Placer Gold Nuggets


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Large Arizona Gold Nugget

Recirculating Mini Highbankers     Metal Detectors

Gold Prospecting Equipment

Getting interested in gold prospecting means getting interested in gold prospecting equipment. Those of us that have been at this hobby for a number of years realize that gold prospecting equipment falls into two categories: The equipment we have and the equipment we want to have. By the time they've been prospecting for a couple of years most prospectors will have accumulated a number of pieces of equipment. Gold pans, dredges, sluice boxes and highbankers for when wet recovery methods are to be used. Drywashers, rockers, dry vacs and even gold pans can be used for dry recovery methods when there is no water available for placering. Crevicing tools like pry bars, brushes, hammers, scoops and the like are used for both wet and dry recovery. Once you get the black sand concentrates that come from the use of these tools, clean up equipment is used. Some prospectors are good at using a gold pan for such cleanup but there are also other tools available like mini-sluices, spiral panners, blue bowls and such. Most of these tools are variations on technology that has been available for hundreds of years.Some modern design methods have improved the basic function of these tools and the use of electric or gas powered motors have increased the production efficiency to a great degree. One technology for gold recovery that is completly modern is the vlf or PI metal detector. Most prospectors get into metal detectors as a gold recovery tool at one stage or another. For some prospectors, it's the preferred method and nugget hunting or nugget shooting has grown into a specialized hobby all it's own with it's own specialized equipment.

Wet Recovery Equipment

Gold prospecting is a great hobby regardless of the level someone wants to play the game at. In most cases, when someone gets interested in gold prospecting, they start with the most basic tool for placering, the Gold pan and they find gold by stratifying and concentrating gravels in a running stream, gold panning. Panning for gold in itself is a great hobby. It's a great way for an individual or friends and family to find relaxation in the great outdoors AND get the gold. Still, panning is more than a hobby. It's said that the gold pan is basic to gold mining and that all gold mining operations begin and end with the Gold pan. Dredgers and drywashers often use a Gold pan to sample for a good spot to work. Metal detectorists may use a gold pan to determine where a nugget patch might eminate from a dry desert wash. Even geologists for major mining companies might use a gold pan to help pinpoint the location of the lode source of
a commercial placer and in turn, the gold pan might be used to do the final cleanup once the lode is discovered, mined, crushed and concentrated. A basic set of tools, a screwdriver, a gold pan, a 1/4" or 1/8" inch classifier, a snuffer bottle and a pick and shovel are enough for anyone to get into the hobby of gold prospecting.

Even though the gold pan is basic to placer mining and some efficient panners can even use it as a production tool, most people that get hit with gold fever move on to more efficient recovery methods. Sluice boxes are simple tools that can increase the amount of material a prospector can run in an hour if they are set up correctly and there is enough water to support their use.Sluice boxes are placed right in the flow of the stream and gravels are places in the head of the box where water can flow over them, washing away the lighter materials and capturing the heavier gold and black sand concentrates in the riffles, carpet, miners moss or ribbing that run the length of the sluice. All a prospector has to do is dig material and feed the box and the stream does the majority of work from there, leaving perhaps a pan or two worth of material when it's time to do clean up.


Sluice boxes can also be attached to gas or battery powered motors and that's when we get into the world of dredges and highbankers. Suction dredges are devices that use a gas powered motor attached to a hose which sucks up gravel from the streambed, bedrock, crevices and cracks and sends it into the head of a sluice box to be concentrated. They sluice box and motor normally sit on floatation devices which allow the the dredge to float on water while the prospector snorkles below the surface and works the bedrock. Dredgers often use either snorkles or even diving equipment complete with oxygen tanks and wet or dry suits to get the job done while a partner mans the sluice on the surface of the water. Dredges come in all sizes from backpack dredges and 4" or 6" floatation dredges all the way up to the bucketline or dragline dredges used in commercial placer mining operations. At the hobby level of gold prospecting, the suction dredge is probably the fastest way to move gold bearing gravels but it takes time and experience to learn how to use one properly.

Highbankers, like suction dredges, are devices that use a gas powered motor and a suction hose. Unlike dredges, highbankers are meant to sit up on the high bank, thus the name high banker. They are used in situations where a dredge cannot be floated or where it's just more convenient to have the equipment out of the water. The material is either suctioned or shoveled into a hopper that is fitted with a spray bar which classifies the material and sends it down to a sluice box where it can be recovered later with a pan. Highbanker also come in large and small sizes. Similar to highbankers are recirculating sluice boxes or mini-highbankers. The recirculating sluice sits on top of a water container and a battery operated pump feeds water to the sluice box and then falls back into the container to be re-used.

Larger placer recovery equipment is also available in the form of trommels, gold screws and the like. Most of this equipment is a large version of the sluice box designed to aid in the classification of material. The equipment can get as big as is needed for doing jobs from working productive placer claims owned by individuals to commercially mining highly valued placer gold properties. Regardless of the size of equipment needed for the job at hand, the gold prospector is going to need the basics. Gold pans, shovels, crevicing tools, classifiers and snuffer bottles are used for every size of placering operation.

Keen Vibrostatic Backpack Dry Washer

Dry Recovery Equipment

What happens when the water dries up, how do you get the gold? A lot of gold bearing areas are devoid of water or the water is seasonal at best. Places like Arizona or the deserts of southern California are often dry places that see little or no water for months at a time. For situations like this, dry recovery methods are necessary and that is what the drywasher was made for. Drywashers are similar to sluice boxes but they don't require water to operate. Unlike a sluice box, the riffle box on a dry washer uses air to stratify the gold bearing material. In a drywasher, the riffles sit on top of a breathable material like canvas and a bellows pushes air up through to the riffles where the lighter material is winnowed off into a pile while the heavier black sands and gold are left behind in the box. Dry washers are made in a number of  sizes from small backpack drywashers which use a hand crank bellows to larger two or three man drywashers which run the bellows on a gas powered motor. Choosing a gas powered drywasher or a hand crank bellows model depends largely on where you will be prospecting and how much material you want to move and how many people will run the equipment.

Some people prefer wet recovery over dry recovery no matter what. It's generally believed that wet recovery of gold is more efficient than dry recovery and so they carry water and use recirculating sluice boxes.

In dry recovery, the gold pan of course has it's place. A gold pan itself can be used for dry recovery. Although not a method often used, dry panning can be used to recover gold in desert areas. Dry material is placed in pan, winnowed and sloughed off to leave black sands. Recovery of gold from dry panning is often finished later when concentrates can be packed back to water or when a small amount of water is available. Pinpointers or small metal detectors can also be used to recover flakes of placer gold from the end result of a dry panning session.

Final Clean Up Equipment

While many prospectors find that a pan is the simplest tool for final cleanup on a placering project, there are quite a few pieces of specialized equipment made just for this purpose. Many people choose to use a spiral panner for their final cleanup and some even use it in preference to a pan for production although it's not as efficient as a gold pan for that purpose. After a panning, sluicing or dredging session, the final concentrates are scoop fed into the spiral pan which is a round device with spirals leading up to a final recovery cup. A spray bar and pump suck and recirculate water from a tub. The spray of water washes the black sand concentrates. The lighter black sand is washed back down to the bottom of the spiral pan while the heavier gold which is less affected by the spraying action of the water rests on the riffles and is moved upward in a series of spiral motions to be deposited clean in the cup.

Some prospectors prefer a device called a Blue Bowl. The Blue Bowl is a bowl with a cone in the middle that rises up to a hole with a cup. Water is recirculated in the bowl and small amounts of black sand are fed into the bowl which spins, powered by an electric motor which can be operated by battery or wall socket. In an opposite action to the spiral panner, the Blue Bowl, through it's spinning action causes the black sand to rise up the center cone because of centrifugal force to be deposited in the center cup, thus leaving the fine gold behind in the bowl free of black sand where it can be collected by a snuffer bottle.

For larger clean up jobs, shaker tables are used. These machines can clean large amounts of gold bearing concentrates at a time. These shaker tables sit at an angle and are motor driven to shake the concentrates along a series of riffles in the table. Shaker tables are the preferred devices for final recovery on large placer operations or to concentrate crushed ore from a lode mining venture.


Metal Detectors

The advent of the modern metal detector could be seen as the single most revolutionary advance in gold prospecting. Thousands and thousands of gold nuggets have been recovered since the first BFO type detectors were invented for gold prospecting. Other mini revolutions have occured with each advance in metal detector technology. Both the VLF (very low frequency) and PI (pulse induction) gold detectors are still used today and technology continues to improve. Some prospectors have moved on from most other recovery techniques and rely on the metal detector alone to find placer gold. They main advantage of the gold detector is that it cuts out the middle man so to speak. A skilled gold detectorist can quickly find ounces of placer gold without having to run tons and tons of material through more traditional pieces of gold prospecting equipment, assuming they are in the right place to do so.

Not just any detector will work for finding gold nuggets however. One must have a detector that is suited for the task and that can be found in a modern VLF or Pulse inductiion machine. In order to succeed as a nugget hunter, one must have a good working knowledge of prospecting AND the right machine for the job as well as a working knowledge of how to use a gold detector properly. Without all three factors in place, the new user might find the metal detector to be a frustrating piece of equipment at best.

Still, many gold nuggets are found each year with metal detectors by beginners and seasoned prospectors alike. 

Used Gold Prospecting Equipment

Regardless of the method of recovery you prefer, if you have a budget, it's always good to look into used gold mining equipment. Obviously, there are certain advantages to new equipment such as warranties and dealer support and sometimes this is preferred, however, it might be wise to look into used equipment because the savings can be substantial and for something like a sluice box or a dry washer a warranty might not be at the top of the priority list. Obviously, if you need a particular piece of prospecting equipment and cannot afford to buy new, go for used prospecting equipment. Good places to look include, your local mining shop, classified ads or Craigs list if you live in a mining area and of course, .