(Dry washing is dirty but like gold mining in general, it's a labor of love.)
Dry washing in dry or desert gold regions is a much different type of small-scale mining than that experienced by those of you who've only prospected and mined in wet placer areas. This said, I cut my mining teeth dry washing desert locales early in my gold career and I have to profess that I still love dry washing, despite its difficulties and occasional hardships.
"It is What it Is"
You know, if you've never stood under the bright desert sunlight of a crystal clear, fall day and heard the sweet sound of a "puffer" dry washer thump-thumping away as you feed it gold-bearing material, you're missing something special from a small-scale mining standpoint. I realize that many of you live and mine in areas that, for the most part, aren't conducive to dry washing so there's no blame (or shame) implied in my words. Like they say, "It is what it is." But as I've said before in Bedrock Dreams, dry washers can be employed to very good effect even in wet placer areas with a solitary caveat: the material you run must be totally dry. This is typically the case in dry or desert gold areas, although there are instances where even dry placer ground can be a bit damp once you start digging down into it. If you wet placer miners are wondering excatly how a dry washer could help you get the gold, ask yourself this. Is there potential dry gold ground nearby like bench gravels, a dry feeder gully, or high point gold? Then a dry washer may be your best bet instead of humping five-gallon buckets of gold-bearing dirt to your water source or water-driven equipment. Anyway, I think you get the picture here. Bottom line? If you've never dry washed, well pard...you might want to give it a try.
(A section of arroyo just begging to be dry washed.)
Keene's Mini-Dry Washer Combo
Keene Engineering's Mini-Dry Washer Combo is, in an overall sense, a motorized version of their DW2, the machine I described in my previous post. The power source for driving the Combo is a basic 12-volt battery that can support a solid four-hour run time for the unit's motor before it needs recharging. Even with the battery included, you're only looking at around a 40-pound load to pack in to wherever you're working. Sure it's a slight load increase over Keene's DW2, the hand-cranked version of this machine, but if you're up to it the Combo is still lightweight enough to load on your back and hump to your favorite remote dry washing spot. Here's the thing though. A four-hour run time from a single battery charge isn't going to do it for me, truth be told. I'm a working fool when I'm dry washing and that four hours is gonna get eaten up pretty damn quick once I get to shoveling dirt onto that Combo's hopper screen. I suspect the same is true for you "desert rats" out there. So what's the solution? Well, I guess you could hump in an extra charged battery or two, but the more weight you add to this get up, the more the Combo's claim to lightweight portability falls by the wayside. It's essentially six of one and a half dozen of the other. To Keene's credit however, they've given the Combo a hand-crank capability like its non-motorized version, the DW2. So you could run the battery out and then switch to the hand crank to generate the Combo's bellows action underneath the riffle tray. Take note, however, that hand-cranking a dry washer can be both tedious and tiring and not as efficient in terms of overall run time especially when compared to motorized models. Interestingly enough, Keene provides an adaptable electric motor kit that can be used to power the DW2 and make it a motorized version as well. This kit runs around $200.00 USD while the Keene Mini-Dry Washer Combo costs $850.00 USD (retail). As an aside, the DW2 hand-cranked model is usually price tagged at $650.00 USD.
(The battery powered Keene Mini-Combo Dry Washer.)
(Adapter or converter pack for turning the Keene DW2 into a Combo.)
Here are a few tips for setting up and running the Keene Mini-Dry Washer Combo (some of these tips apply to ALL dry washers):
1) If you decide to use the Combo's hand-crank, make sure you disconnect the belt to the 12V motor.
2) Conversely, if you are going to use battery power to run the Combo, remove the hand-crank pulley first.
3) Like all dry washers, the Keene Combo needs to be as level as possible to prevent inefficient circumstances from occurring (i.e., dirt packing to one side of the hopper and riffle tray).
4) Although both the DW2 and the Combo are reasonably sturdy, you may want to brace the unit's U-shaped front and back "legs" with large rocks or shoveled gravel to prevent the machine from jumping or moving around on you. (By the way, I've never "met" a dry washer I didn't have to brace!)
5) If hand cranking, you want to turn the handle around 45 revolutions per minute (RPM).
6) Adjust the hopper's flow gate to ensure that a consistent amount of gold-bearing material feeds the riffle tray and that no backing up or packing up occurs.
7) Run the Combo as long as the hopper can handle the material but don't let the riffles start packing up with too much black sand and "heavies" because gold can be lost this way.
8) A good paint brush is an ideal tool for cleaning out the rest of the riffle board after the bulk of the captured material has been dumped into a five-gallon bucket.
(Why not get the kids involved? This dry washing dad has a great little helper.)
There's nothing unusual about any of this and you deserts rats out there have this sort of stuff ingrained in you by now. The Combo is a good little machine and I like the idea that it's a lot like a submarine. A submarine?! Yep, all you have to do is get into position and "rig for silent running!"
Best to all of you. Remember, the universe wants to work in your favor... why not allow it to do so?
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2015
Questions? E-mail me at email@example.com