Placer Mining Equipment: the Dry Washer

Placer Mining Equipment: the Dry Washer

One piece of mining equipment that should be in nearly every placer miner's arsenal of weapons is the dry washer. The dry washer is the most efficient method for recovering placer gold in arid or desert areas where the availability of water is nearly always problematic. If you are a placer miner living in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico or parts of Nevada, you know exactly what I mean by that statement.

Interestingly enough though, many novice placer miners think that dry washers are only used in desert or dry areas. They are much more versatile than that. Dry washers can be employed anywhere, providing the material they process is completely dry. For example, I've seen dry washers used to recover placer gold in bench gravels and hotspots along California's Kern River where the river itself was too far away from these locations to employ a highbanker or sluice box.

There are two basic types of dry washer:

1) The more traditional bellows action or "puffer" type which is driven by turning a hand crank or, in cruder designs, by working a wooden "slap" bar. In more sophisticated versions a small gasoline engine mounted on a metal stand drives the bellows via a pulley set up, or in some instances, a 12-volt car battery provides the necessary energy.

2) The motor-driven, electrostatic "shaker" or vibrator dry washer uses forced hot, dry air to create an electrostatic charge in the riffle tray that is very effective in trapping fine particles of gold. In some versions of this type of dry washer, the riffle tray also vibrates to increase overall efficiency in trapping gold.

I myself used the older style, bellows "puffer" style dry washer for many years and it grabbed quite a bit of gold along the way. Mine was a wooden model designed and built by Sam Radding and was powered by a small Briggs and Stratton lawnmower motor. I loved that little dry washer and it worked its heart out for me in some of the toughest desert prospecting areas around, including Randsburg, Johannesburg, La Paz, and the Potholes.

If you are thinking of buying a dry washer, there are numerous manufacturers out there, from large businesses such as Keene Engineering to individuals who design, build, and sell their own unique models. Or, if you have the time and skills, build your own dry washer from a set of plans.

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2008


  1. Great blog you got here. It would be great to read a bit more concerning that theme. The only thing I would like to see here is some pictures of any gadgets.
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  2. Thanks for your support. I'll try and get more posts in the blog about drywashers and also additional photographs. Thanks again! J.R.


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