Tips for Running an Efficient Sluice Box (Part 2)

('49ers sluicing near Auburn during the California Gold Rush.)

As I wrote in Part 1 of this series of posts, the sluice box is probably one of the most basic yet effective pieces of gold mining equipment you'll ever use. That is, if it is set up and operated properly.

Here are a few more tips to help keep your sluice box running at peak efficiency:

5) Keep your box as close to your “diggings” as possible. I know, I know…I can hear you right now, “But J.R., that’s not always possible.” Believe me I am more than aware of that fact…been there and done that many times. The idea here though is to cut down on the time it takes to process gold-bearing material. The more time that it takes to "load" and "run" your sluice, the less gold you’ll get in the long run.
One thing I always do if my “diggings” are farther away from my sluice box than I like is the “bucket brigade” thing. I fill up and then dump as many buckets of gold-bearing material as I can onto a tarp near my sluice box. That way I can "feed" my sluice without interruption until my gold-bearing material is all gone. Then I start the process all over again. In my experience it’s more efficient than doing things one bucket at a time. Incidentally, using a tarp helps ensure that you won't lose any gold from your sluice box "ore dump."

6) "Classify" your material before you run it. This tip is actually a twin to the previous admonition. Sluice boxes can be finicky at times, especially if you're running your sluice in an area where the water flow is a bit "iffy." Although a properly set sluice box with adequate water flow running through it will carry some fairly large rocks down the riffles and out the far end, your best bet for running material efficiently in any given sluice box is to "classify" (screen) your gold bearing material first. Most small-scale miners will classify their material down to 1/2-1/4 inch mesh.

However, this screening size should be dependent on the area you are working. For example, if you're in one of those rare mining districts where mostly fine (a.k.a. "flood" or "flour") gold was and is present and very little coarse gold was recovered in the past, then you may be able to classify down in size. Conversely, if you're working an area noted for lots of coarse placer gold and nuggets, you may want to "size up" some. Smaller material is easier to run through a sluice box and gets through much faster, but you wouldn't want to miss those "chunkers" either.

7) Check your own tailings. Believe it or not, the failure to perform this very basic and simple task is probably one of the biggest mistakes recreational or small-scale miners can make while running a sluice box. One of the best ways to determine whether you are losing any gold (i.e., your sluice is operating at peak efficiency or not) is to check your own tailings. In case you're not familiar with the term, tailings is the "waste" material that comes out the far end of your box back into the stream or the larger material that you "classified" or screened off when shoveling or bucketing up material.

The best way to check these tailings is to scoop up some of this stuff and pan it out. If no gold shows up, you're running that sluice box of yours like a real pro (that's assuming you're in an area where there is gold, first of all!). If you are finding more than just an occasional tiny microdot or two of gold, say some decent flakes or anything larger, you need to reassess and perhaps readjust your sluice.

Finally, remember all that bigger stuff you already classified off? Take a bunch of that and shovel it into a 5-gallon bucket filled with water. Slosh and wash everything around for a bit, clean off all the clay and dirt from those larger rocks, toss them away, and then pan what's left in your bucket. If any gold was left clinging to that material due to clay or hard-packed dirt, you''ll find it this way.

These are just a few of the tips that can help you run your sluice efficiently and ultimately, grab as much gold as you can for your effort and labor.

Good luck to one and all.

If you liked this post, you may want to read: "'Rocks in My Head:' a Prospector and Miner in the Making (Part 3)"

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2011

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Excellent Set of Tips you've put together JR!

  2. Thank you my friend! I appreciate your comments...keep coming back. Jim Rocha (J.R.)


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