There's Just Something About a Sluice Box

 (Never underestimate that old box of yours.)

The trusty old sluice box has been around in various forms for a very, very long time. Despite the inherent simplicity of its design and operation, it remains one of the most effective weapons in any small-scale gold miner's arsenal.

Here's a thought for you to contemplate. Virtually every piece of motorized placer mining equipment out there uses a sluice box in one form or another. These include:
  • Dry Washers (the riffle tray is simply a dry version of the traditional sluice box)
  • Suction Dredges (these will employ one or more sluices depending on their size)
  • Highbankers (essentially a motorized sluice box)
  • Trommels (gold-bearing material sorted/processed through the drum ends up in the sluice)
  • Rockers (even this trusty old standard employs a truncated version of the sluice box)
  • Commercial Wash Plants (despite their huge range in design, wash plants inevitably depend on sluices to handle the final sorting and retention of gold)
Anyway, I think you get the idea here. As miners I think we often look at that battered old sluice box in our garage or storage shed without realizing just how important it is in small-scale and commercial mining operations. In other words, we take it for granted.

Never Failed Me

I want you to know this. I've done all kinds of small-scale gold mining over the course of nearly 36 years now and I've used everything from the simplest hand tools to a six-inch suction dredge. I've panned, sniped, highbanked, dry washed, dredged, metal detected, and even tried swinging a hard-rock pick a few times in locations as diverse as the Colorado Desert, the Rockies, Southeastern California, the Motherlode Region, Arizona, and even Old Mexico to name a few. Of all the gear I've ever used to get gold I love my beat-up old sluice box best. I mean that with all sincerity.

 (There's no sight like it anywhere.)

Granted, that battered old Keene box my wife bought me for my birthday so long ago can't be used in every situation but it's a lot more adaptable than you might think. Many times I've used it like a rocker in very low water situations where it performed admirably and captured gold damn well. In rivers and flowing streams I've shoveled or poured more gold-bearing material through that little beast than you might think possible and it's never failed me. Not once. Ever. They like to talk on TV about the "reliability" and "endurance" of Dodge pickup trucks and that's OK...but if you want true reliability and endurance just take another gander at that sluice box of yours.

Once Again...

Beyond the practical side of things regarding sluices, there's just something about a properly configured and running box that's just hard to explain. There's been many an occasion where I sat on a 5-gallon bucket feeding my sluice in shallow water and felt a peace and contentment that I've never felt under water wrestling a dredge intake or choking on dust from my "puffer" dry washer. Don't get me wrong, those last two things are fact, any time you're mining things are good.

But once again, there's something about a sluice box. Just imagine the warm sun shining down onto the water, the trees casting cool shadows, the water rushing and rippling and gurgling around you, that gold-bearing material being washed down the length of the box, the black sands building behind the riffles, you allowing the flowing water to clear the box, then peering down to see lustrous flecks of gold sitting there smiling back at you...

It's a hard one to beat my friends.

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2013

Questions? E-mail me at

The Bedrock Dreams 2009 archives are available here:
Buy Now
$9.95 USD


  1. Hello Jim, Another good post! It's funny how folks think. If they are not finding gold, they blame their equipment for not working. We all do it...doesn't have to be gold equipment either. If it doesn't get fast results,there has to be something wrong with it....not with you. My sluice box is one I made from an old aluminum road sign. It works just as well as a store bought one, but until I started finding some gold, I was tempted to buy a fancy factory made one. When you get right down to it, gold is heavy enough it really doesn't take much to trap it. The picture you show here proves it. All that gold is on the rubber mat at the head of the never made it into the riffle section! Most of the gold I have found has been this way. I've picked at least half off the matting at the head of the box. I guess what I'm trying to say is "Trust your equipment". Makes no difference if it is a duck call,sluice box,or anything else. Give it a chance, it will don't need to spend money on a new one with all the shiny bells and whistles. Thanks again, Gary

  2. Right on the money Gary! Couldn't have said things better myself and that's a fact. Thanks for commenting and for the value in your words. Best, J.R.

  3. Jim, In my many years of small scale mining.....I have owned a number of different sluice boxes...big ones, little ones, wide ones and narrow ones. Each of course has it's different "intended" uses. we usually go back to the old "standard"...the original one. It ties to your previous topic...."KISS"...or Keep It Simple Stupid. No bells....pretty beat up....scratched and dented...but man does it work!! I would guess...I have recovered more than half of ALL my gold, from this unit. "the old stand by" always comes through. It may be just me....romanticizing about this old piece....kind of like an old favorite fishing rod...but even when I'm most discouraged.... I pull out the "miracle sluice" and voila.....results. say "sluicing" is my favorite would be an understatement. Anyways...thanks again for the info.....reminding me of the KISS principle.....or just taking my mind out of the the stream side. Be safe out there!

  4. I love running a sluice box's my favorite thing to do (as you can tell). I've also gotten a good amount of placer with it...boxes are simple and elegant and fun to use. Thanks for commenting! J.R.

  5. Hi Howard,

    Right on the money again! There is nothing like running a sluice box. Hell! When even two greenhorn fools that have trouble finding their ass with 2 hands and a flashlight can use it to find gold says a lot.

    Curtain and Dobbs

  6. Right you are Dobbsie, right you are! Best, J.R.

  7. A perfect example of a simple but very useful equipment. I guess this is what they mean by "small but terrible." It is terrible indeed in a sense that it outlasts heavier and more expensive equipments. :)

  8. Right you are Rachel. Thanks for commenting, J.R.


Post a Comment