.

Advanced labor management and design[edit]

Managing your dwarves can be a tricky and time-consuming business. Many a fortress has been abandoned not because of destruction from external threat, but rather from labor management fatigue. Dwarf Therapist or DFHack are both useful tools that assist you in managing your labors.

As your fortress grows, so will your labor pool, and the way you assign that labor will change over time. Typically at embark, you will have at least one Miner, a Wood cutter, Farmer, Carpenter, Mason/Stonecrafter, Cook/Brewer, Mechanic/Architect, one of which will also be a Broker / Appraiser. There are multiple combinations but this is typical (see Embark and Starting build). Early on, you will probably want to focus on fortress design and development, such that you will place priority on mining and masonry, supplemented by carpentry.

In order to maximize the benefit of highly skilled labor, you will eventually want to specialize your labor, such that each dwarf has a very limited number of labors assigned.

Hauling: Nothing can bog down your production like the distraction of hauling jobs. Losing your fort to a siege is fun, but losing because all your skilled laborers spend all their time hauling stuff is no fun. One solution is to use dedicated haulers. The migrants who appear having no skilled labor, and whose attributes pretty much suck all around, aka peasants, are best used as dedicated haulers.

Labor, skill, and product quality[edit]

The amount of experience a dwarf has with a certain labor will determine how well he goes about performing this labor. The more experience, the greater the skill. Certain job types can be completed more quickly based on the skill in the labor. There are exceptions, such as nursing and hauling which will never be completed more quickly, regardless of skill.

Certain labors will produce products that have a quality tag, typically those associated with the production of an item from a workshop. The table below lists in which labors the dwarf's experience will impact the quality of produced items and in which labors a higher experience will only be beneficial for the speed of production.

  • Many labors, most notably hauling, have no associated skill, do not generate experience, and do not improve with practice.
Category Labors Quality-effects? Details
Mining no speed only
Woodworker yes item, furniture, and designed building quality
yes weapon quality
no speed only
Stoneworking yes item, furniture, and designed building quality
yes engraving quality, speed only for smoothing and track carving
Hunting/Related yes training quality
no not implemented
no success rate tends to rise from increasing ambusher and marksdwarf skills
no success rate? trap quality?Verify
no speed only
Healthcare (Doctoral) yes success chance, accuracy (and speed) of treatment
Healthcare (Nursing) no unskilled
Farming/Related no speed only
no speed only
yes crop yield (stack size)
yes dye quality
no less likely to be injured
no speed only
no speed only
no speed only
no speed only
no speed only
no speed only
yes success and plant yield (stack size)
no speed only
no speed only
no speed only
no speed only
no speed only
yes meal and ingredient quality
no speed only
no speed onlyVerify
Fishing/Related yes fish stack size
no speed only
no speed only
Metalsmithing no speed only
yes weapon quality
yes armor quality
yes item, furniture, designed building quality
yes craft, item, decoration, designed building quality
Jewelry yes gem craft quality
yes decoration quality
Crafts yes clothing, decoration, craft quality
yes craft quality
yes craft quality
yes craft, decoration quality
yes craft, item, furniture quality
yes cloth quality
yes clothing, decoration quality
no speed only
yes craft, item, furniture quality
yes glaze quality
yes craft quality
Engineering yes part, ammunition quality
yes accuracy
yes mechanism, furniture quality
no -
Hauling no unskilled
Other Jobs yes building design quality
no not implemented
no unskilled
no unskilled
  • Road building
no unskilled
  • Wall/floor construction
no unskilled
no unskilled

"Labor" in other Languages Books-aj.svg aj ashton 01.svg
Dwarven: èrith
Elvish: equa
Goblin: akul
Human: ebe