A Dry Washer Can Make Things Happen in Wet Placer Areas Too

 (You "desert rats" know what I'm talking about.)

I'm taking a short break from the old timer's tips series to talk about dry washing for gold. I know this is an odd time (summer) to be talking about dry washers, but it's a subject that remains close to my small-scale miner's heart and who knows? You just might learn something.

Handy Even in Wet Areas

I realize there are quite a few of you who have never dry washed for gold because you live in or near mountainous areas with running streams. But what you don't realize perhaps is that even in those gold-bearing areas there are dry gullies that could (and most likely do) contain placer gold in alluvial form. There's even the possibility that some of the slopes near those streams and gullies contain elluvial gold that hasn't quite worked its way downhill into those very same streams and gullies. I also know that some of you are committed suction dredgers (if that's allowed where you are), highbankers, gold snipers, sluicers, and so on. Another issue of concern that you might consider relative to dry washing is where you're actually digging gold-bearing material and the distance to the nearest water source. So you see, the venerable old dry washer is a piece of small-scale mining equipment that can come in handy even in non-desert areas. I know this for a fact because I've used a dry washer many times in my erstwhile mining career to pull gold from areas rich with water where most miners wouldn't think that approach would be viable.

Remain Open to the Possibilites

Let me say here that using mining gear that processes gold-bearing material with water is ALWAYS your best bet in terms of overall efficiency and gold recovery ability. That's a simple fact. But what I'm talking about are those particular instances where you've come across placer gold in areas that are too far removed from existing streams or water sources for that water to be pumped or otherwise easily moved to the spot where you want to dig for gold. You've already heard me talk about "high point" gold and that's just one possibility where a dry washer set up might prove beneficial. High points are typically fairly close to existing streams but there are instances where a dry washer could save you time and effort in that regard. I'll take this a step farther and say that I believe every small-scale placer miner should have a dry washer in his or her arsenal of mining gear and beyond that...be open to the idea of employing that little puffer or electrostatic machine wherever and whenever feasible. If there's any fault or blame to be cast upon small-scale gold miners it's their tendency to be single-minded in purpose and intent on approaching their mining as a "one-way" street wherein no other approaches are considered but the one they're using and have been using for some time. Granted, there's a method to this form of madness in the sense that the gold location you're working dictates what sort of approach and what sort of equipment is best for that spot. As you already know, however, I'm continually urging you to think outside the box and remain open to other possibilities. In essence, that's all I'm saying here.

 (There's gold in that riffle tray.)


Here are a few (and jut a few) instances where a dry washer might be your best equipment bet in wet placer areas:
  • High pointing.
  • Working bench gravels some distance from the parent stream.
  • Sampling or working terraces and slopes for alluvial or elluvial gold.
  • Checking or working dry gullies or streambeds.
  • Running old hillside tailings.
  • Trying your hand at Tertiary gravels far removed from existing stream gravels.
Again, these are just a few of the possibilities or alternatives that a dry washer can provide you in so-called wet placer areas. If you thought on this a bit, I'm sure you could come up with other possibilities yourself. Again, I urge you to remain open to the possibilities. It doesn't matter if you're working the creeks and streams of California's Motherlode or you're an Aussie "fossicker" trying to tease color from those water-driven gold areas Down Under...the dry washer is a tool that can be used to your advantage in certain instances.

You Make the Call 

Can dry washers be problematic? Sure they can, just like any other piece of mining equipment with a motor or moving parts. But I'm assuming you're smart enough and capable enough to carry along a few key spare parts and the minimal tools to effect repairs on your machine, just as you would do with your dredge or highbanker. As Mr. Murphy's law states, "If something can go wrong it probably will." And it will, especially if you're using mechanical equipment to process gold-bearing material, dry washer or otherwise. But the real bugaboo with dry washers is that they require DRY material for processing. Since they don't employ water for processing and concentrating gold, dry washers are less efficient at capturing gold in the first place but they can do a pretty damn good job just the same. Here's a truism from an old timer for you anyway. The damper or clumpier the material that you run through your dry washer, the greater the inefficiency of its capability for retaining the gold in that material. So, if you run across a likely looking "dry" area far removed from existing gold-bearing waters that looks good, you best make sure that material isn't damp once you start digging down into it. Otherwise, gold or no gold, you're gonna have to dry that material out on a tarp in the sun or come up with another alternative for ensuring that material is completely dry. Sometimes this extra effort is worth what you'll get gold-wise and at other times it won't be. You're the one that has to make that call.

 (A wooden "puffer" dry washer is relatively easy to build.)

If you're good with your hands and have decent carpentry and/or mechanical skills you can design and construct your own puffer or electrostatic dry washer and bypass the greater cost of purchasing one. They are actually pretty simple in their overall design. You can even build yourself a hand-cranked model puffer machine and forgo the hassles of humping gasoline cans or 6-volt batteries out into the boonies as you'd have to do for motorized versions. In the end, it's all good. And one thing you'll find out is that running a dry washer can be a lot of fun, despite the hard work involved (true of all mining approaches) and the dust and grit you'll eat. You desert rats out there in Southern California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and the Aussie Outback know what I'm talking about here. There's just something about dry washing for gold...

Take care out there and be good to one another.

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2015

Questions? E-mail me at jr872vt90@yahoo.com


  1. I have found more gold with a dry washer and metal detector than I ever have panning, sluicing, dredging, etc. Where I live there is very little water and in the winter the deserts are the place to be for me.

    I found this magazine and article a while back. I met "Dowie" out near 29 Palms, California about 1988.

    He passed away at the age of 93 and was still dry washing in his late 80's.

    The article starts on page 28.

    I hope you enjoy it.


    Best wishes to all.

    Rattlesnake Jim

  2. Sorry, that was a bad link. try this one:
    Rattlesnake Jim

  3. Found it. Good reading and interesting. 1976 wasn't that long ago. I wonder how gold prices then compared to now, and the cost of things then compared to now would balance out? I bought my first muzzleloader rifle kit in 1976, for about $60. They don't sell the kit guns anymore, but that gun today would be around $400. So gold price then and now.......is it close to the same, or has one out paced the other?? I bet this guy,working that hard, would be a little upset knowing what it was worth now,and what he sold it for then!! As always JR, got the gears working in my skull, Thanks!

  4. Muskrat, ole "Dowie" never sold any of his gold. He developed Critenden transformers back in the early days of electronics and made a small fortune. Before he died he had a leather sack with 42 pounds of gold in it that he used as a door stop.
    Gold in 1976 was around $125 per ounce. Today gold was $1162.
    Rattlesnake Jim


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