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Basic Tools of the Trade



The Gold Pan

Regardless of whether you are beginner or a long experienced miner, the gold pan is still the most important tool for gold recovery there is. It is one of the first tools used in sampling and locating gold, and it is one of the last used, even in large commercial mining operations. Even after running tons of ore through huge mining machines, it will still come down to the gold pan as one of the last tools used to check for and monitor gold values in the concentrates.


In the early days of prospecting in the United States, the gold pan was commonly called the "gold dish." Many prospectors carved their own from wood. Cow horns were also used to make pans. After slitting lengthwise, they were steamed until soft enough to be worked. Then the horn was opened and shaped into a shallow dish suitable for panning. In the old days the "gold dish" was the only means available to the individual miner and prospector. Until more recently, the most popular pan in use was the steel pan. It is manufactured by a metal spinning process. This was a far cry from the crude hand-forged pans that blacksmiths used to make. Today the most efficient pan for the novice is probably one molded from tough, space-age plastic. It is far superior to the steel pan for several reasons. First of all, it is rust and corrosion proof. Secondly, it can be textured with a fine roughed-up surface to hold the gold better. Third, it is about one quarter the weight of a steel pan. Lastly, the color can be made a permanent black so that even the tiniest flakes of gold can easily be seen.


Archer Gold Pans  (deep riffles)Any of the above reasons are sufficient to endorse the plastic pan. But there is still one more advantage. Being made by injection molding, riffles can be formed into a plastic pan. These riffles trap the gold the same way as the riffles in a sluice box, thus speeding up the panning process considerably. Old timers often refer to these as "cheater riffles" because they allow the novice to pan with nearly the same degree of efficiency it took the old timers years to develop.


Common sizes of pans today are the 8 to 12 inch pan, used mainly for sampling, or clean up. The 14 inch pan is the most popular size in use. The 16 to 18 inch pan is used by more experienced panners but requires greater stamina and technique. But even with more sophisticated equipment, the pan is still necessary to clean up the sluice box. With the pan the concentrate is worked to a point where the large gold can be removed, leaving only the very heaviest or black sands. This sand should always be kept for later separation by other methods capable of salvaging gold sized at 100 mesh or above which would be very difficult to recover by panning. Save those black sand concentrates! They can be worth anywhere from one to ten dollars a pound.


Recreational gold "mining" is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the U.S.A. today, and here the gold pan is the primary tool! There are many resorts where the activities center around gold panning. There are probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 million gold pans sold annually in this country alone. Trying your luck at panning could lead to one of the most rewarding and enjoyable hobbies you have ever experienced. The gamble of taking a pan full of sand and gravel and finding gold in any quantity, whether only a few flakes or an actual nugget, is a sensation that is beyond compare.



The Sluice Box

During the California Gold Rush sluice boxes were once built at the location of the mining site from the material that was readily available.This consisted of heavy wood planks and logs. The river current was diverted through the sluices so that gold-bearing gravel could be processed much quicker than using the laborious "hand panning" method. The old sluice boxes were lined with raised obstructions-- later referred to as riffles, that were positioned in the sluice in a vertical position to the flow of the current.


Once gold-laden gavels were dumped into the upper end of the sluice, the flow of water would carry the material down the length of the box. The lighter gavels (tailings) would be carried in suspension down the entire length of the sluice and then discharged. The heavier material (such as gold, platinum metals and black sands), would quickly drop to the bottom of the box, where they became trapped behind the riffles. Once the riffles collected a large quantity of concentrated black sand, a "cleanup" was implemented. First, the flow of water through the sluice would be diminished by a water gate. Then the riffles would be removed, allowing access to the heavier materials, which had collected during the "run." This remaining material or concentrate often contained all the values amounting to many tons of gravel which had to be tediously panned out.


The sluice boxes in the days of the 49'ers were very similar to the ones of today. However, the primary difference is in the construction and materials. Sluice boxes then were built of heavy wooden planks, because lumber was cheap and easily obtainable. But today's sluice boxes are built of light weight aluminum and steel.



The Dredge

Keene 3 inch Jet Flare Dredge  (FREE SHIPPING)

A suction dredge is basically a sluicebox with a long suction hose attached to it and floats on the water between pontoons. An underwater diver operates the nozzle end of the suction hose on the stream bed, which is then pumped into the sluicebox where the gold gets trapped. Keene Engineering has written a good article on gold dredges that will give you a good overview.


The High Banker

Gas Powered Hibanker (Hi Banker Power Sluice)

Imagine a sluice box that is put on a 4 legged stand and used on dry land, pumping water into it from either a natural source or a tank. Thatís a high-banker, also called a power sluice. One advantage of using a high-banker is that you can bring the water with you and process gold bearing material even though thereís no natural nearby source of water.




A trommel is basically a rotating motorized screen/drum which gold bearing gravel is fed into from a hopper box which is then washed through the screen down into a sluice box. Its kind of like a high-banker/power sluice with the motorized rotating screen which first classifies your material and allows for a much larger volume of material to be processed.

Pro Zig Zag Highbanker



For most gold prospectors, processing gravels in the desert means dry washing. A dry washer is basically a sluicing device that uses blowing air instead of water. Here is a good article explaining dry washing.

Keene Dry Washer - Hand Crank or Electric