A basic hand-fed sluice box is a simple piece of equipment that all prospectors should have as part of their arsenal. For relatively low cost, sluice boxes do a fine job of processing a good amount of gravels and retaining gold. While gold panning is a great way to quickly sample areas to prospect, once a nice gold area is found, a good quality sluice box will help you produce more gold in a shorter amount of time.
Many handy prospectors like to make their own equipment, and a sluice box is a very simple piece of mining equipment to build. If you enjoy designing things, a sluice box can be made for a fraction of the cost of a commercially built one.
A homemade sluice box can be constructed from a variety of materials. They have been used by miners for thousands of years, and the earliest ones were made from wood. The benefits of using wood was evident to early miners; wood was readily available regardless of where they were mining. They could be constructed on-site, and if they decided to move to a new area it was relatively simple to build another sluice. Wood can still be used to make a homemade sluice box, but the downside is that they will be quite heavy, especially after they have been in the water for several hours, as they will absorb water which will add even more weight.
Aluminum is the ideal material to use if you want to build your own sluice box. It is lightweight, and will be much more portable than a heavy sluice made from wood. And unlike steel, an aluminum sluice box will not rust. Some modern sluice boxes are made from plastics, but this is not really an option for the average prospector.
The standard design of a sluice box is very simple, and has not really changed much over thousands of years. They basic design is to lay the box in a stream or river, parallel to the flow of water. Gravel is shoveled into it at the head of the box, and the water moves the material over a series of riffles which help to separate out and capture the gold. When designing your sluice box, it would be a good idea to take a look at several commercially designed sluices to get an idea of basic design. A basic hand fed sluice box does not need to be very long, 3 to 5 feet is generally adequate. Many people design elaborate sluices that are way longer than necessary. Width is commonly about a foot or two wide, and the height is approximately 6 to 12 inches. Since a sluice should ideally be situated in a shallow section of stream, the depth of the box does not need to be much, just enough to capture water to flow over the riffles and retain the gravels that are shoveled into the box.
The riffles are the most critical part of any sluice box design, because they are what actually captures and retains the gold. For easy cleanup, you want the riffles to be easily removed, so that the heavy concentrates can be cleaned out of the box when you are done prospecting for the day. There are several ways that riffles can be situated in the box, but essentially all you need is a design that creates turbulence in the water and cause the fine gold to drop out of the solution. Thin plates of metal situated at a 45 degree angles and held by rails that fit just inside the box are ideal. These riffles are then held in place with a few bolts. At the end of the day, unscrew the bolts and lift out the riffles to clean out the box.
During the early gold rush days, sluice boxes were generally constructed with slats of wood with nothing else to capture the gold. It did the job, but a lot of gold was missed, especially the fine stuff. All commercially built sluice boxes today utilize some sort of material underneath the riffles that is designed to aid in the capture of gold. A piece of carpet will work, or better yet a piece of minerís moss is even better. Today, there are several different types material that will do the job, and some of the newer material do an exceptional job of capturing and retaining fine gold
. For any homemade sluice box design, it is highly recommended that you add some type of material under the riffles to aid in fine gold recovery.
Gold miners are generally an inventive group, and building a homemade sluice box is both cost effective and fun. Sluice boxes are really a fairly simple design, and with a little bit of work and design, any prospector should be able to build a nice sluice that will work very well at capturing gold. Donít try to reinvent the wheel; follow the basic design of the good commercially built sluices
, make sure you have well-built riffles with some type of minerís moss to capture fines, and you should be able to design a quality sluice for a fraction of the cost.