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Sluice Boxing 101
Did you know that pure gold mining usually accounts for the majority of gold found by small scale prospectors? There is much more of it and it is usually found in places that are more easily accessible. The problem with fine gold is that due to such small and improperly placed gates, it can inadvertently pass through. To fix the problem, you need to be aware of the main factors involved. Water velocity and volume are critical! If you have the water volume and velocity set, you will still catch gold more efficiently even in a poorly designed trap than if you were to use a professional high performance trap that is set up incorrectly. In addition, the angle at which the lock boxes lie is also very important. The angle will affect the speed of the water as it travels downstream, as well as how quickly the dam can be cleared. If the angle is too low, larger rocks and lumps of clay can lodge on or around the gutters and cause turbulence in the water that will effectively destroy the back-eddy action created by the gutters. This will which will make you lose gold! Since these points are the most critical, next is the construction and design of your lock. Its ability to catch gold, and especially pure gold, is largely dependent on the design of the gun and/or catch pad systems.
Finding the right water flow and speed for your circumstances is an absolute must. It can be complicated and you may need to block the flow of water from the sluice inlet or supply additional water. This can be achieved by making a small rock dam in a stream or riverbed. Depending on where you search, this could be considered a violation of local fish and game laws, so be aware of them. If moving rocks in the streambed is considered a violation, then probably so is using a sluice box. Be sure you know the laws!!!
The more water the better, and it generally doesn’t hurt to fill the trap with water up to the top of the sides if you can. The recommended minimum depth is about 2 inches. Volume is usually separate from water velocity, so you can easily adjust it by lowering the sluice more into the water or finding deep spots in the stream bed that act as a funnel for your sluice.
Adequate flow can be judged with small pebbles or a handful of sand. Drop it into the inlet of your sluice and watch it flow through. all but the heaviest particles should be cleared in 3 to 5 seconds, depending on the length of your lock. 3 is a bit fast, but will allow much faster concentrate production at the cost of losing some pure gold. 5 is a bit long or almost straight, depending on the roughness of the material you are cleaning. At this speed, you should catch a lot of pure gold, but you run the risk of larger rocks getting caught in the chutes and disrupting the flow. But you can adjust the angles to fix this.
When placing the gate, the appropriate angle must be taken into account. The slope is usually between 5 and 7 degrees and should allow most round rocks and pebbles to pass through easily. You don’t want the material to squish through, but rather to sort of slowly fall through. The ideal speed is for a larger rock to clear itself in 3 to 5 seconds on a medium-sized sluice. Also remember that the angle affects the speed of the water as it travels through the lock. Also, it is sometimes impossible to get the right angles if the stream is very flat. In such circumstances, you may need to create a movable dam of several stones to raise the water level on one side so that it can be fed through the sluice. But this can be a lot of work and it’s usually better to try to increase the water speed.
With the correct angle, water flow and speed set, now it’s time to actually use our sluice boxes!! Many people pre-screen their material before passing it through the sluice gate. That’s a lot of work, and a properly placed lock doesn’t need it. But if you don’t review or sort the material beforehand, you’re likely to lose something pure gold. This problem can be solved by using a sorting screen over the sluice inlet when you are putting dirt into it. I used an old dishwasher stand that I found in a creek bed and placed it over the sluice box inlet. the water washed it off and when I put the material down it washed it away leaving the larger rocks and clay chunks to throw out easily. This is a great lightweight solution that really speeds up my production. It’s also a much better alternative to dry screening the material right at the excavation site and then hauling it 10+ feet to my sluice. Your results may vary, but at this point you should have a pretty good intuition about the potential for gold loss.
Pulling a sluice out of a stream can be a difficult process and will inevitably result in the loss of some gold. It is highly recommended that when you remove the water flow trap, you place a bucket or pan at the end of it to catch anything that might accidentally wash away. I have seen failed attempts to remove the dam resulting in small chunks of gold being washed clean back into the stream. Be very careful.
After that, cleanup is easy and not to mention fun. You will finally see how all your hard work has paid off. It’s worth noting that if you have one of the newer generation plastic shutters, you often have the added benefit of even easier cleaning and a nice view of what accumulates during the shuttering process! The downside is lower production capacity.
Hopefully this will encourage any new searcher! I hope you enjoyed my guide!
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