Which Prospecting Equipment to Use?When it comes to finding Gold, we all wish the 156 oz Nugget shown on the right was the find of a lifetime for us. In reality this nugget and a handful of others, each one unique are one of the most amazing natural wonders on earth. It never hurts to have the right gold prospecting gear, and a lot of hard work!Let’s not forget that one of the most popular tools in Gold Mining history is still the simple Gold Pan. It has had many different shapes and construction materials, yet it is fundamentally hard to beat when it comes to concentrating Placer Gold.You will still need to use a good pan when finishing the concentrates from a paystreak run with 6 inch Gold dredge! The Gold pan just can’t be beat for both its simplicity and utility! Shown at the left is a 3/4 ounce Gold panning cleanup from a pair of Sluice boxes at the end of the day.
Photo by Chris Ralph of Nevada-outback-gems.com (156 oz. Gold Nugget found with a Metal Detector!)
Enjoy hunting for gold in the great outdoors, and remember to just have some fun!
Gold Prospecting Tools and How to use them…
The table below lists various Gold Mining Tools used by the modern Gold Prospector, and includes an explanation on how to use each tool.
The gold pan is a good placer sampling tool. A good gold panner can process about 1 cubic yard in a day.Although you can produce a fair amount of gold with the pan, it is still a sampling and finishing tool. If you have found a pay streak or a rich deposit of gold, you would be better off using a tool that can process more material in a day. Even though it is mainly a sampling tool, a gold pan is inexpensive and still a lot of fun for the entire family. You will also need to pan out your gold concentrates from other gold separating machines, such as a suction gold dredge, sluice box, high banker, dry washer, etc. It is always a good idea to learn efficient gold panning techniques. If you already know how to use a gold pan, just skip to the next section below.
If you want to learn how to use a gold pan, then read on! Better yet, Get your Panning Video Here
Gold Panning Step 1. Put the dirt into the pan,then submerge it and thoroughly soak it. Use a classifier to sift the soil to a more uniform mix of sizes less than 1/4 inch.
Step 2. Pick the big rocks out and pull all the moss/weeds apart and get the dirt out of them, then toss them out of the pan. Not too far, because you don’t want to lose that nugget.
Step 3. Break up any clay or hard packed dirt. Squeeze any clay lumps until they completely dissolve. Gold loves to hide in clay!
Step 4. Start shaking the pan slightly and mix it up with your hand at the same time. This will loosen up and agitate the dirt so the heavy gold will sink down to the bottom of the pan freely. This step is called “stratification.” Repeat stratification after any disturbance of the pan contents or layers, such as when picking out pebbles and rocks.
Step 5. Tip the pan nose down slightly and pull the pan back gently. Do this over and over so the top layer of dirt comes out of the pan. Some people call this step “shaving.” Don’t be so afraid of losing any gold that you keep all the dirt in the pan. That defeats the purpose of panning, which is to get all BUT the very heavy stuff (Gold) out of the pan. Again practice helps with your speed and confidence. If you are getting really sore and still have a lot left in the pan you are probably shaving too slowly. If lots of fine gold is present you may have to slow down though. Less than a drop of bio-degradable soap will keep fine gold in the pan better. Remember, do not release any soap or surfactants into the stream!
Step 6. When you see the gravel in the pan start to pack up, you must bring the pan back into stratification. Repeat step 4. over again and keep stratifying as you go. When you start to see black colored sand you should stop, shake the pan back and forth until you see lighter sand come up on top again, then shave the light sand off gently. When you get enough sand out so that all you see is heavy black sands and possibly some gold, you are pretty much done. Use a “snuffer bottle” to suck up the gold particles and your fingers or tweezers to pick out the nuggets. Place these “gold finds” carefully in your water filled vials. In the field it is best to use plastic vials for safety. Save the clear glass vials for showing off your finds at home. Trick: Fill the vial with water drops right to the top. Wet your finger tip slightly and stick smaller gold particles to your finger. Touch the water filled vial with the gold tipped finger and viola, the gold will drop right to the bottom. Bigger pieces may even clink!
Step 7. There are also ways for separating black sand so you can get to get gold easier, because there can be a lot of black sand in the pan with a small amount of gold. Black sand tends to be magnetic so you can use a magnet to get rid of some of it, but be careful not to get any gold caught up in the black sand. You can pick up a pan for $5 to $20, depending on the brand, type and size. Light plastic pans work very well after scrubbing well with soap and water. Be careful, the plastic oil on them can make gold dust float!
This tool is a big sieve used to sift out panning material for further concentration. It is a good idea to classify panning material with a #4 or 1/4 in mesh classifier. These come in a variety of sizes from #2 = 1/2″ down to #100 = 1/100″ mesh. By sifting the material you reduce the possibility that a pebble or rock will cause a smaller fleck of gold to be bumped out of the pan. The type shown above fits a 5 gallon plastic bucket.
This is a popular prospecting tool and can process up to a cubic yard of dirt an hour. Quite a bit more than a pan can produce. It is good for small scale prospecting operations. It is compact and easy to haul around, making it good for remote locations. The way the sluice works is that water runs over pieces of flat, vertical angled L shaped things called riffles. When the water flows over the riffles, it creates turbulence under the L shaped bar and in turn makes a dead water zone where all the gold drops out. Just shovel dirt from the spot where the gold is into buckets and haul them over to the stream/river where you have set up the sluice. Then start running the dirt through the front of the sluice and the lighter of less dense part of it will flow out the back. The heavy dirt and Gold will be caught in the riffles. Make sure not to overload the sluice or gold can be lost out the back. You can tell if the sluice is overloaded by seeing if the dirt is filling up above the riffles and if there is a lot of dirt piling up. The price for a sluice box is usually around $90 if you get a smaller size model or up to around $200. If you get a larger model, you will be able to run a much more dirt through per hour.
The high banker is a Gold concentration device that is based on the sluice box in combination with a water source, usually a pump. The water is forced into a hopper where the dirt and gravel are shoveled in. The water jets wash and break up any clay or soil lumps that may contain gold particles. This in turn drops though a mesh called a grizzly to the sluice box below and the process mentioned previously in the sluice box description finishes the concentrating of valuables and black sands. It is also possible to pump the water from a suction dredge nozzle into the hopper thus creating a small portable dredge unit. These systems are great for small sampling efforts and small production if a higher concentration of gold is found.
PEEK-AU Underwater Viewer
Gold Sniping Scope:
This underwater viewer provides a method of seeing through the reflections on the water’s surface to the creek bottom or bedrock below. You look for small to medium bedrock cracks that run perpendicular to the high water stream flow. These cracks form a natural riffle or Gold trap. By using a crevice tool you can pull out the material and any Gold hidden from view. This was a very productive method in common use during the gold rush of the depression era. Yes, some 80% of the Gold that was present during the 1849 Gold rush is still present. It is not as obvious as stumbling on a rock in the creekbed only to find it is a 150 lb piece of Gold bearing Quartz*. Keep in mind that Gold is still out there and our current prospecting tools are much better at finding it and concentrating it.
*This event actually happened early in the 1849 Gold rush in California!
These are any bent hardened tools used to dig or pry deep in cracks or crevices and pull out material that may contain Gold that concentrated there. You see when a creek or river is running at flood stage the energy in any given 10 foot section is similar to a locomotive rolling for hours on end. This vibration and the mud rock mix flowing downstream naturally concentrates Gold and causes it to settle deeper and deeper beneath the rocks on the creek bed and into any small pocket or cracks in the bedrock. Even heavy minerals like quartz gets displaced by this vibration settling of Gold.
The dry washer is like a dry land version of the sluice box. The dry washer works by shoveling dry material into the top, which has a built-in screen to sift out any rocks too big to go down the next section. When the dirt goes through the screen it falls into the lower part of the machine. A fan blows the lighter dirt up and over the riffles and down to finally make a pile of dirt on the ground. The gold stays up at the top few riffles because the fan is not powerful enough to blow the gold into the air and then fall into the next riffle. Some versions have a gadget that creates an electrostatic charge and makes the gold and other metals stick to the dry washer making for better gold recovery. Another gadget is a thing that vibrates and makes all the gold settle to the bottom of the riffles. You can get one that does all the above and a bit more too.
Ace 250 Metal Detector
This is a new tool in the prospector’s tool kit. It’s purpose is as the name says, to detect metallic Gold (Or Platinum will do fine thank you.) The way a metal detector works is to produce a stimulus of electro-magnetic energy or radio wave. This in turn spreads out through space and earth until it strikes a conductor. At that time a tiny electric eddy current loop is induced in any conductor. Think of a nugget or Gold crystal as a conducting antenna. Then something interesting happens, the collapsing eddy current causes the Gold to re-transmit an even smaller signal back out into space. This is where the different detectors are usually specialized. The Detector has a very sensitive receiver to pick up, process, filter and amplify this signal into some sort of human readable response. The response of the best detectors is usually an audible signal that represents properties of what is called a “target” or nugget. Targets can be tiny nuggets or grains of gold or they can be Pop-top pull tabs and miscellaneous “trash.” Dig them all and please fill the holes after you finish, this is stewardship in action. Good detectors help distinguish these two categories. The soil and rocks in the area being hunted can also influence the ability to detect gold nuggets. Soils and rocks with various conductive salts and moisture also have eddy currents. This makes those areas hard to hear the smaller nuggets among all the noise. The best electronic detectors have proprietary circuits to filter this “ground noise.” Using a detector is a bit of an art in itself. You must develop a discipline and methodical order to your search pattern. You will also need to develop an “ear” for the sound of what are called “values” vs. trash.
Suction Gold Dredge:
These are the best machines to use when processing larger amounts of stream or river gravel for a small scale production operation. If you have enough flowing water and regulations allow this is a great option for sampling and mining. When I refer to the intake size, it is the diameter of the inside of the nozzle, which feeds into the hose. Interestingly, some states (e.g. California) consider the dredge size to be the diameter of the restricting ring on the nozzle tip, hence a manufacturers 5 inch Gold dredge is considered a 4 inch Gold dredge by DFG (Department of Fish and Game) regulations (2007). This fact is handy to know, so it pays to read the regulations carefully and know your equipment. The suction hose is attached to the jet tube. An engine powered pressure jet nozzle on this tube creates a suction in the larger dredge hose. This sucks the dirt, gravel and smaller rocks from the operator’s suction nozzle through the hose to a sluice box fixed to the pontoons on both sides to float the dredge. (Note: California has extended its unwarranted ban on dredging for another 5 years!)
A larger hose to restrictor ring helps prevent rock jams. A rock jam is a time consuming event that plugs up the suction hose until it is cleared. To prevent jams, watch the size of material you put the nozzle next to. If the rocks have any dimension near the diameter of the hose then use your hands to move these larger rocks. Experience will help with knowing just how big is too big. Usually a gentle tap with a blunt rock will dislodge the jam. Be careful not to damage your suction hose. Big rocks uncovered by dredging must be moved carefully by hand downstream out of the way of the upstream progressing dredge hole the nozzle operator makes.
It pays to check the rate at which you suck up placer Gold material with your dredge. You want the riffles to keep filled but not over fill. There should always be about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of exposed carpet or miner’s moss just before the next riffle in the sluice. The front part of the riffle must stay covered in sand and pebbles to keep the Gold trapped while moving lots of rocks and gravel through the nozzle. A good nozzle operator will always keep a bit of sand and gravel flowing even while pausing to look at the rock situation. That extra layer of material will keep your fine and coarse Gold from blowing out the back of the dredge and still give the production rate required to move enough placer material to get the nuggets. If fine Gold is present slow that throttle down and catch every ounce.
Caution! Remember to watch out for those boulders and unstable rocks as you expand your sample hole wider and deeper. Dredging underwater means you must keep your dredge hole and surrounding environment safe at all times. Be alert and “If in doubt, move it out!”
My Personal Favorite Gold Prospecting Reference Book
Sizes of Suction Gold Dredges and some Characteristics of each
Dredge Size & Type
2 inch – backpack dredge:
Light and easy to pack in and out of the location. Good for prospecting and sampling. With suction nozzle it can be used in very shallow water.
Cant move much material so dredging is harder to do if you want to move a lot of sand and gravel. Not good for production.
3 inch – Sampling dredge:1-3 cubic-yd/hr
Still lighter and smaller than a 4 inch and can move a lot more material than the 2 inch.
Still low on production for a serious operation. Portability is pretty good for remote places.
4 inch – Sampling/small scale production dredge1-4 cubic-yd/hr
The smallest of the production dredges but still good at sampling for pay streaks.
A bit harder to lug around, it is heavier and more work to put together and take apart. Fairly mobile still, this makes it good for more remote sites.
5 inch – larger scale sampling/production dredge
Good for larger operations and can move more dirt than all the other smaller dredges. Still good for sampling but on a larger scale. Hose is flexible and can be operated by a single dredger.
Heavier to disassemble and move around. May have multiple or larger engines.
6 inch – a good dredge for the serious prospector/smaller commercial production dredge
A useful size for someone who has found a sizable pay streak and wants to get all the gold out that you can.You can move rocks gravel and sand up to about 5 inches across without a plug up of the hose or jet.
Larger nozzle makes it harder to sample with, although you still can sample larger rivers to locate gold in bigger areas.This hose isn’t as flexible as a smaller dredge although one person can handle it well enough for production. Two man teams are better because the rocks are uncovered so quickly by a 6″ unit that a single dredger can be overwhelmed with the work of clearing of large cobbles and small boulders that don’t fit in the suction nozzle.Can have multiple engines or engines in the 15-20 Hp range. This is a heavier beast to haul. Be ready for 2 or more assistants.
8 inch – a commercial dredge designed to process large amounts of sand, gravel and rock.10-30 cubic-yd/hr
For commercial operations this is a good size. It can suck up quite a lot of rocks, gravel and sand and in a short period of time.
For the recreational prospector looking for the fun of the outdoors and the reward of finding gold, this is not the right size.It is typically used for commercial projects. Manning the hose and moving the rocks that an 8″ dredge will need at least two men to make productive use.Dredges this size are legally limited in which waters they can be used.
10 to 12 inch – definitely a commercial dredge20-50 cubic-yd/hr
Good for larger commercial operations. Moves a lot of rocks, gravel & sand allowing for greater quantity’s of gold to be collected.
Commercial dredge only. A lot of work to keep running and to move around.Lot’s of rocks to move, needs a team of underwater worker$.See 8″ limits above. Can you say 80 hp VW engine!
To help you get started; Here are a few more Gold Prospecting Tools & Books from our friend & gold prospecting supplier, BlackCatMining.com