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Sluice Boxing 101
Did you know that fine gold recovery typically accounts for most of the gold found by short-time prospectors? It is more abundant and is usually found in places that are easy to reach. The problem with fine gold is that its sluice boxes are so small and improperly set that they can be inadvertently passed through. To solve the problem you need to know the main elements. Water speed and volume are critical! Even in poorly designed sluices, if you have the water volume and speed dialed in you will still catch gold more effectively than using a mis-set pro high end sluice. Moreover, the angle at which the sluice box is placed is also very important. The angle will affect the speed of the water as it moves down as well as how fast the sluice is able to clear itself. If the angle is too shallow, large rocks and clay fragments can settle on or around the riffles and create turbulence in the water that will effectively destroy the previous eddy action created by the riffles. That desire Will cause you to lose gold! Those issues are the most critical, followed by the construction and design of your sluice. Its ability to catch gold, and especially fine gold, is determined by and by the designs of the riffles and or catch mat system.
Finding the right water flow and speed for your situation is essential. This can be tricky and you may need to block the flow of water through the inlet of your sluice or add extra water. This can be accomplished by building a small dam with rocks in a creek or river bed. Depending on where you fish, this may be considered a violation of your local fish and game laws, so be aware of that. Potentially, using a sluice box if moving rock across the stream bed is considered a violation. Make sure you know the laws!!!
The higher the water content, the better, and generally speaking, it won’t hurt to fill the sluice with water right up to the side if possible. A good recommended minimum depth is about 2 inches. Volume is usually different from water velocity so you can easily adjust this by lowering the sluice into the water or finding a deep spot in the creek bed that will act as a funnel for your sluice.
Adequate flow can be determined by using small pebbles or a handful of sand. Drop it into the inlet of your sluice and watch it flow. All but the heaviest particles should be rinsed in 3 to 5 seconds, depending on the length of your sluice. 3 is slightly faster but will allow more rapid production of concentrates at the cost of losing some fine gold. 5 is a bit longer or longer depending on the roughness of the material you are cutting. You’ll be catching lots of fine gold at that speed but at the risk of large rocks getting stuck in the riffles and disrupting the flow. You can adjust the angle to fix it though.
Proper angle must be observed while setting the sluice. It usually slopes between 5 – 7 degrees and allows for easy passage of most rounded rocks and boulders. You don’t want the material to zip up, but instead to tumble slowly. 3 to 5 seconds on a medium sized sluice box is an ideal speed for removing a large rock by itself. Also note that the angle affects the speed of the water as it moves down the sluice. Furthermore, it is sometimes impossible to achieve the correct angle if the bay is too flat. In that case you have to build a make shift dam out of more rocks to raise the water level on one side so you can fill it through your sluice. But that can be a lot of work and you’re better off trying to speed up the water instead.
With the correct angle, water flow and speed set, it’s time to really use our sluice box!! Many people pre-screen their material before feeding it through the sluice. This is a lot of work and a properly set sluice does not require it. However, that being said, if you don’t pre screen or categorize content, you’re missing out some nice gold This problem can be helped by using a classifying screen at your sluice inlet as you put in dirt. I used an old dishwasher rack I found in a creek bed and set it in the inlet of my sluice box. The water washes through it and as I pour the material, it washes away and leaves large rocks and chunks of soil for me to throw out easily. It’s a great lightweight solution that really speeds up my production. This is a good alternative to dry screening the material at the excavation site and transporting it 10+ feet to my sluice. Your results may vary but at this point you should have a good intuition about the possibility of losing gold.
Extraction from the stream can be a difficult process and some gold will inevitably be lost. It is highly recommended that when you go to remove the sluice for the water flow, you place a bucket or pan at the end of it to catch any that may accidentally run off. I have seen pieces of gold trapped in attempts to clear the sluice get washed back into the stream. Be very careful.
After that, cleanup is a breeze and not to mention fun. You finally get to see how all your hard work pays off. It’s worth noting that if you have one of the new generation plastic sluices you get the added benefit of easier clean up as well as a nice view of what’s being collected during the sluicing process! The downside is low production capacity.
Hope this should get any new prospector started! I hope you enjoyed my guide!
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