Steelaxe% - A video guide and introduction to Factorio speedrunning

By rain9441rain9441 Last updated


Hello and welcome to my first Factorio speed run Video Guide. I will be going through some of the fundamental strategies that are applied in the Steelaxe percent speed run which also may help you do your own run or improve your early game in other factorio speed runs.

The steelaxe percent speed run is the shortest speed run for the game Factorio, but not without its own complexities. We will go over three concepts throughout this video before walking through each step of the speed run. In the background you will see random speedruns that occurred prior to the world record run. The three fundamental concepts we will go over are Juggling the crafting queue, Crafting Queue Management, and Effective use of resources.

Juggling the Crafting Queue

The first concept I would like to talk about is something that I will call "Juggling the Crafting Queue". In the very early stages of a game, your only assembler is yourself. You will need to research Automation before you will have access to a second crafting queue, and you will probably have more resources than you can spend fairly quickly into the game of Factorio. Since automation requires a precise amount of crafting time to achieve, it is advantageous to maximize the amount of time that your crafting queue is working towards that goal.

? Juggling the crafting queue is the act of prioritizing different hand-crafts that you know you will eventually need based on their cost to craft time ratio. Some items that you will craft require a large number of resources and craft very quickly, while other items require a small number of resources and craft very slowly. Red Science is a perfect example of a crafted item that has a low cost to craft time ratio since it only requires 3 plates to craft but takes 5 seconds. Gears are a counter example which requires 2 plates and craft in only a half of a second.

In the beginning of any Factorio game, we find ourselves lacking iron and copper plates in the first 2 or three minutes and lacking crafting time after that up until we research Automation. Automation requires 10 red science to research which is a heavy 50 seconds of crafting. When resources are plentiful, we don't want to be bogged down waiting for red science to craft. So instead, we find opportunities in the first two minutes to craft red science when we don't have enough resources to build additional burner mining drills.

While you are placing your initial burner mining drills, notice when your crafting queue is empty due to the fact that you don't have enough iron plates to craft any more mining drills. This will happen regularly because you need at least 10 iron miners to provide you with enough iron plates to build burner mining drills continuously. We will not even be building 10 iron miners in this speed run. Each pause in your crafting queue is an opportunity to craft red science packs. A science pack crafted at this stage frees you from having to craft such low cost/craft time recipes later in the run. It turns out that you can save anywhere from 25 to 45 seconds on the lab placement by Juggling your hand crafting queue. The earlier your lab is placed, the earlier you will get automation. The earlier you get automation, the earlier you can begin producing the red science packs for Steel.

Juggling the hand crafting queue is a specific strategy that is really only applicable to the first few minutes of the game when you are trying to hyper optimize your crafting queue. Once automation is researched, juggling the crafting queue no longer has any use as you can and should begin to leverage assemblers.

Crafting Queue Management

The second concept I'd like to talk about is Crafting Queue Management. In any Factorio speed run it is crucial to know exactly what you are going to craft and have it crafted before you need it. It is equally important in every stage of the game. If you only craft items when you need them, you will always be delayed. So in every Factorio speed run it is a good idea to plan each and every hand craft that you will do throughout the entire run before you even begin. While at first it may seem daunting, I assure you that it becomes second nature fairly quickly. It is not unlike a musician performing a song, once you get the feel for it, it just kind of plays itself.

In the first half of this speed run, we know we will need exactly 11 burner mining drills, 1 water pump, 1 boiler, 1 steam engine, 2 pairs of wooden poles, a lab, and 10 red science packs. I have listed these items in the order we need them, but you will want to juggle that crafting queue as I have just described. The worst thing you can do in a speed run is to stand around, think about what it is you might need, and then craft an arbitrary number of them. By knowing exactly how many of each item you need ahead of time you can streamline your run. It is a good idea to keep a list of all items that you will craft on a second monitor so you can read them as you practice.

Crafting Queue Management is not as simple as just clicking on the things you need. Often times in a speed run you will find yourself with a low number of resources, so you will have to top off your crafting queue frequently so that it does not run dry. An example of this would be when you want to craft your first lab. It is unlikely that you will have enough resources to simply click on the lab and let Factorio queue up all of the intermediate parts. Instead we will break up the lab into two visits to the crafting queue. First craft 10 electronic circuits and then follow up with the lab when those are completed. If you find yourself waiting for a few more resources to click on an expensive craft, you will want to note it and adjust your hand crafting queue accordingly in your next run. This can even be applied in the very early game by individually crafting gears before you have enough iron plates to craft a burner mining drill. It may seem like it isn't worth the effort, but it makes a small difference at no cost other than your focus.

If you are planning on speed running other Factorio categories, Crafting Queue Management is a concept you will want to understand and focus on. Before you start your run, can you list off every single item you will need to hand craft throughout the run? If not, it may be worth while to you to write them down.

When you are hand crafting, you may get caught up with the idea that you should always be crafting. It is a good idea to utilize your crafting queue, but you should also make sure you are utilizing it effectively. This is especially true after you have researched automation. You don't want to catch yourself crafting gears while you are trying to make red belts as you are walking on a long transport belt full of gears. This is not optimal. Instead, use assemblers to help you out.

But what is an effective use of your hand crafting queue? The answer to that is difficult to put into words. Recipes that are complex and have a lot of rarely used intermediate parts are good candidates for hand crafting. An example of this is a wooden pole. Wooden poles require three different crafts: copper wire, wood, and wooden poles. By clicking on wooden poles in your crafting menu, you are saving yourself the trouble of placing three assemblers with three different recipes. An example of something you don't want to find yourself crafting a lot of is gears. Gears are used in large quantities by a large number of products. It is far more effective to grab 500 gears from a chest than it is to manually craft them. As a general rule of thumb for early game crafting queue management, it is always a good idea to craft intermediate products like copper wire or gears in an assembler to help you with your crafting queue whenever you have more resources in your inventory than you can possibly spend due to the limitation of your hand crafting queue. In this run however, we will only be using assemblers to help hand craft gears and red science packs.

In the second half of the steelaxe speedrun, we will be very busy and so we don't want to spend too much time invested into managing our hand crafting queue. We will build large complex items like inserters and labs as well as cheap cost/craft time recipes such as red science packs. We will use assemblers to help us with the additional red science packs and gears.

The more you practice your crafting queue management, the more it will feel like second nature to you.

Let's talk about effective use of resources.

Effective Use of Resources

If you've seen any of the fastest Factorio speed runs you will generally notice that there are few leftover parts laying around the map upon completion. Anything built that isn't used should not have been built at all. I will take that one step further and say that even things that are marginally used may not be worth their cost. In this steelaxe speed run we will build 8 iron miners and 3 copper miners. Building more iron miners will result in a lot of leftover iron at the end of the game and cost us a few seconds on our run. Building less may result in crafting queue management issues or being short on resources. 8 iron miners seems to be just right, but your mileage may vary. I would encourage you to come up with your own number, try it, and see how it feels. After you do a run you can re-evaluate the number of miners you placed.

There are four important resources that we should be cognizant of in a speed run. It may sound obvious, but I am not referring to the Factorio resources like coal, stone, copper, iron, and oil. In game items are only one of the resources. The second resource is crafting time. An electric mining drill will give you about half of an ore every second. An assembler will give you half a crafting unit every second. You will need a lot of crafting units to complete any speed run, so I would consider it a valuable resource that should be on your mind. The third resource is your time. There is only so much a human can do, so we must evaluate the human effort cost as well. The final resource is similar to crafting units, it is lab research units. Lab research units are less important in some speed runs because of the long duration, but become very important when you are doing the shorter speed runs like steelaxe or watch your step.

There is one trait that the three in game resources have in common. They are all more cost effective the longer they run. I'm sure this sounds stupidly simple, but it is important that you understand their relationship between each other. Suppose your speed run is 10 minutes long and you build 10 labs at the final minute. You could have achieved the same result by placing one lab in the first minute and having it run for 10 minutes. This same concept applies to assemblers. An assembler that runs for ten minutes provides 10 times as many craft units as one that runs for one minute. Finally, a miner provides ten times as much iron ore if it run ten times as long. For now, lets focus on the lab. A lab is fairly expensive, costing 46 plates in total and generating 1 lab unit per second. We will need 300 lab units in total to research both automation and steel. When you think of it this way, it really isn't any different than a burner mining drill. A burner mining drill generates about a quarter of an iron every second and we will need several hundred units of iron. It costs 14 resources in total. Not that different from the labs is it? Back to the labs. If we run one lab, it will take us 5 minutes to complete all of the research. If we run two labs, it will take as low as two and a half minutes to complete all of the research. You will have to balance this out with the resource cost because for each additional lab you build, your resource cost to lab unit efficiency goes down.

All of this is just a fancy way of saying that it is very important to build labs as early as possible and keep them running the entire duration of the speed run. It is just as important to place labs early as it is to place mining drills early. Both work on the same fundamental type of game mechanic. Having assemblers and labs run efficiently will reduce the amount of plates you spend in total, which reduces the number of miners you need, which frees up your time to do other things. All of these resources are connected, and all need to be balanced. The fastest times will result when all three are in equilibrium - when you have no excess resources, all assemblers are crafting (that includes you), and all labs are researching.

To bring it all back together, I will suggest that you always take into consideration the efficient use of the four resources that are available to you - your time, in game resources, craft time, and lab time.

This concludes the overview of the three main concepts I wanted to go through. I hope this overview has helped you understand the Steelaxe% Speedrun strategy. As part of this guide, I would like to empower you to evaluate the strategy that is used instead of taking it at face value. The speed run that I am about to walk through is not necessarily the fastest time possible.

There are two recurring statements I'd like to make in every speed running guide.

1: The strategy used for the speed run can be much more impactful than the individual's entity placement skills. It is often the case that even subtle changes to a well thought plan can shave big chunks of time. Always challenge the top strategy! Never be afraid to try something new. You won't get faster if you don't try something new.
2: Build layouts that are comfortable for you. Strategies, layouts, and plans may work well for one person, but not another. Your miles will vary and adjust accordingly. Personalizing the run will help you feel comfortable with it.

Ok, enough theoretical stuff - lets talk about what we're actually going to do in this run.

World Record Walk-through

At the start, I immediately set up a few items in my hot bar and grab some wood. You'll notice that I also have a different crafting menu - this option can be changed in your Factorio config settings file and I would strongly recommend it for shorter speed runs. After placing one wood in each of the miner and the furnace, I immediately harvest a coal rock and craft all of the stone furnaces. I place half of the coal in the miner and half of what is left in the furnace, then immediately use the down time available to me to mine iron by hand - which is about as good as a free electric mining drill! Every time I add coal, I try to make sure there is enough coal there for the entire run so I can maximize my time spent.

After the second miner is placed, I hand mine two copper ore to enable early juggling and one more coal rock. The early hand mining is a fantastic way to increase the pace of the run because of how powerful the iron pickaxe is at getting ore. When I get back to the iron, I can build a miner and queue the first two red science packs. That gives me 10 seconds to focus on getting a few more copper and another coal rock. I can place the miner the moment it is built - and notice that I fill the new miner with a fairly large amout of coal again to ensure it has just enough to last the entire run. After the coal rock is mined I lose only a fraction of a second on my crafting queue before queuing up another miner and another red science.

Now I want to build a copper miner so I wait a few moments to get enough iron plates for the miner as well as queuing another red science pack putting my total red science packs produced at 4. I have enough time to get one more coal rock and enough crafting queue availability to get a few more stone furnaces. Note that I only get coal rocks when I can and focus first on laying miners as early as possible. Did you notice how I don't have any extra copper?

After getting back to the iron I can queue up one more miner and two more red science packs while I venture to get another coal rock. This brings me up to 5 iron miners. At this point I move to make two more copper miners and grab another coal rock. Since this takes some time, I can queue three more red science packs at this point to keep my crafting queue busy. I can mine half the coal rock, place the miners, and then mine the second half of the coal rock without losing any progress. This is how important it is to get miners down early!

The iron is flowing pretty well at this point, and so I can build three more miners for iron and finish off the red science packs while placing them. Note that I also have enough time to ensure that the coal is reasonably balanced between all of the miners and furnaces.

Now that all of the mining is set up I have a long set of crafts to get to a lab so I start off with the placable items I can afford - the water pump, boiler, and wooden poles, followed by the ten electronic circuits needed for the lab since I cannot simply click the lab yet. With the time I have available I can go to the edges of the map and get a few more coal rocks that will be beneficial for the power plant and burner miners. After I get the coal rocks I can place the power plant entities I've crafted and put the poles in place. The steam engine and lab come quickly after and are placed frantically. At this stage, you will experience sudden panic. Don't worry, it goes away when you are more comfortable with the run.

Immediately after the lab finishes I queue up green circuits for a second lab to increase research speed. The earlier they go up the better. I build two more red science packs due to having some crafting queue availability but then move to crafting the four inserters to support the assemblers. Since I don't have automation I will craft the necessary gears and electronic circuits for the assemblers. The moment the second lab is completed I place it and move half of the packs into it to distribute them equally.

As automation progresses, I continue to hand craft and place the entities I've created. Upon completion, I will as quickly as possible run through a variety of tasks. First I select the steel research so that my labs are working. Second I craft three assemblers, ten gears, two more assemblers, and a final red science pack just to keep it busy. Third I place down two assemblers, set their recipes to red science packs, and drop the gears and copper plates into them to get them running as soon as possible. The third assembler is placed to the north to help with gears. The 4th and 5th assemblers are placed down last and then filled with copper plates and gears from the 3rd assembler. It all happens very quickly, and this is the true test of the speed run as you are micromanaging a lot of different tasks in an very short amount of time. If you can do this step well, you can take the world record without a problem!

Lets watch!

Okay! The hard part is done! My task now is to craft a 3rd lab that will be used solely for my own hand crafted red science packs. At the same time, I need to keep the assemblers busy. I use the gear assembler to craft the gears for the red science assemblers. I monitor the science assemblers to ensure they don't run out of gears or copper plates. I keep my hand crafting queue full of red science packs. As I produce red science, I place them into the 3rd lab as soon as I can. This should keep the lab busy the entire rest of the run. Don't forget to grab resources as well.

What makes this speed run difficult is the optimized use of resources. Everything becomes more difficult and strenuous when you are very short on resources. All is very just in time which resembles the concept of compound interest. The faster you spend your resources, the faster your growth will be. This economic concept is the backbone of every Factorio speed run. Euler would agree. The other speed runs are little bit more relaxed. There is usually time spent walking around so resources aren't as easily optimized. I would encourage you to try this in your any% early game though!

Steel comes pretty quick so lets make sure we are ready for the steel once it is completed. Turn five of the iron miners so that they are no longer feeding iron ore to their furnaces and then clear the furnaces of any extra iron ore or iron plates in them. Double check that their fuel is okay. Craft two iron sticks. Grab half of your stack of iron plates and wait for the research to complete. As soon as Steel finishes being researched, control-right click across the furnaces. All five should immediately light up with the steel icon.

Good luck and God Speed!