During my fourteen years of mining throughout the United States, with a variety of gold mining equipment, I’ve seen and processed a lot of black sand. And since the mining equipment I’ve used has ranged in size from gold pans and suction dredges to Caterpillars and heavy equipment, its been possible to approach “fine placer gold recovery” and its liberation from black and blonde sands from virtually every level.

Learning in any form takes time and usually a lot of practice, which all too often includes making a few mistakes. So I might as well begin this article by admitting that I’ve certainly left my share of gold on the ground, even after all the hard work of getting it out of some of nature’s most elusive hiding places.

Liberating gold from black sand can be a very difficult process, especially when the gold is extremely fine. The finer the gold, the more difficult the recovery seems to be. And whether you’re an experienced miner or a novice, it is certainly a waste to walk away from your fine gold, leaving it half processed in a pile of black and blonde’ sands at your clean-up site along the river bank or in your campground. For example, let me relate a true story of one of my own recent experiences:

During a recent winter, after a fairly good dredging season, the cold water and my own curiosity caused me to wander around and check out some of the black sand piles (left behind by other miners) I had noticed earlier in the season. Knowing from my own experiences how miners tend to lose gold during clean-up, I took along my gold pan to test with; and sure enough, in the first pile of sand I found two nuggets (about 1/4 and ½-pennyweight) along with plenty of color. I immediately went back to camp and returned shortly with my shovel and some buckets which I used to transport the heavy black sands back to my campsite where I do my own clean-ups. I use an industrial-type spiral-wheel which is larger and faster than the typical gold wheel sold in most mining supply stores. Gold wheels will do a great job of fine gold recovery providing they are set up and used properly. And since every wheel and concentrate deposit is unique, your ability to tune your wheel and work your sands will be the critical factors affecting your fine gold recovery, not a particular brand name.

During the past few months, I’ve also been running the final clean-ups from a number of mining operations along the Klamath River in northern California. In most cases what were only five gallon buckets of “previously processed” black sands magically changed within a few hours into literally pennyweights and ounces of liberated fine gold. You can just imagine the surprise and excitement experienced by these dredge operators when they saw that the black sand byproduct they had so very often considered “nearly worthless” or “unrecoverable” was in fact valuable and could even pay a substantial portion of their operating expenses.

Most of what I’ve learned was to a large extent the result of associating with some of the best clean-up men in the gold mining fields of Alaska. They had been liberating gold for more than fifty years when I first met them, and many are probably still at it today. If there is a single and most important key to unlocking the mysteries of fine gold recovery, it is “the basics always work.” So if you’re in fine gold, and you’re not able to recover it, remember to return to the basics.

What follows is a simple step-by-step process of the basics of fine gold recovery:

Without Classification, Liberation is not Possible

Virtually every piece of modern mining equipment currently available in local mining and equipment shops has its own inherent system of material classification. To classify, in mining terminology, simply means to separate the material (rocks, gold, and sand) by size and/or weight (usually by size). It only makes sense to take this process even further in handling the clean up of your concentrates.

Classification is often accomplished by using screens of various sizes or meshes, and while many gold miners choose to buy these screens from their gold mining supply store, it is not unusual at all to see lint screens, window screens, and even kitchen sifters alongside a clean-up operation. Classification screens come in many sizes: 4, 8, 12, 20, 30, 50, 100, and even smaller. These numbers represent the number of openings per linear inch. For example, a 4-mesh screen has four holes per linear inch or 16 holes per square inch, and allows material to drop through which is smaller in size than about 1/4 inch smaller, actually, because the wire in the screen takes up some of the space.

With a little practice and experimentation you will find out which screen will work the best for you and your particular clean-up operation.

Beginning Your Clean-Up

Start your clean-up by removing your concentrates from your sluice box. Next, use your #4 screen to classify and remove this spectrum of material, checking closely for nuggets and large, flat flakes. Surprisingly, many miners fail to inspect closely because they are working a deposit that only seems to produce fine gold. Nuggets can be lost because they are simply thrown out in this important stage of the process. Usually this first step is done right at the river bank, making what you must carry back to your camp less cumbersome. Now screen your materials though your #8 screen. What’s left on top of this screen will be easy and quick to pan at the river. Take what falls through the screen back to your wheel for processing.

Using Your Wheel

It is very important to go through the above steps before attempting to use your wheel to process your concentrates. Remember, the wheel works on the principles of weight, angle (pitch), and water-flow. In the following steps, you’ll be first separating the blonde sands from the heavier black sands. This process is called the “first split.”

This separation should be done using your wheel’s fastest speed if you have a variable speed wheel. This split will take a little time, but remember that if you were panning this material it would probably take as much time or more, and may not be as effective for fine gold recovery. Many people purchase a wheel to reduce the amount of panning time in their clean-up operation, as well as recovering more gold.

At this stage, you’ll want to pull the black sands and gold from the blonde sands. It’s okay if a small portion of the blondes are drawn up along with the blacks in this first split.

We have found that skimming the lighter sands off the top of the material being processed in the wheel (not in the riffles) can be more effective than allowing the tailings to simply run out of the wheel with excess water.

The best demonstration of how to use a gold wheel that I have ever seen is in Dave McCracken’s video, “Modern Gold Mining Techniques.

When running this first split, the wheel will pack just like the riffles of a dredge. When this occurs, for better results, you can spoon material from the bottom of the wheel up onto the riffles. We also seem to get better results by spooning material onto the drier section of the wheel so that it passes into the flow of water as the wheel turns. Watch yourself very closely because this is the step where many of the larger flat flakes are lost simply by scooping the material out of the wheel too soon. Once this split is complete, you should find that you have cut your material in half or more.

Now you should have what we call salt and pepper sand and gold. If you have only black sands at this point, you have probably lost some of the finer gold already. Look closely; and if this is the case, stop, back up and rerun this split again. Remember, the wheel will only recover as well as the skill of the operator permits. So take your time and make sure you’re not losing your fines at each stage of the process.

Next, classify the remaining concentrates once more using a #12 screen. This time you’ll only have half as much material so it will go very fast. The material on top of the screen produces your bigger gold; and if you’re in good gold, you’ll be able to still see it lying all over the surface of the screen. Sometimes, I find it easier to dry and run a magnet through the sands. This approach will usually remove 50% to 80% of the magnetic black sands, leaving your gold and just a little material to pan or blow off. These gold particles and flakes should be bright and beautiful and can be put in your gold jar.

Now it’s time to tackle the material that dropped though the #12 screen by running it through the wheel. When using a variable speed wheel, this split should be processed at the slowest speed, and the pitch of the wheel should be set at a steeper angle. Use a moderate-to-slow water flow, adjusting the wheel to pull just a little black sand, and all the gold. Once you’ve run it through, simply adjust the wheel a bit steeper and rerun this gold-laden material once more, only this time just pull the gold.

This process will leave you with all your gold, and perhaps just a very small amount of fine black sand. I find that if you dry this final product, it is very easy to blow the remaining black sand of by sorting through it on a clean piece of paper and blowing gently. It is a nice way to end your day!

And finally, if you’re having any trouble in your clean-ups, remember to return to the basics by watching your classifications, checking what you’re about to discard on a regular basis, and by making sure that you’re not leaving your fine gold for someone else to recover simply by re-running your old sand piles. I hope these hints are helpful, and good luck with your future clean-ups.

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This story first appeared in Gold & Treasure Hunter Magazine Nov/Dec, 1991 on Page 29. This issue is still available! Click here.

By Dave McCracken

It is nearly always important for a prospector to target his or her sampling efforts to reach the bottom of hard-packed streambeds.

Dave Mack


Successful mining in streambeds is generally accomplished in two steps: (1) prospecting and (2) production. This is true on any scale of operation. First, you need to find a gold deposit, usually a pay-streak. Once the deposit is located, then you can concentrate on a production program to recover the gold from the deposit.

Prospecting generally consists of digging or dredging sample-holes in different locations, then comparing the results of the different samples. Through trial and error, the positive signs are then followed into high-grade gold deposits.

In a waterway, the first effort should be to locate the common path along which most of the gold typically travels. Sampling is then performed along that path to find the pay-streaks. This system is thoroughly outlined in Gold Mining in the 21st Century, and Part 1 of Advanced Dredging Techniques.

Dave’s Books & Videos

The following video clip also demonstrates this very important principle:

When you are sampling, you should nearly always be looking for hard-packed streambed material. “Hard-pack” is created at the bottom of waterways during major flood-storms.

Generally, a winter storm, even a large winter storm, will not create enough turbulence and force within a river, creek or stream to redeposit the compacted streambeds that are already in place along the bottom.

Flood-storms of the magnitude to redeposit streambeds do not occur very often.

For example, on the Klamath River in northern California, where my own team dredging operations take place during the summer months, we believe the last time that a substantial amount of hard-packed streambed was formed was during the 1997 flood. An even larger storm took place in 1964. In many places, a 1964 flood-layer was laid down on top of a much older, harder-packed, virgin streambed — one formed perhaps thousands of years ago.

To give you an idea of the magnitude of storm that it takes to create hard-packed stream-beds, take a look at the following video sequence I captured just down river from Happy Camp during the flood of 1997:

So, it takes a major flood storm to move and lay down a hard-packed streambed. And, it takes a super-sized major flood storm to create enough force and turbulence in a river to break up ancient streambeds and redeposit them as newer hard-packed streambeds along the course of the waterway. This happens only very rarely.

The reason that hard-pack is important to a prospector is because gold nearly always concentrates at the bottom of hard-packed, flood layers. Therefore, it is nearly always important for a prospector to target his or her sampling efforts to reach the bottom of hard-packed streambeds.

The following video sequence shows exactly what hard-pack looks like. I captured this video during a Group Mining Project in a location where we were recovering a rich gold deposit from the bottom of an ancient streambed layer resting on bedrock:

Gold is about six times heavier, by volume, than the average weight of the sand, silt, and rocks that make up an average streambed. Because of this disparity in weight, when streambed material is being washed downriver during a major flood-storm, most of the gold will quickly work its way down to the bottom of the streambed material that is being carried along by the raging flood waters.

In the following video segment, watch how fast the gold penetrates average streambed material once it is placed into suspension. The second video segment provides a visual demonstration of this very important point:

Because the gold is so much heavier, it will work its way down along the river-channel more slowly than the other streambed materials. During major flood-storms, most of the gold moving in a waterway will be washed down across the bedrock, or across the surface of hard-packed streambed that is not being moved by the storm. At some point during the storm, gold becomes trapped out of the turbulent flow by dropping into irregularities, cracks and holes that are present along the surface over which it is traveling.

Placer Geology

As shown in the following video segment, other heavy materials, like lead and old iron objects, also travel and deposit in the same places as gold. These other materials can sometimes lead you right into a rich gold deposit:

Because of its enormous weight, gold also deposits much earlier during the course of the storm than the streambed material which eventually seats itself on top of a pay-streak. As the storm begins to taper off, and the water-forces begin to slow down, particles of gold will start dropping out of the flow. Along the path where most of the gold is traveling in the waterway, traces will be deposited, with more substantial pay-streaks forming within the larger, low-velocity areas. These gold deposits are being laid down even as the (much-lighter) rocks and gravel are still being washed down river with the storm flows. Streambeds form later in the storm, when the water-turbulence tapers off enough to allow the rocks, gravel, sand and silt to drop out of the flow and form a seated bed along the bottom (over top of the gold).

Streambed material that lies in on top of a pay-streak will nearly always be hard-packed. The reason for this is that if there is enough force and turbulence to move substantial amounts of gold in the waterway, then there is also enough force to create a naturally-formed streambed on top of the gold as the same storm tapers off.

How do natural streambeds form? First, the storm needs to be powerful enough to rip up the streambed material, put it into suspension, and wash it down the waterway. This process is similar to gravel washing through a sluice box, only on a much larger scale. During the later course of the storm, as the water-force and turbulence starts slowing down, natural obstructions or traps along the river-bottom will allow certain key rocks to become lodged or seated. An example might be a flat rock that drops into a bedrock indentation, with the forward edge of the rock pointing slightly downward into the flow. The water-current then holds the rock to the bottom. With this rock in place, new locations are formed for other rocks to become lodged. Smaller rocks, sand, gravel, and silt will fill every gap and crevice in a manner similar to the mortar used to cement layers of brick. More rocks then fall into place. More filler then packs the spaces created between the rocks, and the bed forms.

Hard-packed streambeds form mostly with the flat rocks lying horizontally and slightly tipped downward against the direction of the current. The way in which streambeds form during major flood storms leaves the bed-material seated and compacted together, much like a mechanical structure. In dredging, we call this structure “hard-pack.” Most of the gold in present waterways is covered over by hard-packed streambed. So it is very important to know what it is. The following video segment shows you exactly what to look for:

For substantial amounts of gold to move within a waterway, it requires a major flood-storm with enough power to blast up some of the pre-existing hard-packed streambeds. This is because most of the existing gold in the waterway is trapped below existing hard-packed streambeds.

It is the abrasive action of the streambed material (more like a huge band-saw), as it is being washed down along the bedrock during major flood-storms, that causes bedrock channels to cut deeper into the earth over geologic time. When such a storm tapers off, new hard-packed streambeds will form over top of the gold deposits.

“Loose-packed” material consists of sand, silt, rocks and gravel which possess little or no natural structural cohesiveness. When you dredge a hole down through loose streambed material, it keeps sliding in on you. Digging through loose-pack can be like trying to dig down through a pile of sand or gravel. The material keeps slipping into the hole. This makes for a much more difficult sample hole if the material runs deep.

Sometimes, loose material is resting on top of a hard-packed streambed and must be moved out of the way first, before the hard-pack can be properly sampled.

When you dredge a test hole through hard-pack, the streambed will generally hold up the wall surrounding the hole. In fact, many of the old-time operations tunneled underneath hard-pack. This was/is called “drift mining.” Sometimes they even tunneled directly under active rivers!

It is also important to be able to identify tailings. Tailings are easy to identify, as long as you understand how streambeds are mined. Tailings do not look either like hard-pack or loose streambed material.

When hard-packed streambed is being mined, the cobbles and boulders (i.e., rocks that are too large to pass through the recovery system) are tossed back onto a pile behind the production area. As the production area moves forward, piles of boulders and cobbles are left behind in place of the original hard-packed streambed. Sometimes, sand, silt and gravel that is processed through the recovery system is dropped on top of the cobbles. Later, winter storms also wash sand, silt and gravel across the top of the cobbles. The sand, silt and light gravel then filters down and fills in most of the space between the cobbles. Therefore, tailings usually end up as loose stacks of cobbles with sand, silt or light gravel filling the spaces.

A large flood-storm may wash the tailing-cobbles away at a later time and redeposit them into a newly-formed hard-packed streambed. Or, as in the case of the 1964 flood in northern California, rather than wash away all of the cobbles, many of the piles were leveled off by the storm, and a new layer of hard-packed streambed was deposited directly on top of the loose cobbles. When we dredge sample holes in those locations, we usually find a hard-packed streambed on top of the tailings (loose cobbles). If gold traveled in that part of the waterway, we find it concentrated at the bottom of the hard-pack, sitting on top of the tailings. Underneath, we find loose cobbles with sand and silt between them. These usually go all the way to bedrock. We find very little gold on bedrock, because it has not yet been directly exposed to a major flood storm since being mined.


Some waterways will have several different natural streambed layers, each with its own concentration of gold resting on top of the layer or bedrock below. Different streambed layers usually exhibit a different color and compactness. The “contact-zone” between the layers is generally pretty easy to spot. Within the contact zones between layers, and on top of bedrock, is where you will find most of the gold concentrations. Those areas, then, should be the target of your sample holes.

As shown in this following video segment, sometimes the highest-grade deposits will be found up on top of a layer of hard-pack in the streambed:

Seldom will you find rich pay-streak gold deposits associated with loose streambed material. However, it does occasionally happen. These occurrences are almost always the result of winter storms, and the resulting run-off, eroding away a hard-packed streambed along the bank — which washes the gold down into the waterway to rest with the loose material.

There are areas in Africa where streambeds consist entirely of loose gravels – sometimes which carry substantial amounts of gold and/or gemstones. But this is an exception to the rule.

Effective sampling is the key to a successful mining operation. And, when you are sampling, you should be looking for hard-packed streambed layers. Watch for the gold concentrations along the bottom of these layers, because that is where you will usually find them.



By Dave McCracken

To succeed at gold dredging, you should be willing to take a rather athletic approach toward the work, especially during the sampling stages.

Dave Mack

Gold dredging consists mostly of physical activity. Heavy gear has to be carried around from place to place. Much of your time is spent wrestling with a suction hose, picking up and tossing cobbles as fast as you can, shoving against boulders, fighting to hold your position against the water’s current, packing 60-plus pounds of lead around your waste, swimming back and forth across the river, and pulling dredges around on ropes. There just never seems to be an end to the physical work! This is not bad. Unless you don’t like hard work.

If you have a distaste for hard, strenuous work, if you don’t enjoy it and are generally looking for ways to avoid it, you need to find some line of work other than gold dredging. To succeed at gold dredging, you should be willing to take a rather athletic approach toward work, especially during the sampling stages.

Some people are physically-inclined by nature, and they enjoy hard work. Other people are not so physically inclined, but they are willing to work hard and do whatever it takes to succeed. Such people can be very successful at gold dredging. But, no matter what your inclination, gold dredging requires hard work. There is no getting around it.

I have found, to be most effective, it is best to attack a gold-dredging operation with a rigid work schedule, just like any other job or business-activity. I personally prefer to “pour on the steam” for three straight days. Then, I take one day off from dredging to allow my body to recuperate. The work is physically exhausting on the body if you really pour out the energy. You need to find the appropriate rest-interval that works best for you. Otherwise, your body will get overworked and start breaking down. I use my day-off to perform gear maintenance and the many other miscellaneous chores that are needed to keep the operation running smoothly. I try to get some much-needed free time out of it, as well.





My approach is not the only way. I know successful gold dredgers who prefer to work fewer hours each day, or work at a less-intense level of physical activity; but they put in five or six straight days at a time. If we could add up the total units of energy expended on dredging, it would probably come out about the same, either way. It is just a matter of preference and what pace you are most comfortable with. The main point here is that no matter how you cut it, you’ve got to put in the dredging hours if you want to succeed at underwater mining.

When people ask me about gold dredging as a profession, I always answer as follows: “Given the knowledge of how to do it, and the willingness to apply the knowledge, gold dredging is an easy way to make a living, if you are willing to work hard at it.” And, this is the simple truth.




Preparing Yourself Properly for a Gold Prospecting Adventure


Each summer, thousands of prospectors head for the high country in search of gold. However, not all of these prospectors are from the mountainous regions which they will be entering. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of prospectors are from flatland areas of the Midwest and East. Therefore, it is an easy observation that you prospectors should take some extra precautions and attempt to prepare yourselves for what you will encounter in the high country.

Obviously, one of the best things you can do to help ready yourself for a high country expedition is to get in shape. Luckily, there are many exercises that will help you get into top physical condition, but you must be willing to discipline yourself and stick with your exercise program.

Basically, there are four elements to a S.A.F.E. prospector fitness program.

These elements are Strength, Ability, Flexibility and Endurance. While everyone is born with ability, the other three elements are the things that must be worked on.

If you are serious about starting an exercise program, it is important that you stretch for several minutes prior to each workout. This stretching will improve your flexibility and help you become more limber.

Maybe the most important thing that a would-be high mountain prospector can do is build his or her strength. After all, you must be physically strong if you are going to carry a backpack into a remote wilderness setting!

If you are serious1y interested in building strength, it is important to work with a given weight until it is easy for you to perform several repetitions without any problems. As soon as your starting weight becomes easy, add more weight! However, if you are mainly concerned with muscular endurance, which most prospectors are, then you should probably stick with lighter weights, adding more repetitions to a set.

Some weightlifting activities I utilize when preparing for a high mountain prospecting trip are the bench press and leg press. The leg press is probably the most important of the two, as it helps your legs build strength, which is vital, due to the fact that your legs will be your transportation.

After you finish a workout, you should cool down and do a few more minutes of stretching, as this will help prevent your muscles from tightening up.

Building endurance is another important part of any prospector’s life. Every spring, after a lethargic winter, I attempt to build my endurance by taking long walks. Walking is an enjoyable endeavor that you can do by yourself or with others. There is no need to walk at a fast pace; and as you walk, relax and take in any sights and sounds along your travel route.

Normally, if you are a prospector, you are also an outdoors person. This means that you may have fish and wild game in your freezer. Both fish and wild game are excellent foods. Therefore, as long as we cook these foods with low fat and cholesterol in mind, they will fit in nicely with our exercise program.

Now, let us suppose we are healthy and fit as a fiddle. The next step before traveling to a destination is deciding what items we need to take with us. This is where things can get tricky, because most people attempt to take far too much. As you are deciding what to take, keep in mind that everything you take will be in your backpack, which is of course carried on your back. Whenever I go high mountain prospecting, I normally hike as high as timberline and sometimes even higher. Therefore, I like to keep my backpack as light as possible while still carrying the essentials.

Some of the items I carry are: a light-weight sleeping bag (capable of keeping me warm in very cold temperatures), toiletries, a first-aid kit, a Eureka Mountain Pass tent, a pair of cotton gloves, a gold pan and classifier, a suction bottle, vials for gold, rope, an extra set of clothes (two sets of socks), fire starters (wax strips), weatherproof matches, a small camp shovel, topographic maps of the region I am in, some military MRE’s (food), fishing tackle (flies, leaders and line), a telescopic fly rod, a mess kit, a poncho, and a firearm of some kind. I also tie a military coat and stocking cap onto the outside of my pack, as the temperature at high altitudes can get surprisingly cold. On my military web belt I wear a hunting knife and a canteen, with a canteen cup.

While I realize that these items are the bare essentials, they will have to suffice; because more weight is impractical. Remember, you are going to do a lot of climbing, so keep it enjoyable.

As soon as your destination is known, you may want to consider staying at a motel in a high mountain town for a couple of days, before entering the forest. Staying a few days at a motel or local campground will help you become a little bit more accustomed to the altitude you have entered. If you attempt to head right into the mountains without becoming acclimated to high altitudes, you may experience altitude sickness. Altitude sickness is caused by the thin air your body is unfamiliar with. I have learned, through a very scary personal experience, that altitude sickness is something to be taken very seriously. Remember, you cannot beat the mountains; and if you think you can, you will find yourself getting beat! Respect the mountains and your trip will be much more enjoyable.

Entering the wilderness is a great experience that is almost indescribable. It is easy to find yourself imagining that you are the only person around for thousands of miles. For instance, when I go to the mountains, not only do I prospect, but I also take plenty of time to enjoy the solitude and great trout fishing that the high mountain streams and lakes offer. When in the deep forest, I can think my own thoughts and do what I like. It is a feeling of independence, where only the most hearty and rugged individuals can make it!

Enjoying the mountains also requires that you have a basic understanding of weather patterns. You don’t want to become caught in a serious storm. Keep in mind that lightning is very common in the mountains, and you should try and avoid bad weather.

Upon reaching a suitable location for a base camp, the real adventure begins! I make a good camp and then, feeling1ike a child on Christmas morning, I grab my gold prospecting gear and begin searching for a likely place to try my hand at panning. Normally, I enjoy panning along small creeks. There is something mystical about panning along a creek!

The key to finding high-grade gold is in knowing how to prospect, and in having the right attitude about it. If you don’t have much experience in it, I would advise that you attend some training and gain some experience under the watchful eye of seasoned professionals before striking out on your own. This will save you lots of time in trying to muddle through the learning curve on your own.

My first day of panning is usua1ly short-lived, because there are many camp chores that need to be done. Gathering wood for a small fire is critical. A small fire provides warmth and a means of cooking the trout that I catch.

Fishing for trout in high mountain lakes and streams is something that all prospectors will enjoy. The trout, normally not very big, are scrappy fighters and are just about always ready to hit a properly-presented fly. Some of the flies I regularly use are the western bee, black gnat and royal coachman. However, the fish at this altitude are not picky and will hit almost anything.

The mountains have been a home away from home for my family for 100 years. They have seen my grandfather, my dad, and myself enjoy all that they have to offer, providing us with an understanding of what it takes to be responsible and self-reliant.

While I have not become rich yet by prospecting for gold in the mountains, I have found enough gold to pay for my entire prospecting trip. The experience of a high mountain prospecting trip, however, is worth more than any monetary return to me. Especially when I find a deposit of gold nuggets!

Still, I have not given up hope of striking something rich. That possibility exists; and, I suppose, is the thing that makes prospecting in the high country one of the best adventures available to man – or women!

Becoming a high mountain prospector may not be for everyone, because it requires an able-bodied, physically fit person who has a strong mind and a desire for adventure. If you believe that you have these characteristics, what are you waiting for? After all, there is no time like the present to experience the adventure of a lifetime!


By Troy (Hank) Donovan



Book graphicTo become a successful gold prospector, research must top your list of things to do. Research will provide you with a never-ending source of future prospects. Experiencing the joy of being in the field, while enjoying these exciting and rewarding activities, should be a major priority for everyone. Furthermore, repeated trips going into the field, being successful, attaining your goals, and coming home with golden treasures is what puts the icing on the cake. The main ingredient to help ensure success in gold prospecting is taking the time to do truly adequate research and planning.

Research is the “all-important” first step that needs to be accomplished. Learn everything you can about the activity. Read appropriate books and magazines, and speak to other people with the same interests. The Internet provides many vital connections. E-mail other enthusiasts. This will prove to be very useful in the future, and can help you now! There are many web sites worth examining. Thousands of Internet sites are just bursting with useful, valuable information which can help you.

Another very important component of research is putting lots of time in the field. The time you spend in the field provides you “hands-on” familiarity with your equipment and the areas where you are prospecting.

These hints are just the tip of the ice-berg of research. Become familiar with your equipment. Start to develop an intimate “feel” for what you are doing, and what you are looking for. Make some good connections through various prospecting clubs and associations and Internet sites. Then, it is time to begin the arduous, but rewarding, task of developing some of your own “hot spots.”

“Hot Spots” are places waiting to be discovered—by you! These places are located all over the west. Often they are referred as “virgin sites,” No one with a metal detector or a gold pan has ever been there (except for you!) “Hot Spots” can also be forgotten sites; places that very few people know about, today. These may have been explored by earlier generations of prospectors; but with today’s technology, they are worth checking out again!

To discover these sites, begin searching at your local library. Doing your research in the library can be a very mundane process. Spending hour upon hour sorting through maps and old newspapers, while not being entirely certain what you are looking for, can be very frustrating. More importantly, it can be time-wasting. To avoid this waste, go to the library with purpose, and be focused on your task. Are you hunting for old placer mines? Abandoned lode mines or their tailings dumps? Old hydraulic mining areas? Decide what you are searching for. Then narrow your search-effort, allowing yourself to use your time more efficiently.

Historical newspapers from the area of your interest can be a resource tool. I bounce back and forth, scanning microfilm, alternately searching through old books and maps. By acting like a metal detector with discrimination, I scan for key words, and ignore irrelevant information.

Maps, as you can imagine, may be a gold mine! To find these old maps, ask the librarian if they have a room dedicated to your State and/or County. Most libraries have rooms, or at least special sections, that are packed with local history! Many times, these areas are pretty disorganized. But such disorganization might actually be to your advantage. Maps and books which are buried in old boxes might be exactly what you are looking for! For a nominal price, some mail-order catalogs will also provide you with maps that can be helpful.

Sometimes, modern maps can produce clues from yesteryear, while providing you with leads from which to do further research. Often, browsing through a map, you will notice gulches, creeks, mountains, and roads that have interesting names. For example, on one of my gold prospecting research sessions, I came across a small creek called “Sluice-Box Creek.” Doing further research, I discovered there was a large population of Chinese miners working the area during the 1890’s. Little prospecting had been done since that time! Here is a prospect that might be worth checking out this next season!

Old maps often actually show the exact location of old mines, sometimes even including the names. Then searching for the names can sometimes give you valuable information about the mines. Modern GPS electronics can then help you locate those old mines in the field!

There is nothing really difficult about all this. It takes time; and it all requires a proper state of mind. The best things in life don’t always come easy. So you have to allow yourself some time.

It is very important to keep all of your information and leads well-organized. I suggest that any photocopies that you make from books and micro film should have a notation of the author, title, and date of the publication from which it came. This might be important in the future. When you discover at some later time that you need more information from the source, you will more-easily know where to find it again! Many times while doing research, you will find both useful and useless information. Keep all information you find! I cannot count how many times I have gone through my papers, finding a new piece of information that I had not noticed before, or information that was not important previously, but is now!

It is also a good idea to keep a journal. This can be a very useful tool while out in the field. Many times, you may come across something interesting while out prospecting. Mark the location using your GPS. You might want to do some related research at a later date. By pinpointing interesting prospects on your map, and writing some useful notes, you will be prepared to go the library and possibly locate some historical information on the particular site.

Remember, research is your best possible tool to help develop potential new prospects. The more time spent on research, the more you will be rewarded with productive sites to discover new “golden treasure.”



A chronological account of the development of treasure and gold locators from 1830 to 1930.


As all gold hunters know, we are blessed with high-technology instruments to aid our searches for precious metals. Nuggets can be identified in a highly mineral matrix, thus eliminating unnecessary digging of unwanted material, and the Goldspear will locate even gold dust. However, none of these sophisticated detectors appeared overnight, nor was any one man responsible for the invention of metal detection.

If any one person could be regarded as the inventor of metal detectors, I will nominate English geologist and mining engineer R. W. Fox. It was Fox who first discovered that electricity will flow through metallic ores as well as solid metal objects. Thus, circa 1830 he devised a simple metal locator which consisted of nothing more than a battery, several metal rods and a suitable length of wire. His first method of detection was as follows: one metal rod would be driven into the earth where the suspected vein of ore was located; it was connected to one terminal of the battery. The other battery terminal was connected to a floating wire. Other metal rods were driven into the ground at several different points and successively touched with the floating wire. Where a spark occurred, it was an indication that metal was present. Circa 1870, this device was modified to two rods insulated from each other in a common probe and connected via battery to a bell and plunged into the earth. When contact was made by metallic ore, nugget or metal pipe, the bell rang, thus indicating the presence of a conductive object.


In 1879, Professor D.E. Hughes demonstrated to the Royal Society in London his Induction Balance (I.B.). Its purpose was to study the molecular structure of metals and alloys. However, Hughes and his instrument maker, William Groves, soon recognized the potential of the I.B. as a metal locator, and several were supplied to various London Hospitals for locating metal objects in human bodies. The Royal Mint used the Induction Balance for assaying metals and detecting forgeries.

The well- known American inventor George Hopkins modified the I.B. for locating metallic ores, treasure chests and the like. In fact, the Induction Balance forms the basis of most metal detectors we use today.


On June 21, 1902, the London Electric Ore Finding Company filed an application at the British Patent Office for an entirely new type of metal detector. This was a very advanced instrument for its time, having a range of one hundred yards. It operated as follows: a bank of batteries supplied a high-voltage, heavy-duty current to a spark generator; its output was chopped by a motorized contact breaker to achieve a signal at audio frequency, which in turn was fed to two transmitter probes driven into the earth. At a suitable distance away, two similar probes were connected to receiving apparatus, and equipotential lines of conducting material (ores or solid metal objects) could be plotted.

This company also developed an underwater spear-type detector which was used in locating gold bars in the wreck of the LAURENTIC, which was torpedoed during World War 1. This was a discriminating-type detector which could distinguish between gold and other metals. Unfortunately, the patent specifications are very brief and no illustrations are enclosed, hence we lack full information of how this detector worked.

Electric Metal Locating Company of Chicago took a different approach to metal detection, and based their instrument on the Wheatstone Bridge principle with two ground probes as sensors. A similar principle was employed by another American inventor Fred H. Brown who, in one of his patents, actually specifies his detector as being suitable for locating buried treasure.


With the very rapid development of wireless techniques during World War I, it was only natural that this technique would be adapted to metal locators and prospecting equipment. One of the first pioneers to exploit this technology for locating buried treasure was Englishman George Williams, who was the wireless operator aboard the salvage ship RACER during the recovery of gold from the wreck of the LAUREN TIC. Being fully conversant with wireless techniques, and seeing the somewhat primitive treasure locators available then, he decided he could improve the existing technology by designing a Radio-Locator (as metal detectors were known then).

In the book, “DIG FOR PIRATE TREASURE,” the author states that, “Williams had a metal detector of his own invention and used it to good advantage in Panama.” This surely must be the greatest understatement ever made relating to buried treasure. Further on, the author goes on to say that Williams “unearthed some wonderful stuff, including gold pots, candlesticks, silver bells and many historical things. A solid gold ball seven inches in diameter with a cross on top and gold leaves underneath.”

On January 7, 1928, The London Times newspaper reported that Williams found “a solid gold altar two feet high,” while C. B. Driscoll in DOUBLOONS expands the finds list even further. He also describes the Williams’ detector as a Transmit-Receive instrument operating at radio frequency. Williams, with his locator, arrived in Panama in July 1925, hence he certainly was one of the pioneers of T-R technique (see author’s note).

At approximately the same period of time, Radiore Company of Los Angeles developed a large-scale metal prospecting apparatus operating at fifty kilohertz.

Circa 1926, SCIENCE AND INVENTION magazine published construction articles under the title, “The Radio Gold Explorer.” So we see that even amateur gold hunters were catered to. By the mid-1930’s, there was an abundance of gold and treasure locators, the most notables being: the Alpha by George Maher, Terrasearch from Engineering Research Corporation, Radioscope by Goldak, Inc.; and, of course, Metalloscope from Gerhard Fisher. The Metalloscope was undoubtedly the most popular treasure finder of all time having survived in continuous production right up to the solid-state era, hence the M-scopes of the current Fisher line of detectors.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: In this article, I have attempted to give historical development of metal detection during the first 100 years of the use of electricity and electronics for this purpose, although other devices, mechanical (Dip Needle/Miners Compass) or physical (Pendulums/Divining Rods) were in use for several hundred years prior. As no reference books are available on this subject, I have relied on patents and articles published elsewhere to gain the necessary information. However; there are large gaps in my knowledge. For instance, the technical information and illustrations of the George Williams’ detector. I would be very pleased to hear from anybody who can supply further information. Please write to me direct at: 34 Nelson Gardens, London E2 7M, England.


By Sam Radding

How to Determine what “Good Gold” Means to You


Damp soilThe meaning of “Good Gold” is a matter of perspective and experience. This phrase is generally used in terms of quantity and ease of extraction. A couple of old-timers, sitting around the fire talking gold, will often have enough shared-experiences to know what the other means by “good.”

“This soil is very damp.”

The captivating nature of gold brings out different emotional responses from each of us.

The problem lies in the fact that just about every novice miner starts with little or no knowledge of the realities in the activity of gold prospecting. Our story may serve to shed some light on what to expect from your own first few mining trips.

Jean and I live in San Diego. To start with, our part of the country is very dry. So, a lot of the gold hunting is accomplished using a dry-washer. There are a few placer areas within an hour’s drive of our house, but they have very limited access and the gold tends to be pretty sparse. We tried some gold panning and found a few specks of gold; but from what we could determine from the local prospector’s club and friends, the Pot Holes would be a better-than-average place to start. This area is about a three-hour drive from San Diego, and is near Yuma, Arizona, but still in California.

Dry-washerBuilding a workable dry-washer would be a snap. I have always been good at figuring out how machines work and how they should be constructed. Ten minutes with a friends’ bellows dry-washer was enough to get me started on our own machine. A few days later, we were packed and driving to the desert with our newly-built dry-washer and an old 3-horsepower Briggs and Stratton engine. I just had to test my new creation. When it comes to gold, to me, now is always better than later.

Our maps were good, so we had no trouble finding the bridge across the American Canal along with the road to the open recreational mining area just southwest of the old 3 C’s mine. The road in had a few rough spots, but nothing that our little Vega station wagon (with three-inch ground clearance) could not make. By the way, this location still remains open to anyone; and to this day, it is still productive.

The big problem was where to start. Book gold is a lot different than real gold. The books we read were small and the maps and locations where gold would be trapped seemed fairly straight forward. The Pot Holes was huge; and of course, we wanted to work in the best spots. We wanted to find some “Good Gold!” I had read several articles about the importance of prospecting and sampling before you decide to invest the bulk of your resources to any particular area.

Jean and I do argue on occasion; and as it turned out, picking-out our first dry-washing spot was a perfect time to disagree (Thirteen years later, so we can minimize disagreements, we now have two of almost all the equipment we use.). After about fifteen minutes, we jointly settled on a small wash. There were a few tree roots and some exposed bedrock to work. This wash was about a hundred yards from where we parked the car. After packing our gear to the site, we set the engine and dry-washer in place; with the engine upwind to keep it free from the dust generated by our dry-washer. Then, with the dry-washer delivering about 90 beats per minute (possibly a little fast for the conditions we were working), we proceeded to dig and feed gravel to the dry-washer for about a half-hour. We had brought along some water for the purpose, so we practically ran back to the Vega to pan our concentrates. Much to our surprise, we had almost no gold. We just had some small specks.

Our next spot was just down from where our first little wash emptied into a slightly larger dry-wash. The opposite bank looked good to me. There was some exposed bedrock, and the overburden was only about a foot deep. The digging was very easy; and after an hour, we decided once again to check our progress. I was impressed this time. There were lots of little flakes. Jean was not so favorably-disposed. It still looked like specks to her; and after a short time, it began to look that way to me, too. Another move seemed to be in order. We spent the next two and a half days moving from place to place, from specks of gold, to specks of gold.

Jean was getting a little frazzled, and I was getting more and more frustrated. I wanted to go back to the place that impressed me on the first day. The bank on the small wash gave up about 1 pennyweight (about l/20th of an ounce) of gold in an hour, even if they were only small specks. To us, it did not look like very much gold and I didn’t know if it was good or bad; but that spot seemed far better than the other places we had dry-washed during the past few days. I really wanted to go back.

Jean went back to camp to make lunch and I picked up the dry-washer, engine and the pick and shovel and started off to my spot. After about ten steps, I heard a rumble. My first thought was that it couldn’t be thunder, not here. A quick glance over to the west set me straight. Over my head, it was sunny and blue. A few miles away, it was dark, very dark. Even I knew that it was impossible to dry-wash in wet material.

The thunderstorm might move the other direction. But at worst, I would have a little time to work. I hobbled to my spot, carrying over 75 pounds of gear and equipment, and quickly set up the dry-washer and engine. If it was going to rain, then I was going to shovel as much material through the dry-washer as it would take. I worked hard as the storm crept closer. The first big drops of rain arrived about an hour later. Ten minutes after that, our dry-washing was finished for this trip. I had kept the riffle tray dry as I had been told. Dust and moisture in the riffle tray cloth create cement, and that combination will not pass air. No air means no gold; which in turn, means stretching a new cloth for the dry-washer.

Everything else was wet. We panned-out my concentrates, and our total gold for the trip filled a two-pennyweight vial and half of another. We had over 3 pennyweights, most which came in two hours of dry-washing at my spot. It still looked like specks, but there sure were a lot of them. Our problem was that we had no yardstick by which to judge “Good Gold.” Back home, we told some mining friends about our spot in some detail and about how we had done. We thought there might be some more gold there and we were going back in a couple of weeks, after things had dried out a bit. Our more-experienced friends were impressed when we showed them our gold from our very first prospecting trip.

If you have never dry-washed, you must remember that any moisture in the pay-dirt will make any dry-washer less efficient. An easy way to check for water-content is to squeeze a handful of your pay-dirt into a ball. Then open your hand. If the ball falls apart, the material is very dry. If the ball breaks into several smaller sections and tends to crumble, you are working with slightly-damp material. Most dry-washers will run this material, but the efficiency will be diminished somewhat. If the ball stays intact or breaks into two or three parts, the pay-dirt must be dried before running through the dry-washer. On a good day, most dry-washers will lose between 10% and 20% of the finer-sized gold which remains trapped in small dirt balls. They pass right through the machine!

When we got back to our spot three weeks later, the site had already been cleaned out. We did get a little more gold, but we later found out that a few of our more-experienced friends went in there before us and recovered about two ounces of gold during our absence. From that time forward, both Jean and I had a little better understanding of what the term “Good Gold” means!

To this day, I still have a hard time keeping my mouth shut when it comes to where we are working and what we are finding. Most gold prospectors that we meet find this an endearing, if not a foolish, trait to have. I am getting the idea that when it comes to gold, you have to be careful how you conduct your business affairs!

If you are just starting out, whether you are working on a river, stream or in the desert, or whether you are using a dry-washer, sluicing system or four-inch dredge, recovering a pennyweight of gold an hour is making “Good Gold.” Two-to-five pennyweights in a day’s work is fairly good for small equipment. I personally average a little over two pennyweights per day when I am sniping (finding gold with hand tools and a face mask) on my favorite rivers in the Mother Lode area.

Over the years, I have built over a hundred dry-washers, both the bellows and constant-air types. I have written books on the home-construction of small-scale mining equipment. Jean and I spend most of every summer looking for gold. More gold is always better than less gold; but to me, I feel I have done well if my final clean-up produces over two pennyweights in a day. This is my personal yardstick for how I am doing. The amount of gold we find is important, but we are also enjoying what we are doing.

Here is where you can buy a sample of natural gold.





As usual, I awoke to the sound of a mother osprey’s loving shrieks giving instructions to her two young ones who had not yet mastered the art of flight. The sun was just coming over the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, quickly cutting the chill from the night air.

I could tell by the thundering sound of the rapids below my camp that the mighty Klamath River was rising at an alarming rate. The flood gates at the dam were being slowly raised, and I knew my time was limited. I felt that I must get down to bedrock under the rapids in order to find the gold that I knew had been waiting there for a gold dredger with modern equipment since the earth was formed millions of years ago.

As I quickly prepared a hot breakfast to help brace myself for the cold water I would have to endure, I reflected on the past two weeks dredging with my 6-inch dredge slowly moving yards of material, throwing cobbles, and moving small boulders to bore my way down to bedrock and get deep enough to escape the white water force that kept blowing me out of the hole. I was now at a point where most of the turbulence went over the top of my head, and I no longer had to work on my stomach with my face next to the nozzle intake to see. When I first started this hole, I was using 85 pounds of lead around my waist. One slight turn of the head would mean getting my mask or regulator ripped from my face by the turbulent force of the rapids.

I was snapped out of my interlude by the smell of burning bacon and a beautiful eagle gliding gracefully up the river taking full advantage of the thermal river canyon updrafts. Had I known then what events waited for me at the bottom of the river this day, I would have stayed in camp and dreamed of all the gold I had found in the years past.

As I put on my wet suit, my dog “Treasure” was already in the truck patiently waiting to go to our dredging operation as she had done so many times before. I think she knew our time was running out, and swimming the river to work our claim would soon be impossible.

I finished suiting up and grabbed all my gear. Twenty minutes later we were at the dredge, gassing up and getting ready to dive.

I took a quick look at my water marker, and it showed that the water had progressed 18 inches higher since yesterday. Not a good sign in the life of a fast-water dredger. Just as I started my engine and was preparing to slide down the suction hose into my hole, an ominous black cloud came from nowhere and totally blocked out the sun. It gave me a strange feeling as I looked up the side of the mountain and saw the old growth trees bending to a heavy wind by its awesome power. The cold, fast water slammed into my body.

As usual, my gallery was waiting for me in the bottom of the hole. Two ugly eels, three big suckers and many small fingerlings.

Without the sun, and because of a heavy flow of algae, it made visibility less then ten inches. I grabbed the nozzle and started plowing my way deeper around the base of a large boulder that I knew was lying on bedrock. Every day I had tried to move it with an 8-foot pry bar without success. “Today,” I vowed it would move. I threw caution to the wind and felt if I moved enough overburden from around its base, the force of the water would drop it on down behind me to the bottom tier of the rapids.

After steadily working for an hour and a half, I took a quick look at my watch and saw I had ten minutes of gas left. I was just about to go up and refill when the sun came from behind the clouds, allowing me to see that I had finally reached bedrock. There was a one-inch crevice starting at the base of the boulder making it a natural riffle. I took my small pry bar from my belt and pried into the crevice. Yes, I was right! Out came the gold into my suction nozzle. I had found the paystreak; I had outsmarted Mother Nature once again.

Just as I turned to go up and refill the gas tank on my dredge, I heard the familiar grinding sound of falling rock. A breathtaking pain shot up my leg causing me to spin around and grab my calf. As I did so, my mask and regulator were torn from my face. Experienced reflex made me grab my air hose to quickly retrieve my air source which I shoved back into my mouth, blowing out the water so I could breath God’s clean fresh air again.

At this point, after diving rivers and lakes clear back to when I was a young boy, I still panicked, causing me to hyperventilate. My mind started spinning to warn me I was about to black out. From out of nowhere, a voice was telling me to slow down my breathing, lie still and think things out before I became another one of the river’s many victims.

As my mind cleared, I started to run my hand down my leg, since without my mask, I could see only a few inches in front of my face. As I did so, again came the full force of pain which I was now more prepared for. After a quick search, my hand told me my ankle and foot were pinned under the large boulder that I had released with my foolish dredging around its base. I lay back again waiting for the pain to subside. Fighting panic, which would only bring me death, I took off one of my gloves and started to feel around behind me knowing my 8-foot steel bar lay somewhere near-hopefully close within my reach. It was the only chance of freeing myself, and a slim one at that. After groping around as far as I could reach, I was about to give up when my fingers touched steel. I arched my back and got three fingers around the point. Grabbing it the best I could, with my leg killing me, I pulled it toward me far enough to get a better grip and have total control. Just as I got it under and behind the boulder, I heard the engine stop from above.

I knew that there were only fifty-two seconds of air left in my holding tank. I twisted my body allowing me to put my unpinned leg against the boulder while, with arms above my head, I grabbed the top of the bar with both hands. I knew there would be only enough air for one chance to free myself. My mind raced back through my past. I thought of all the sporting events I had won in my youth. All the brave men who had died for their country telling me of all the things they still wished they could do. My family who still needs me and all of life’s battles I had won.

I felt a surge of power entering my body along with that gut feeling one always gets just before a win. I sucked in the last remaining air in my tank, pushing with my leg and pulling down on the bar with the 180 pounds of power that my body had to give.

Instantly, I fe1t the boulder move and I wrenched my leg free. Without hesitation, I ripped open my lead weight buckle release and shot out of the hole and down the rapids at breakneck speed.

In times past, this trip would mean a one-mile walk back up the river along a very rugged river bank, plus a one-hour delay swimming back across the river, floating down to my dredge, and retrieving all the gear I was forced to drop.

This day as my body was bounced along the bottom and slammed into boulders, I felt only the breath of joy while thanking a power greater than myself for this gift of life that was once again given to a mortal such as I. In a matter of minutes, my high-speed float trip was over, after being hurled into a slow water eddy which allowed me to drag myself up on a pile of cobblestones left by the old-time 49’ers.

As I laid back, totally exhausted from the pain and nerve-wracking experience, thinking about the fantastic gold deposit I had located, I looked up into the sky just in time to see my friend the eagle drop a wing tip to catch another updraft. He was, as always, looking after me and all of those who respect and love the river, saying farewell until another day dawned fresh in the life of the fast-water dredger.

video subscription graphic

By Dave McCracken

“When to do a clean-up”

Some miners like to “clean-up” their sluice boxes after every hour of operation. Some prefer to do clean-up at the end of the day. Others will go for days at a time before cleaning up. This is all a matter of preference and seldom has much to do with the actual needs of the sluice box.

More commonly these days, a dredger only cleans-up the “high-grade” section of riffles in his or her dredge after each sample or at the end of a production day. That is a special small section of riffles which catch most of the gold near the head of the sluice. The full recovery system is usually only cleaned-up when enough gold has accumulated to make the effort worthwhile, or it is time to take the dredge out of the water.

There is a method of determining when a sluice box needs to be cleaned up, so that you can keep it operating at its utmost efficiency. If the majority of gold is catching in the upper-third section of the sluice box, then the recovery system is working well.

After a sluice box has been run for an extended period of time without being cleaned, the riffles will be substantially concentrated with heavy materials behind them. Sometimes an abundance of heavily-concentrated material in a sluice box can reduce the efficiency of the riffles. This is not always the case. Much depends upon the type of riffles being used and how they are set up in the box. The true test of when a set of riffles is losing its efficiency because of being loaded down with heavy concentrates is when an important amount of gold starts being trapped further down the length of the box than where it normally catches. When this occurs, it is definitely time to clean up your box. Otherwise, clean the box when you like.

Expanded-metal riffles, being short, will tend to load up with heavy black sands faster than the larger types of riffles. Still, a large, visible amount of black sand being present is not necessarily a sign that you are losing gold. Gold is about four times heavier than black sand. As long as there remains fluid action behind the riffles, the black sand might have little or no effect upon gold recovery. The best way to evaluate your recovery system is by direct observation of where the gold is being trapped.


The concentrates which have accumulated in a sluice box can be removed by unsnapping the riffles, carefully removing the carpet underlay, and washing everything into a washtub or bucket. The contents can easily be rinsed out of the carpet underlay inside the washtub.

A medium-wide plastic putty knife can be very helpful in removing lingering concentrates from the high-grade section of a sluice box when that is the only place in the recovery system being cleaned-up.

The concentrates can then be screened into another wash-tub or into a bucket, depending upon what type of screens you are using. Classification of the concentrates into several sizes will allow you to process each more efficiently. The size-classifications that you want to use will depend largely upon how you will process the final concentrates. No matter how you process the final material, you almost always want to begin with a ½-inch or ¼-inch screen, just to eliminate all the larger-sized material from your concentrates. The following video segment demonstrates this preliminary screening, reminding you to carefully remove any gold nuggets which stay on top of the screen before discarding the larger-sized material:

There are several types of final clean-up devices on the market which can help you process the final concentrates, including different kinds of wheels, bowls and miniature sluicing systems. They all work pretty well when set up properly. Here is a video sequence demonstrating the use of a gold wheel to facilitate final clean-up:

Each device has its own instructions about the proper classification-size of concentrates for optimum performance. So you will want to buy or make your screens accordingly. The following video sequence demonstrates a second screening through a common sieve about the size of window screen – which is about normal for splitting concentrates into two sizes:

In my own operations, when we accumulate more than just a small amount of concentrates to clean-up, we have had very good results by first running the concentrates through a plastic Le Trap Sluice. First, though, we screen the concentrates through 8-mesh or 12-mesh screen to remove larger material. The following video sequence shows the Le Trap being used to help with a final clean-up:

Or, rather than use a special device (wheel, bowl, etc), you can work your concentrates completely or nearly down to the gold with the use of a gold pan. In this case, I would suggest that you first classify the material through 8-mesh (8 openings per linear inch) and then through 20 mesh (20 openings per linear inch) screens to break it up into three sizes: 1) the material which stays on top of the 8-mesh screen; 2) the material which passes through the 8-mesh screen but stays on top of the 20-mesh screen; 3) and the material which passes through the 20-mesh screen.

Under normal circumstances, the larger two classifications of concentrate will pan down to gold by themselves quite fast. Because of this, even a final clean-up device is usually only used in the field on that material which will pass through the smallest classification screen.

I have thoroughly demonstrated the panning process in a separate article, so I won’t repeat that here.


These final clean-up steps can be done at camp, preferably in a dry environment, where the wind is not blowing much and where there is a table top or some other flat surface available to you for a work space.

Important: Before you do the first step of this process, it is best to work your concentrates down as far as possible, to remove all of the black sands that you possibly can. The more black sand you can remove while the material is wet, the less you have to deal with after it is dried. Sometimes you can remove more black sand with the careful use of a finishing pan (small steel gold pan about 6-inches in diameter) inside of a small wash tub.

A Gold Extractor will allow you to work all of your gold down with no loss, and only about a tablespoon of black sands remaining.

Important Note: The best finishing device I have ever seen for working concentrates down to only about a tablespoon of remaining black sand, with zero loss of your gold, is called a “Gold Extractor.” Once your final concentrates are worked down to a very small amount of black sand remaining, you are ready to go on to the next step.

STEP 1: First dry out your final concentrates. This can be accomplished by pouring them into a small metal pan (finishing pan is best) and slowly heating them over an open fire or gas stove-whichever is at hand.

Dry out the concentrates.

CAUTION: Heating the concentrates from a gold mining program should not be done inside of a closed environment. Heating should be done outside and/or in a well-ventilated location, where any and all vapors given off by the various steps will be swept away from you and other bystanders.

You do not want to heat the concentrates too much at this stage. This is because they may still contain some lead. Excessive heat can melt the lead onto some of the gold within the concentrates. Pay attention to heat just enough to thoroughly dry out your concentrates. Be careful that boiling or bubbling during heating is not allowed to spatter gold out of the pan. The following video segment demonstrates this step:

STEP 2: Once the concentrates have cooled enough that they can be handled, they should be screened through a piece of window screen (about 12-mesh). A small piece of window screen, about 6-inches square, is handy to use for this purpose.

STEP 3: Take the larger-sized concentrates (the material which would not pass through the window screen), and pour them onto a clean piece of paper. If there is a lot of this sized concentrate, this step will have to be done in stages, handling a little at a time. Once the concentrates are poured onto the paper, it is easy to separate the pieces of gold from the impurities. The impurities should be swept off the paper and the gold should be poured into a gold sample bottle. This is where a funnel comes in handy.

STEP 4: Once the larger-sized concentrates have been separated, the remaining concentrates can be classified through a finer-mesh screen. A stainless steel, fine tea strainer (about 20-mesh) works well for this. Tea strainers can be found in just about any grocery store.

STEP 5: Take the larger classification of concentrates from the second screening, pour them onto a clean sheet of paper, and separate the gold from the impurities in the same way that it was done with the larger material in Step 3 above.

Use of a magnet on each size-classification of concentrates can be very helpful to remove those impurities which are magnetic.

Some prefer to use a fine painter’s brush to separate out the non-magnetic impurities. Separation can also be accomplished by using your fingers. This step goes faster if you only do small amounts of concentrate at a time. Pour the gold recovered in this step into the gold sample bottle.

STEP 6: Take the fine concentrates which passed through the final screening and spread them out over a clean sheet of paper. Use a magnet to separate the magnetic black sands from these final concentrates. The magnetic black sands should be dropped onto another sheet of clean paper, spread out, and then gone through with the magnet at least one more time. The reason for this is that some gold can be carried off with the magnetic black sands. They tend to clump together. Once the magnetic black sands have been thoroughly separated from the gold to your satisfaction, pour them into your black sand collection. There may still be some small gold values left with them which can be recovered by other methods at another time.

NOTE: There is a really nice set of final clean-up screens on the market that are made just for the purpose of separating your final concentrates into the ideal size-fractions for final dry separation. I highly recommend them, because they separate your final material into multiple size classifications which make the final dry process go even faster.

STEP 7: Now, all that should be left is your fine gold, possibly some platinum, and a small amount of non-magnetic black sand. These final black sands can be separated by blowing lightly over them while vibrating the sheet of paper. Since the sand is about 4 times lighter than the gold, it will blow off the paper a little at a time, leaving the gold behind. Once all the black sands are gone, you can pick out the pieces of platinum if present, and separate them from the gold. Pour the gold into the same gold sample jar used in the earlier steps.

This dry process (Steps 1-7) goes very quickly if an effort was made during the final wet stages to get as much black sand and other waste material as possible separated from the gold.


Sometimes placer gold just out of a streambed is very clean and shiny. If this is the case with your gold, after the final dry cleanup procedure is completed, your gold is ready to be weighed and sold or displayed or stored away in a safe place.

Sometimes, gold will come out of a streambed with some impurities attached to it. When this happens, it will be necessary to perform a final cleaning process to make the gold’s natural beauty stand out.

If your gold is not clean and shiny, and you want to get it that way, place it in a small non-breakable water-tight jar about half full of water and add a little dishwashing liquid. It does not seem to matter what kind is used. Fasten the top on the jar and shake the contents vigorously until the gold changes to somewhat of an unnatural glittery color. Sometimes this happens quickly and sometimes it takes a little longer. This mostly depends upon how much gold is in the jar. The more gold, the faster the process. This is because it is the friction of gold against gold which facilitates the cleaning process. Once the gold is glittery, rinse the soapy water out of the jar, pour the gold into a small (metal) finishing pan, and heat it up (outside and down wind) until the gold takes on a deep, natural, shiny luster. It is important to make sure that all of the soap has been rinsed away from the gold using clean water before you dry the gold.

Gold has a tendency to turn a dull color after having been stored in an airtight container for an extended period of time. For this reason, some gold miners and dealers store their gold in water-filled jars, and dry it out just before displaying it or making a sale.

If you should happen to store your gold in an airtight container and notice that its color does not seem to be as bright as it once was, wash it with soap and water and re-heat it, as in the above steps. This process will bring back the beautiful color and luster of the gold.

The best time to weigh your gold to get the most accurate measurement is after you have completed all of the final cleanup steps.


There are numerous markets where you can sell your gold. Refineries will pay you for the fineness (purity) of the gold itself and subtract a few percent for refining charges. In this case, you will receive a little less than the actual value of the gold. Refineries usually will not pay for the silver and platinum contained within your placer gold unless you are delivering it in large quantities. Refineries prefer that you bring your gold to them in large amounts. They will often charge less for refining, and sometimes pay just a bit more for the gold, when it is brought to them in larger quantities.

Flakes of gold and nuggets have jewelry value on a different market. If marketed to the right buyers, flakes and nuggets can usually bring in more than a refinery will pay-or sometimes even much more.

If you are in gold country and ask around, you can nearly always find someone who is buying placer gold from the local miners. These individuals usually pay cash. Unless the fineness of the gold within the area is lower than normal, there is no reason to settle for less than 70% of the market-value of the gold for that day. This means that the gold is weighed and the buyer pays you for the weight of what you deliver. Impurities are never calculated into this type of deal. If you enquire around, you can usually find someone who is willing to pay 75% of weight. Sometimes you can find an 80% straight-out buyer-which is good.

There are also people out there who are ready to gyp you out of your gold if they can get away with it. It is wise to bring your own pocket calculator along when dealing with a new buyer.

If you go to a dealer who starts figuring a certain percentage of the fineness, and his final figures end up lower than a straight out 70% of the bulk weight of your gold as it is, go find another dealer. This is not to say that 70% is the going rate. You can do better if you look around. Although, you should never have to accept less than 70% of the going market price for your gold. If a dealer starts to tell you all sorts of reasons why your gold is not worth what you want for it, go find someone else. There are plenty of gold buyers around who will at least admire your gold. So there is no reason to hang around and listen to someone who is trying to steal it from you.

Local miners will know who pays the most! Or go up on our web forum and ask. Someone there is sure to turn you onto a good deal!

Cleaning your gold well before you take it somewhere to be sold can help a lot.

Sometimes dentists will give you a good price for your gold, and a phone call or two can pay off. Also, some lawyers and businessmen like to invest in gold. Sometimes you can get up to 100% of spot for your fines (fine gold) when dealing with them.

Some jewelers will pay well for your flakes when they have a demand for them. It is not uncommon to get as much as 90% or better when you make such contacts.

The best way to get top dollar for your gold is to do a lot of inquiring, always with the intention to find more and better markets. Then, when you need some cash, you can sell to the buyer who pays the most.



It is getting pretty close to dredging time, and if you are anything like me and the many other dredgers I know, you are probably just itching to get started.

My partners and I, from past experience, now spend the necessary time and energy, before the dredging season starts, in getting all of our equipment repaired-to avoid the otherwise often confrontations with Murphy’s Law.

Some of the standard things we go through are as follows:

Engine and Pump: We always replace the spark plug, motor oil, points and condenser and air filter at the beginning of every season. We also pull the pump impeller to make sure it is not worn or damaged, and to make sure nothing is lodged in it. And we check the pump seal and replace it if it looks the least bit worn.

Air Compressor System: All of the compressors I have seen on gold dredges have reed valves. These are stainless steel plates which allow air to only flow one way through a chamber. These reed valves ought to be cleaned, polished and straightened at the beginning of every season. Some compressors have rubber diaphragms and some have piston rings. These ought to be checked and replaced if necessary. Rebuild kits are generally available for each type of compressor-usually from your local prospecting equipment dealer.

We always open up our regulators and blow them out with compressed air. You will want to check to make sure there are no holes in the rubber diaphragm, and make sure the rubber exhaust seal is working properly. If you have problems with water getting inside your regulator, it is almost always because of a worn out rubber exhaust valve. These are easy to obtain and replace.

It is especially important to open up and clean any check (one-way flow) valves in the air system. We also always soak our air lines in a very mild bleach-water solution before starting a season. We let the airline sink in a tub of the solution to allow the bleach to kill off any fungus which has grown inside the airline. This is to avoid potential respiratory problems from the fungus. The line needs to be thoroughly rinsed with fresh water afterwards.

We check all of our airlines and fittings to make sure everything is working properly-no leaks, and no weak connections!

We thoroughly clean out our air reserve tank to make sure there is no rust, fungus or other substances which could potentially cause problems.

Dredge (Structural): And, of course, we go over the sluice boxes, dredge frame and jets to make sure there are no holes, cracks or other structural problems. And if we find problems, we fix them on the spot. No need to wait until it becomes a more serious problem during the season.

We hit all of the steel with a wire brush and follow up with a fresh paint-job every spring. It’s nice to start the season off looking good!

We go through all of our rope and make sure all of the weak points are cut out and spliced back together, and all of the ends are spliced or melted so there are no frayed ends.

Diving Gear: We go through all of our diving gear, replacing anything that is worn out, patching holes in suits, etc. No need to be any colder than necessary during the early spring!

While fixing up the dredging equipment is not as good as using it, I personally gain a great deal of satisfaction getting it all prepared for the season. And, it’s always a good feeling when I do get out on the river when I have it all together the way it should be. And when “Mr. Murphy” comes knocking at my door, at least I know it wasn’t because I failed to plan ahead.