Gold prospecting has been around for a long time, and a good amount of manufacturers provide hobbyists with a wide variety of tools and equipment. There are a few large and established companies that make prospecting equipment, but a few smaller ones have surfaced in past years, capitalizing on areas of interest not fully covered by the larger companies. There’s also been a surge of prospecting shops and stores, and many existing outdoor stores in popular gold bearing areas now carry gold prospecting equipment. |
I’ve broken this part of the site down into section down into Hand Tools & Gear, Hand Sluices, and High Bankers. Dredges are covered on a separate page,as well as Cleanup equipment. My experience is gained from less than a decade of prospecting so I’m not exactly a lifetime prospector, but I'm a pretty active fella and have had plenty of time under my belt using this gear. I also surround myself with people who know what they are doing so that I can continue learn. I hope my experiences may be of assistance for anyone looking for information on gold prospecting.
This is a pretty wide category filled will practically thousands of individual items, but let’s take a look at basic hand tools you will need for prospecting:
Gold Pan: The gold pan is the most important part of any prospectors arsenal of equipment and panning is by far the most important skill to learn. Even the largest of wash plants and trommels require the operator to eventually pan out the concentrates, and prospectors must learn the skill of panning. Everyone pans differently, but styles don't really matter as long as the gold stays in the pan when the panner is sifting out the waste gravels and reducing the load down to nothing but the heavies. Experienced panners can knock down a pan in less than a minute and their skills are good enough so that they can pan right back into the river without losing a speck. Skill like that is earned over thousands of pans.
There are dozens of different styles of pans, with varying sizes, shapes, and riffle patterns. Some have flat bottoms with no lip, and others have a lip on the bottom. Some are shaped like a hexagon with different sized riffles on all sides. Don’t get to worked up about all of these if you’re just starting out. Probably the most popular pan out there being used is the Garrett 14” “Prospector” pan (below photo, left). It has three large riffles and is excellent for wet or dry panning. You can pick this pan up from Garrett or other local prospecting shops for about $9. Garrett also sells a “Gold Pan Kit” (below photo, right) that contains this pan, a smaller pan, a classifier, snuffer bottom, vials, and a small pair of tweezers. I believe this set can be purchased for about $30-$35 and is a great starter set. Keene Engineering makes a couple different styles of pans as well, and these are popular "blue" pans.
Panning is a skill that takes time to learn. Here's some pointers to keep in mind:
1. Pan into a bucket or tub so you can check the accuracy of your panning.
2. Classify material down so that you're not fighting with large rocks.
3. Keep plenty of water in the pan; the material should be fluid in the pan.
4. Shake or swirl the pan vigorously to force gold to settle to the bottom.
5. Don't dump material out, instead let the (gentle) water swirling action remove light material.
6. Keep your elbow firm but your wrist flexible as most of the movement should come from your wrist.
7. Practice with lead fishing weights, making them smaller as you get better.
8. Don't overfill your pan. Half full is full enough. Space is needed to work heavies to the bottom.
9. Keep you pans light so they are easier to manage with one hand.
10. Make sure that you are panning in good light so that you can see what you are doing.
Snuffer: The Snuffer Bottle is a great way to "snuff up" or suck up smaller pieces of gold right out of your gold pan. Snuffers are made of plastic and are rigid enough so that they bounce back to shape after being squeezed, creating a suction in the straw. These are great to have on hand, just be careful with them because they are easy to misplace and they will also float down the river!
Shovel:You’re probably not going prospecting without one of these, whether to pan, sluice, high bank, dredge, or metal detect. Make sure you get a good shovel, the cheap ones don’t last long in the prospector’s environment! The long-handle shovel seems to be the favorite and it’s a little easier on your back.
Buckets & Tubs: Another piece of gear “common to all” is the trusty 5-gallon bucket. A couple of these will serve you well no matter what activity you are doing. A full bucket of wet material can weigh well over 60 lbs, so be sure to get sturdy buckets with good handles. Try to get the standard sized buckets as most of the classifiers on the market are sized to fit directly inside the tops of the bucket. Discard buckets with even the slightest crack. Another good thing to have is a mortar tub. These tubs are great for panning into at home and are a must-have for large sluice, dredges, and high-banker cleanups. These tubs can be found at most hardware or home improvement stores and are usually stashed in the cement section. Don't get the thin tubs as these things take a good amount of abuse out on the river. Get a nice solid thick-plastic tub.
Pry Bars, Chisels, & Picks: Pry bars are great to have to help move rocks and bust open cracks and crevices where gold likes to hide. There are different lengths of bars, with the longer bars providing the most leverage. You can also arm yourself with a couple small chisels and hand picks as these are great for busting up hard packed material as well as getting into those hard to reach places. A good pick is a must-have for metal detecting.
Scoops & Trowels: Hand scoops are great to have for sluicing and for cleanups. They’re perfect for scooping material out of your bucket for classifying and are great to have for feeding material into your river sluice. Hand scoops and trowels can be found at most hardware and garden stores.
Tool Set: A small tool set is definitely something you want to have with you on site if you are operating a high banker or dredge. Ensure you have all the tools you need to assemble and disassemble your equipment as well as make repairs on site. A couple odd things to add are a backup engine pull cord, a utility knife, spare hose clamps, and a small role of Gorilla or Duct tape. A 5/16" nut driver is good to have too as most hose clamps are this size. Keep your tools secured and always double check your area before departing.
Classifiers: Classifiers are another one of those must-haves. Classifiers are identified by how many holes they have per square inch, so a #8 classifier has 8 holes per square inch, a #30 has 30 holes per square inch, etc. The most common classifiers are the #4, #8, #12, #20, #30, and #50, although you can get ones to classify even smaller. The #4 is the "knock down king", reducing big rocks from shovels of material. It's also great for breaking up hard packed material or mud and clay. This is probably the most common classifier you'll see out on the rivers and creeks. The #8 is great for classifying material down to feed into a stream sluice. The #12, #20, #30, and #50 are usually used to classify material for use in a cleanup system, a blue or green bowl, or over a shaker table. Classifying material is one of the fundamental activities that increases your chances of keeping the gold you work hard to find. Most successful prospectors and miners will tell you to classify, classify, and classify!
Gloves: Prospecting is rough on your hands. It's a lot of digging and rock handling, and a few hours of that will take its toll on your hands. A good pair of cotton gloves with the "grip" pads on the palm and fingers works great if you're working above water. The 3mm or 5mm neoprene dive gloves seem to be the favorite for dredgers, most like the reinforced gloves with extra protection on the fingers. Neoprene gloves are hard to get on when they are cold. I like to stick mine in front of the dredge exhaust muffler to help get them on (plus it's nice to feel the heat!).
Boots, Waders, and Wetsuits: Most prospecting takes place in or near the water. A good pair of waders or hip boots will serve to keep you dry when you don't want to get wet, like in the winter months. There are different kinds of waders and boots out there. Be sure to try them on in the store as sizes are tough to gauge for a good fit. Waders usually come in rubber or neoprene of different thicknesses. They're not cheap, and because prospectors do a lot of kneeling, you may want to protect that investment with a pair of kneepads. Make sure the boots you wear are comfortable to do a lot of work in. Hard soles help reduce the risk of your feet being cut on sharp rocks, and good tread will help you maintain traction on slippery surfaces. Ankle support and tight laces are also important as you billy-goat around on rocks while looking for that next nugget hole.
I've yet to find a wetsuit that was made with the prospector in mind. We do some crazy stuff in the water which results in a pretty beat up wetsuit. I've been through more wetsuits than any other piece of prospecting gear that I have. Wetsuits are key to making you comfortable when working in colder water. There are many different types of wetsuits such as one-piece, two-piece (farmer john), hooded, front zipper or rear zipper, and "spring suits". Each type of wetsuit has its own pros and cons. The purpose of the wetsuit is to keep a small layer of water between your body and the neoprene so that your body can heat the water. A wetsuit is not a dry suit. You will get wet and have to heat up that initial shock of cold water. Wet suit sizes vary wildly, and it's tough to pick out a suit without trying it on. You may think you are a "regular" or "medium" when in fact you need a "large-short" design. Many wetsuit manufacturers have charts to help break down your build into a certain wet suit size.
The “hand sluice” or stream sluice is a great all-around piece of prospecting equipment. Made of lightweight aluminum or plastic, the hand sluice is perfect for processing small amounts of gold bearing material from your favorite small stream or creek. They are designed to rest directly on the bottom of the stream (or be propped up on rocks) and are set up in the fast moving section of a creek or stream.
Classifying material is critical when using a hand sluice of any size. Large material trapped in the flow will greatly disrupt the sluice’s ability to retain gold because you are using only the natural flow of water to clear waste or a little forced water if the sluice has a flare on the front of it. If the creek isn't moving gravels with it's natural flow, don't expect it to do the same in your sluice. You'll have to introduce more water and ram it into a smaller area to increase flow. This is the purpose of the flare. Classification can be done using the classifying rings or "classifiers" commonly seen, and most prospectors knock down material to at least -4 for larger sluices and -8 for smaller sluices or even -12 for the smallest of hand sluices. |
Setting a hand sluice in the stream or creek can be a challenging endeavor. You have to work on two things in order to run the sluice properly: Water flow and sluice angle. Try to find a spot in the stream where you have (natural) faster water flow and a drop in elevation. If you don't have enough water flow, you can use rocks to make a dam and force water into your sluice. Use rocks under the sluice to get a good angle where waste material clears the riffles but heavies remain trapped. Setting up a hand sluice takes time, so be prepared to spend it before you start putting a lot of material through. For hand sluices, many people use the rule of "1 inch of angle for every foot of sluice", and that is an accurate starting point but is not a rule that is set in stone. Some sluices need more angle, and some need less, and a lot of that depends on the speed of water and the size of material you are running. Many times you see a "V" form in the top of certain sluices based on the design of the flare and the top of the sluice. I love to see this on my Keene A52, MacKirk AU Trap, and Jobe Yellow Jacket. That's when I know I've got the right water flow and angle.
Keep an eye on the small and heavy material that remains in the sluice. You want the smaller material to clear, but only after being processed by the riffles. This process is usually easy to observe. You can sit there and feed classified material through the sluice with a small hand scoop or trowel, watching the action as you feed. Make minor adjustments, like increasing water flow or wedging rocks under the sluice to change the angle. You want to drop the material in at the top of the sluice, as far up as you can without spilling any back into the stream. You will instantly see material clear based on size and weight, and any gold will slide down the flare and onto the black mat (or depressions) that are located at the beginning of the sluice.
Take your time with this process. It's a great learning experience and one you will need if you ever use larger prospecting equipment. You want that sluice to do the best possible job for you and it does require some patience and effort. Here's a couple "Do" and "Do Nots" to keep in mind when sluicing:
- Classify material down based on what the sluice riffles are designed to clear.
- Build an angled rock dam to force more water towards your sluice.
- Use scoops of classified gravels to test your setup and adjust as needed.
- Designate a spot to place your bucket to feed the sluice where you will not disrupt the flow.
- Bring a bucket or tub that your sluice fits into for easy and safe cleanups.
- Put a rock or something heavy on top of the sluice to keep it weighted down.
- Clear the tails so that material does not slow down the flow of water and discharge of waste.
- Walk in front of your sluice or someone else's sluice when it is running, ever!
- Dump material in. Slowly feed material into the sluice using a hand scoop or trowel.
- Expect to process yards and yards of material.
- Put objects in the sluice that might disturb the flow.
- Expect 2" rocks to clear a 10" wide hand sluice. Classify!
Hand sluices are a fun, effective, and relatively inexpensive way to prospect for gold. It gives you the ability to process more gravel than if you were only panning. Hand sluices are very effective as long as you classify your material and create good flow through the sluice. They're a great way to learn how to adjust sluices, a most critical skill, and they have excellent gold recovery rates.