Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gold Mining Equipment

You can’t hear it too often. Gold mining equipment has to be tough and durable, because you are usually too far out to simply run to the store if something breaks or needs replacing.
However, the one piece of basic gold mining equipment that prospectors often over look is education. Gold mining is simply too much work not to be prepared. There’s a lot of good information on line, but we also recommend the book section at Black Cat Mining.
Most basic gold mining equipment, pans, picks, shovels, and other gear for outdoor expeditions changed almost none from the earliest days of the California gold rush until the last decade or so.
However, since about 1980 there have been several advancements in basic mining equipment that are really significant.  Some of this like underwater metal detectors and suction dredges were developed specifically for gold mining, but some of the gear that can really make you more productive and more comfortable is general outdoor equipment.
We recommend Uncle Sam’s Army-Navy Outfitters for general outdoor gear, because they sell high quality, often hard to find outdoor gear at amazing prices, and they offer great customer service. A lot of their gear is made to military specs and that is the sort of toughness that can come in handy for a prospector.
Gold mining, at least in most of the United States, has traditionally been a brutally cold business. Remember, miners often stand in ice cold mountain streams for hours on end. Except for the summer, when going barefoot is more fun, you need a good pair of rubber boots, but if you are trying in the fall and spring a good pair of insulated socks are necessity.
If you are going to try to run your dredge until the stream freezes, you probably should consider a pair of heated sock from Uncle Sams. Heated socks are almost the only way to keep your feet warm all day in a freezing stream, because most rubber boots are not insulated. Thermal underwear are another good idea in the winter, but remember you can’t afford to get dressed so heavily that you can’t move easily.
In the summer clothing is a much simpler proposition. Outside of Canada or Alaska you probably don’t need rubber boots and electric socks, but you might want to buy a good pair of river sandals or water shoes, so you don’t cut your feet on the jagged rocks.
Gold Mining Tools:
Basic mining tools are pretty much the same as basic landscaping tools, but they need to be extremely well built and easy to pack into remote locations. Look for picks and shovels with fiberglass or steel handles. Maybe you never get fired up enough to break the handle of a shovel doing yard work, but we you hit a hot spot with a lot of color it is easy to get carried away.
Camping Gear:
Depending on just where you are going you may not need much camping gear, but in many areas you will need a full range of camping gear. You can probably find everything you need at Uncle Sam’s Army Navy Surplus Storeat prices you just can’t.

Underwater Gold!

Underwater metal detectors like the, Viper Trident are an especially useful tool for modern prospectors, because they allow you to search for gold in areas that were off limits to small-time prospectors until just the last few years. The Viper Trident is a great choice for anyone thinking about an underwater metal detector, because it is only $299.
Streams draining the rich Mother Lode region in Northern California — the Feather, Mokelumne, American, Cosumnes, Calaveras, and Yuba Rivers and the Trinity River have concentrated enormous quantities of gold in gravels, known as placer depsotis, over the millennium. It was discoveries in these rivers that started the great California gold rush in 1849 and literally tens of billions of dollars worth of gold has been extracted from the shallow parts of these streams.
But many stretches of deep water are simply UNTOUCHED by prospectors. Sometimes old time prospectors did build dams or canals to open stretches of deep water to prospectors, but that was a difficult, expensive, and time consuming task. Later they used gold dredges, but these are also expensive and traditional gold dredges were limited mostly to navigable bodies of water. Even today’s modern lightweight suction dredges are difficult to transport into many areas and often hard to use in more than ten feet of water.
So, there are hundreds of miles of California river and lake bottoms that are almost as virgin as they were before the strike at Sutter’s Mill. That means that there are undoubtedly some large gold nuggets simply lying untouched in the dark waters waiting for someone with an underwater metal detector, like this Garrett Sea Hunter.
And using an underwater metal detector doesn’t require you to be a master scuba diver, because any stretch of where a river is too wide to dam or divert that runs more than four feet of water year round is almost certainly virgin or near virgin territory. However, if you are already a scuba diver it allows you to really get into unexplored territory with underwater metal detectors like this Minelab Excalibur II.
Of course, the nice thing about underwater metal detectors is that you can also use them on land for any job you might have and some of the high end underwater metal detectors Fisher CZ-21 Pro , which works down to 250 feet in depth, are real gold detectors too.
This is truly the golden period for prospecting with underwater metal detectors.

Where to Use your Underwater Metal Detector

Streams draining the rich Mother Lode region–the Feather, Mokelumne, American, Cosumnes, Calaveras, and Yuba Rivers–and the Trinity River in northern California have concentrated considerable quantities of gold in gravels and where the water is deeper these are good areas for the use of underwater metal detectors.
In the eastern United States, placer deposits have been discovered in streams draining the southern Appalachian region in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, and these often deeper streams and rivers are great areas for the use of underwater metal detectors. Many saprolite (disintegrated somewhat decomposed rock that lies in its original place) deposits in this general region also have been mined by placer methods.

Gold Dredges

Gold dredges provide the ultimate step for the most dedicated weekend prospectors.
The original gold dredges were barges sometimes the size of an apartment house.  They were developed from harbor dredges used by the corps of engineers for clearing channels into American ports and they used scoops or buckets to rip up vast portions of river bottom.
They cost a small fortune and only the largest mining companies could afford them, but for many mining companies, especially in Alaska and on some of the larger rivers of the Pacific Northwest, they were literally worth their weight in gold.   The barges often generated obscene profits with some generating hundreds of times their original purchase price over their careers.
You might not be that lucky, but a dredge does offer an enormous technological improvement over simple sluices.  First, they can reach down and pull material off the bottom in spots where the water is simply too deep to dig and most today are also equipped with power sluices that allow you to wash gold even in water with no current.
This means that you can hit spots that have not been as worked over and produce more gold even in spots that earlier prospectors have already worked hard.
The old time dredges usually used a dragline or a conveyor belt digger in shallow water, but today’s recreational dredges work on a completely different principal.  Known as suction dredges, they are essentially vacuum cleaners.  They suck up the gravel and sand from the river bottom and process it through a power sluice like this 2.5 inch Proline.
Suction dredges are easily the most efficient way for one or two men to mine placer deposits.
However, you do need to check the regulations in the area you’re considering using your dredge, because the regulations vary.  In general, dredges with an intake larger than 4 inches, like this 6 inch Keene is consider a commercial dredge on Federal lands, but in most places this 4 inch Proline is considered a recreational dredge.
One really great development in recent years is the development of the backpack dredge like the 2 inch Keene.  It only weighs 65lbs and is designed to packed deep into the backcountry.
Much of the gold produced in Alaska was mined from placers, often with the use of gold dredges, and today on state lands any dredge 6 inch or less is considered a recreational  dredge.
In 1901 this Californian steam dredge was state of the art, but within a few years it would be small by comparison to the big Alaskan dredges.

Gold Metal Detector

For centuries the basic tools of the gold miner, the pan, shovel, and pick barely changed at all.  However, today for the first time ever gold miners have a powerful new tool, because of the development of relatively inexpensive and easy to use electronic gold metal detectors.
Gold detectors have revitalized recreational gold mining – greatly increased the possibility of discovering gold deposits which were too low grade to have been recognized by old-time prospector using only a gold pan or sluice box.
minelab_eureka_metal_detectorThese are not simply metal detectors. They are purpose built gold detectors that are fine tuned to detect even small amounts of gold at much greater depths than a normal metal detector, and to rule out false hits from other sources.
The Minelab Eureka is a great example of a purpose built gold detector.  One great feature is that it has a 10 inch coil.  Many less sophisticated gold detector use much smaller coils which means you cover much less ground on each pass.
If you’re worried about recouping your investment you could go with a more moderately priced metal detector such as this Bounty Hunter Landranger.
If you add the smaller purpose built gold coil, which allows for deeper penetration, you have a good basic gold detector for much less than some of the higher end gear.

A Golden Opportunity

Gold detectors are extremely important in the desert regions such as Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern California.  Large reserves of gold may exist, but the lack of a permanent water supply, necessary for conventional placer mining operations, has meant that there have been far fewer gold strikes discovered in these areas than in other areas.
The use of modern gold metal detectors has opened up the desert to modern prospectors, because water is not required to find the gold!
Gold metal detectors have transformed the search for lode deposits at higher altitudes and in other difficult to reach locations as well, because it’s just so difficult to set up a traditional placer mining operation in those locations.

Where to use your Gold Metal Detector

Even if you don’t live in one of the states that have had high levels of historic gold production don’t despair. There are undoubtedly some significant veins of gold in states with little or no historic gold production that have never been mined at all because they were impossible to find before the development of modern gold detectors.
For instance, Alabama produced about 24,000 ounces of gold during the early 1830s and has produced almost nothing since then, which is about the same production as Tennessee.  29,000 ounces of gold have been produced in Michigan and at least 37,000 ounces have been produced in Pennsylvania. Did you know that there was ever any gold mining in Pennsylvania?
In these areas modern gold detectors might actually lead to a huge new gold strike, because there is clearly gold in place, but it is not as easy to discover as it is in many of the western states, because the terrain is much more gentle in most of the Eastern United States. So, you don’t get the sort of heavy erosion that has so often exposed gold in California and the Rocky Mountains. But with gold detectors you don’t need swift flowing rivers to reveal the gold.
Finally, if you’re in an area where there is a lot of water you might want to go with an underwater metal detector to augment your panning or dredging.
Famous Trails MD 6000 The NEPTUNE Metal Detector
Most underwater metal detectors are extremely expensive, but the Famous Trails MD 6000 is less than $300 and it lets you go  places more expensive gold detectors don’t.
It’s not as finely tuned to gold as some more expensive detectors, but for prospectors in areas with lots of rivers that did not have much historic gold production it is a great choice.
Regardless of what model you choose modern gold metal detectors have created a golden opportunity for modern prospectors, because it allows them to be faster and more productive than even the most experienced traditional miner.  It is really an investment that every serious prospector should consider.

Sluice Boxes

Sluice boxes  are the next step up from panning, but it’s a step that most halfway serious prospectors quickly make.
A sluice box channels water from a river or stream over gravel and allow a single miner to vastly increase his daily production compared to the amount of sand or gravel that a miner can wash with a pan.
Traditionally sluice boxes were made of wood, and wooden sluice boxes work fine, but they were heavy and hard to transport.  Larger wooden sluice boxes essentially have to be built on site.
Fortunately, modern sluice boxes are constructed out of lightweight materials overcoming those issue, and are literally worth their weight in gold if you are prospecting in a region with good water flows.
The Proline 36 inch sluice box (seen to the right) is a good example of a medium size sluice box that’s light weight but still highly effective.  It only weighs eight pounds, but it is a little bulky.
The easiest way to pack a sluice any distance is to attach it to a backpack frame like one of these at Uncle Sam’s.  Actually, these frames are great for lugging anything you could possibly carry.
The East Coast mining regions in Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia all have plenty of water for sluice boxes and so do most of the rivers of Northern California.  In Montana, the principal placer-mining districts are in the southwestern part of the state where plenty of water makes the use of sluice boxes practical. Idaho was once a leading placer-mining state and has plenty of fast flowing streams and rivers ideal for sluice boxes as are the gold producing areas of Oregon and Washington.
This big 50″ Proline Sluice Box is a good choice when you want to go through lots of dirt and for those areas where you know you have plenty of water.
Minor amounts of placer gold have been produced in South Dakota, but it is generally too dry to use sluice boxes. And unless you know you have plenty of water sluice boxes are probably not a worthwhile investment in the arid regions of Southern California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.
The real advantage of modern sluice boxes is the ability to easily pack them far off the beaten path which is pretty much impossible with traditional wooden models.  That allows a prospector to get farther from the competition and possibly into territory that has not been mined as recently or as intensely.
If you know you’re  going really deep in the backcountry you should consider one of the sluices that wre designed for just that.
One of my favorite sluice boxes is a model made by Royal (see picture to the left).   This thing folds up small enough to fit inside a 5 gallon bucket or small backpack. And it costs about the same as a non-folding sluice.
If you want to go even lighter you might consider the  Tee-Dee E-Z Sluice which is made of polypropylene plastic. It weighs less than two pounds and costs about half what a metal sluice costs.  I’ve never used one, so I can’t vouch for it’s sturdiness.  Although it’s made from the same stuff my kayak is made of, and I beat the hell out of that!
Regardless, all of these sluices are a huge step up in efficiency over a gold pan and that’s really the name of the game.

Gold Panning Kits

Panning for gold is simple, fun, and often VERY rewarding.  It’s also the least expensive method for extracting gold from the Earth.
All you really need to get started is a gold pan, which you can get for around twelve bucks!
Traditionally gold pans were shallow sheet-iron vessel with sloping sides and flat bottom. But modern gold pans are lighter, feature cheater riffles to help catch the gold, and are colored to help make it easier to spot pay dirt.
While you could get by with just the pan, there are also a bunch of gold panning accessories that will help make your life easier while maximize the amount of gold you take home.
If you’re new to prospecting I would recommend buying a Gold Panning Kit like the one offered by Black Cat Mining. It’s got everything you need to get started and an instruction book on how to use all the strange little devices that are included.
If you’re serious about becoming a prospector you should look at the most modern gold panning equipment, because even a FEW extra grains of gold every day will quickly make up the cost of the best equipment.

Other Stuff  You Might Need

Gold panning equipment is made from basic materials and the tools are almost unchanged, but you still need to think about the basics before you rush into gold country.
First, if you’re going out anytime except the middle of summer you’re probably going to want some hip waders, or at the very least  a pair of rubber boots like the ones  pictured to the right.
But remember if you are hiking any distance, more than maybe a half a mile, you will want to wear hiking boots and put your rubber boots or waders on at the river.
packable-shovel1You also need a shovel and a plastic bucket. You can use a shovel you already own or buy one at any place that sells shovels, but, remember, a regular shovel can be a hassle to carry if you’re hiking any distance to where you are panning.
The packable shovel like the one on the left is a good choice, because it has a steel handle and it folds up small enough to fit into a pack.
packWhatever else advice you take from this page, it is wise to use a shovel with either a fiberglass or steel handle, because it is extremely frustrating to break the handle of your shovel – like mind numbing primal rage sort of frustrating when you planned a panning trip for months, hiked five miles into the spot you wanted, and broke your shovel handle in five minutes.
Also if you are going to hike in your gear you need a good backpack, but you really want to look for a pack with a large main pocket, so you can fit in your pan, shovel, and other gear.
This Canadian Army model (pictured right)  is a prime example of a great military surplus model that you can pick up pretty cheap at a good Army Surplus store.
Uncle Sam’s Army-Navy Outfitters is a great source for cheap, well built camping equipment perfect for gold mining.  Remember, you need good well built gear.
gold-prospectors-handbookYou’re also gonna want to find some good places to pan near you.  There’s nothing worse than spending a whole day panning a spot then have some old timer tell you there’s no gold there.
Black Cat Mining carries a good selection of books about the basics and some pretty good guidebooks that explain where the best spots for prospecting are in your area. You can get them HERE.