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Monday, June 11, 2012

Panning and sluicing

        Our most often read articles deal with two topics… panning and sluicing.  It makes sense, since not only are they the most commonly used methods of recovery, they are entry level “gotta have” kind of skills.

        Struggling with sluice box setup is common.  That’s why we look for an area that has not only good gold potential but a relatively easy sluicing setup. 

        Ideally, there’s sufficient drop for the 1 to 1-1/2 inch per foot of sluice box recommended and still have an additional inch or two for a rock under the bottom end of sluice.  That allows a little room for the tailings to drop out and wash away.  Eventually you’ll be cleaning out tailings with a shovel without disturbing the sluice flow. 

        A small rock dam can be built to obtain drop.  This works well in narrow streams but in a wide stream it does not need to be built the entire width, just enough to create sufficient flow to the sluice box.

        The top flare (if you have one) can nestle between two decent-sized rocks to secure the sluice in place.

        At this point, you can either dam water and seal with tailings ahead of the flare or allow free flow around the sluice, depending on the flow.  Too little water allows the sluice to clog and needs constant tending.  Too much flow carries everything right out the end!  Ideally, you have a nice ripple effect over the riffles.

        What do see most often in sluices and highbankers (permit required)?  Too much water too fast... dial it down!  If you doubt the flow, test the tailings directly off the end of the sluice.  I'll bet I could "cleanup" off the tailings and catch pans on just about every operation running in the Hills!

        So you’ve set up the sluice… throw a scoop or small shovelful (depending on size of sluice) of material in and watch how it flows through the box.  Level the sluice side to side if material doesn’t flow consistently by adding minor height on the low side.

        Now you have established a sluicing point and can add stepping stones, level a convenient bucket location, trim branches out of the way… all those things that make a house a home!

        Shovel away and enjoy the day.  But all that doesn’t mean much if you end the day by losing your gold!

        As critical as sluice box setup is cleanup.  You need to break the flow of the creek by lifting the flare end of the sluice first.  You can then proceed with cleanup.  If you do not lift the flare end first, it’s easy to dump what was in the flare right back into the creek or disturb the riffles where your gold is probably resting.

        Remove rib matting and/or carpet; clean thoroughly in a 5-gallon bucket; remove matting and/or carpet. Place the bottom end of the sluice into the 5-gallon bucket and flush concentrates with several pans of water.  Directions on this vary according to model of sluice, so we’ll keep it general! You can then transfer concentrates back to the pan for final panning.  A good hint… splashing water into an inverted bucket cleans it out quickly.

        We’ve watched a lot a people pan… we’ve panned a lot of material… DO NOT RUSH THIS PROCESS!  Remember, these concentrates are mostly heavy materials that have dropped out with gold.  Gold “riding up” with these materials is common.  Critical to the process is shaking down materials frequently and using a smooth, fluid circular motion.  

        My parents taught me if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.  In the case of gold panning quality merits quantity and speed equals loss instead of gain.  Use a catch pan… it’s the only way to learn what you’re losing.

        This isn’t speed panning… leave that to the competitors.  Speed panning consists of a defined number of consistently-sized nugget-like pieces.  Your concentrates may include flour, flakes and hopefully nuggets.  I’ll just about bet it also contains black sands of some sort, nodules, bits of quartz, possibly some lead shot in hunting areas, a rusted nail or two.  You need to pay attention to the contents of the pan.

        One final word of advice… if you are encountering a lot of black sands, clean the sluice box more often or split up the concentrates to pan.  I’ve had pans of concentrates handed to me that almost dropped me to my knees (okay, I’m a lightweight!).  If you can’t comfortably handle the size of the pan or the quantity of material, grab a pan that suits you and break it into a couple of sessions.

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