If you’re new to small-scale mining DO NOT lay out lots of money for fancy, high-priced equipment (high-bankers, trommels, gold cubes, etc.) when you really haven’t learned the ABC’s yet. It’s a costly example of putting the cart before the horse. Without the minimum knowledge or experience yet, you’re just throwing money away and chances are all that fancy gear will sit in your garage gathering cobwebs until one day you finally sell it at a loss. How can you expect to recover gold with motorized equipment if you don’t know where to find it or sample it properly in the first place? Be smart. Start slowly with the basic gear, and as you gain the experience and knowledge, then you can start thinking about that high-banker.
What are the cheapest and most fundamental prospecting and mining tools at your disposal? The following list of items will put you on the road to finding and recovering gold without forcing you to mortgage your house or push a grocery cart with all your worldly possessions under freeway overpasses.
Good Gold Pan
The gold pan is the most crucial piece of gear you can own. It’s not a piece of mining equipment, nor is it meant to be one. It’s a prospecting, sampling, and clean-up tool. There are all sorts of colors, makes, models, and configurations out there, but my recommendation is the Garrett Super Sluice. It is made of high-impact plastic, has internal step riffles, and comes in a forest green color which is the best background color for gold. The Garrett Super Sluice pan can be purchased for under $20.
A classifier is simply a sorting or sifting screen. Garrett makes a round classifying of high-impact plastic in forest green that fits nicely into their standard sized gold pan and also atop a five gallon bucket. Usually the mesh holes are 1/2 inch in size, although you can use whatever size mesh you think works best for the sort of gold-bearing gravel or dirt you’re moving. The idea behind classifiers is to simply screen off larger waste rock to facilitate your sampling and panning efforts. As you become more experienced, you will come to realize how important classifiers are in the field.
Five Gallon Bucket
Whoever invented the hard-plastic five gallon bucket should be inducted into the gold mining Hall of Fame. Next to your gold pan, the five gallon bucket will become on of the most valuable pieces of equipment in your arsenal. You can screen (classify) gold-bearing gravel into them, lug that gravel to the stream, feed into a high-banker, carry small prospecting tools around, wash concentrates from your miner’s moss, or even turn it upside down to use as a chair. Freebies are everywhere, so just keep an eye out for them.
Rock or Masonry Hammer
An Eastwing geologists rock hammer is the best but a good masonry hammer works about as well. The main difference is that the geology hammer has a sharp point for breaking rocks open while the masonry hammer has a flat blade for breaking bricks. Both hammers have a blunt end as well. These hammers are great for knocking loose gravels or caliche, or loosening gold-bearing material from tight spots between boulders or obstructions.
Small Garden Shovel
You don’t need to lug around a full size shovel and pick if you’re sampling and panning. Your rock or masonry hammer becomes your pick and a sturdy small gardening shovel becomes your digging device.
Smaller Digging Tools
Small hand trowels or rakes that Grandma uses in her begonia garden come in handy for scraping, shovelling, and raking material from tight spaces or feeding material from your bucket to a high-banker or your gold pan.
Absolutely mandatory for cleaning out bedrock cracks or crevices. You can buy ready made tools in various sizes from prospecting/mining supply stores, or you can make your own from welding rods, stiff wire coat hangers, or flat blade screwdrivers. Make sure one of your crevicing tools can fit inside the tiniest of bedrock cracks. You would be surprised what you can find in those.
Small Pry Bar
Always handy when moving or prying tightly packed rocks apart, or busting up bedrock.
Sniffer Bottle And Fine-Point Painters Brush
Once you find gold in your pan, the next step is to get it out. Aside from nuggets and clunkers, most of what you are going to get in your pan are fines and perhaps a few small flakes. The sniffer bottle is a handy device that uses suction to suck up the non-pickers from your pan. It’s a small plastic bottle with a suction tube. You simply leave a little water in your pan, squeeze the bottle, stick the little tube over the gold, and suck it up.
A fine-point model paintbrush is a simple but effective tool for picking up fine gold. You simply moisten the tip with your tongue, move the water away from the fine gold in your pan, and “roll” the tip of the paintbrush into the fine gold where it becomes entangled in the hairs of the brush. Then dip the brush into a vial filled with water, or your sniffer bottle, and all those fines will drop neatly to the bottom.
Small Gold Vials
Now that you’ve got some gold, you need something to put it in. You can purchase gold vials in various sizes online or from any gold mining or prospecting supply shop. WARNING!…WARNING!…WARNING! NEVER use glass vials in the field. Sooner or later you will drop that glass vial and all your hard-won gold will be scattered everywhere. Only use glass vials for display purposes. Use plastic vials in the field, or when transporting your gold.
All of these basic tools can be put together for under $100. Remember, keep it simple and learn the basics first. Then move on to more complicated and expensive placer mining gear which we will cover in a later post.
But most of all, have fun out there!