"Why the Hell Didn't I Think of That?"

(A Keene portable sluice. Image courtesy of goldfeverprospecting.com, one of my favorite purveyors of all things mining.)

I'd like to take a one-post break before finishing my series on what to look for in bench gravels and step backward a bit to my recent posts on sluice box comparisons. I've written about my friend and fellow miner "Muskrat" (Gary Thomas) once before here in Bedrock Dreams and I have to tell you that he's the modern-day equivalent of a Renaissance man. Gary's an extremely talented leather- working artisan (among other things), and his horse saddles are really something to see. But I'm not here to talk about Gary's leather work but about his do-it-yourself (DIY) sluice box.

Right off the get go let me tell you that money is very tight for Gary, just as it may be for any number of you readers. There's absolutely no shame in this fact for Gary or anyone else for that matter. It is what it is and because of that you do what you can with what you have. Hell, I've been dead broke more than once in my own life and had to totally rebuild my finances from scratch at the age of 47, no easy feat...trust me. Anyway, what this is all leading up to is that when Gary needs a new piece of small-scale mining gear he builds his own, usually from materials he's found or scrapped. Recently, Gary sent me some photos of his DIY sluice box and I thought I'd share his design and a particular idea of his I found quite innovative when it comes to sluice boxes. In fact, Gary's added touch in this regard is so elegantly simple and effective it leaves me asking myself the question, "Why the hell didn't you think of that dumb ass?!"

What was Gary's added touch? I'll let him tell you:

"After reading your sluice box posts, I have been thinking about ways to improve mine. Any ideas?  The 'wings' are just strap hinges. I can set a rock on each and they prevent the box from going anywhere. Sometimes I wedge them between rocks in the bottom and use them as legs to adjust the pitch as well." 

 (Gary's sluice box "wings." Note the flared header tray as well.)

You newbies, greenhorns, journeymen miners, and old salts alike should readily see the added benefit of stabilizers like Gary's "wings" when it comes to setting up a sluice box. If you can't, then I suspect you probably haven't ever set up or used a box before. No, Gary's idea isn't rocket science but it's an idea that's so simple and logical that it makes total and complete sense to me. The nice thing about his idea is that it provides stabilization points that enable you to bypass placing large rocks across the top of the sluice box or futzing around for a half hour trying to get enough rocks built up along the sides of the box to keep it from floating away on you in a strong current. I always hated having to put any rocks across the top of my Keene (which I rarely do anyway) because this approach blocks your vision into the box to one degree or another. Me? I like seeing what's going on in my box and don't want any obstructions blocking me when I use a shovel or stick to "stir" riffle pack up or help recalcitrant rocks along their way through the box. Gary hit upon something here and I'm surprised no sluice manufacturer or designer has incorporated some sort of swing-out stabilizers on their box designs. Let's hope they don't rip Gary's idea off either.

 (Another view of the hinged "wings" folded up under the box.)

Beauty Fades...

The other sluice box characteristics that Gary nailed are box portability, durability, and the fact he's included a detachable flared header tray in his design. This latter element is just as important as the others, especially since it impacts just how much material can be shoveled or poured into the box and what the nature of that material is (i.e., you can shovel directly into it instead of classifying first). My advice to you in this regard? If you're going to buy or DIY your own box, make some sort of proviso for a flared header tray or some sort of header box. Now here's my only criticism of Gary's design. I find that the box is perhaps a bit too short in length for my own mining tastes, but this a trade off for the overall portability of the box. In essence, it's six of one and a half dozen of the other that in the end will have only a small impact on overall placer gold recovery, mainly with fine gold. And if you want pretty, Gary's box is not! Remember, he put this thing together with whatever materials he had around or could "organize" and scrap. Looks don't mean shit in small-scale gold mining anyway...but getting the gold does. In the end, that's all you have to worry about when it comes to your gear. Does it do a good job at recovering gold? Remember, beauty fades but the luster of gold lasts forever. There it is...

(You want portability? Problem solved.)

(Note how Gary's flared header tray can be detached and included in a small, compact bundle.)

( It may not be pretty, but it gets the job done.)

 ("Exploded" view of Gary's sluice box with various parts disassembled.)

All things said and done, Gary did a good job with this portable sluice design. His creation also shows you what you can do with scrap materials, including some of those laying around in your shop or garage right now.

My best to Gary and all of you out there.

(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2016

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


  1. sweeeet job Muskrat,and the kiss principle still lives on

  2. 1.5
    Nothing beats the satisfaction of making something for yourself and then obtaining results from "your creation" here's quote I found some time back interesting;
    "Making equipment is a great way to work towards a hobby when you can't actually be out doing it too!"
    Back to topic...
    I too am surprised as to why no one has made "box wings" the advantages from having this has been mentioned above, surprisingly with no disadvantage from "changing it up" Another thing I've rarely seen done with river sluices is this form of "Self Clarifying" Where a prospector had created on top around 5 metal bars going with the flow (longways, just after the flare), suspended on what looked like a spring thing, going approx. 45% upwards, long ways, material could/was being shovelled and dumped straight into the sluice, somehow it simply would "Eject" the rocks larger than half hand size past the end of the sluice, but would still allow all the material to be all washed (as we all know the larger rocks often have the gold stuck/con on them) Tried finding the YouTube clip, but couldn't, thus the top of my head explanation.

  3. Thanks JR and you too Anonymous! I was a little worried also that this would not be long enough. I solved that problem somewhat by putting "V" rib matting on the feed flare. A lot of what I find never makes it past that. Keeps me busy with the sucker bottle.....but I don't mind that! I did test it by putting a gold pan under the outlet end and running it that way to see if any was making it out the end of the sluice. I didn't find any in the pan, so It seems to be working pretty well. The screen over most of the riffles works to roll off the bigger rocks. I borrowed that idea from the suction dredge guys. I might shorten it back one riffle. The screen slows the water down enough the riffles load up more than I'd like. Anyway, thanks again. Soon as the snow melts I plan to hit it again.


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