A Better Mousetrap? (Part 2)

 (The Long Tom was nothing more than an extended sluice box or boxes connected in a line.)

All things being what they currently are in the mining community, the humble sluice box should be part and parcel of every small-scale gold miner's kit. I've already discussed why in my previous post, so let's get on with my comparison of two types of sluice boxes. Again, let me state that I'm not getting paid for this comparison, nor am I grinding any axes. Also, my apologies for the delay in getting this post published...I've been somewhat under the gun as of late.

Mimicking Streams Themselves

OK, it goes without saying that all traditional sluice boxes employ a single water flow design. How did the sluice box come about as a logical extension to improve gold recovery and efficiency? I'm being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but I think somewhere along the line in the shadows of unrecorded history a small-scale gold miner living in ancient times became frustrated with long, back breaking days swirling a wooden bowl around to capture gold and plopped his ass down on the bank of some gold-bearing stream to ponder things over. As that old timer watched the water flow downstream he noticed how the rocks and boulders acted as small and larger traps to catch the gold-bearing gravel that came to rest behind them. Long before Edison was a distant gleam in his father's eyes, a dim bulb shone inside that ancient miner's head and the sluice box was born. Or something akin to that anyway. But the fact of the matter in this little bit of assumed history is that a traditionally designed sluice box mimics what streams themselves do in terms of capturing placer gold. Overall, the sluice box represents a simple, but very elegant solution to the small-scale miner's need for processing gold-bearing material. Remember, we're talking here about you and I, the individual miner using traditional means...not commercial or corporate entities bent on ripping up large plots of earth in their pursuit to be top dog or end up on the black side of the profit ledger. I don't place a value judgement on this latter type of enterprise since it is what it is and I am who and what I am. And if you haven't surmised that fact by now, I'm no Marxist-Leninist bent on redistributing my hard-earned money to the masses...which the lefty elitists never do anyway since their pseudo-egalitarian philosophy doesn't include their own bank accounts. Nope, I'm no closet socialist or communist and I've actually gone toe-to-toe with those of that ilk in my military days. The upshot? I believe firmly in free enterprise and the right to make a profit, whether you're a commercial miner or a small-scale guy or gal.

(Yep, right into the gulag or the firing squad.)

So it Goes with Newbies

Now back to sluice boxes. The very first box I owned 35 plus years ago was five feet long, ten inches wide, and six inches deep and had no hopper box or feed tray. It was a do-it-yourself (DIY) job that I made out of pine (including the riffle tray), a bit of expanded metal, and some green indoor/outdoor carpet. I was a real greenhorn back then but I was still damn proud of my creation and it actually worked pretty well. However, it was bulky and cumbersome, and not the easiest piece of gear to clean out since the riffle tray was "blocked" into place. So it goes with newbies. I think my wife eventually grew tired of hearing me bitch and moan about lugging that wooden box around and my difficulties in removing the riffle tray and bought me a Keene Engineering portable sluice box. This box (which I still use, by the way) is an earlier version of the Keene A52 High-Production Sluice pictured below:

The dimensions of the Keene A52 are 51" x 10" x 4.5" which is very, very close to the dimensions of my DIY pine box. How did I arrive at the dimensions for my DIY sluice box and why were they so close to the A52? Well back in the late 1970s and early 1980s there were no home PCs as we know them today, nor was there any Internet to research, so I based my dimensions on old mining photos garnered from books in the local library. In other words, I pulled those sluice box dimensions out of my ass, just like a magician plucks a rabbit out of a top hat. Still, I have to smile at my random accuracy in this regard. Sometimes you get it right even if you don't know what the hell you're doing (which I didn't when I was just starting my mining and prospecting career).

Keene A52

I've used my version of the Keene A52 countless times over the past three and a half decades and have nothing but praise for this portable box. It's taken tons of punishment under all sorts of conditions and has remained just as effective and efficient as it was when it was brand new. Sure, my A52 is a bit battered and tarnished, but not very much so since its all-metal (aluminum) construction has proven itself up to the task again and again. So here's a good place in time to begin my comparison factors:

1. Durability: Extremely durable due to the all-metal (aluminum) design. As I've already stated, the A52 takes just about anything you can throw at it and keeps on ticking. The only aspects of my A52 that have become a bit dysfunctional over time are the snap locks that secure the riffle tray into place or allow it to be raised for cleanup. All any self-respecting miner needs to do is hit those snap locks with WD-40 or if they're bent, perform a little straightening routine.  

Durability Rating (five representing the highest value): 4.5 to 5.0

 (A Keene A52 and companion at hard at work.)

2. Portability: The A52 is highly portable and can be carried by using the handle attached to the side of the box. The box can get a bit heavy if you have to hump it a long distance or over rough terrain since the all-metal construction adds some weight to the overall equation here. I notice that the newer versions of the Keene A52 use a rounded carrying handle but it appears somewhat thin in circumference. My older A52's handle is a large, rectangular shape which can cut into your hand at times and I suspect even the newer rounded handle will have some issues in this context. My fix? Wrap duct tape around the outside of the handle so the edges don't hurt your hand. Remember that this is a full-sized sluice box as that relates to manufactured boxes so it's gonna be heavier and bulkier when compared to shorter boxes made of lighter weight materials.  

Portability Rating: 4.0 to 4.5

I'll have more on the Keene A52 soon. Until then, keep on keeping on.

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

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


  1. Another good one JR. It is amazing how many types of sluice boxes there have been over the years. A lot of the early ones used cobblestones instead of riffles. Some had sticks running cross ways to the box, others length wise to it. Nailed in, or removable, wood or aluminum........ they all did the same thing and worked about as well as the next one. Sometimes the "new and improved" only catches money from hopeful prospectors and not any more gold than the box they had. If you are not finding that much, it's easy to blame the equipment and not the operator, or spot you are digging!


Post a Comment