You Can't Beat a Box (Conclusion )

 (Miner tending his sluice box during the California Gold Rush.)

The venerable sluice box is a mining tool that should be in every small-scale gold miner's arsenal. In this post I'll be covering the sluice in additional detail, so hang with me.

Here are more reasons why you should have a sluice box. (Remember my target audience is/are small-scale miners everywhere, including the legions of "weekend warriors" out there. My audience does NOT consistence of TV reality "stars" [I use the term loosely here], Tonka Toy big equipment aficionados, nor those with full-on commercial or corporate mining leanings.)

Durability: My home-built wooden sluice box took a beating way back when and kept on ticking, albeit with some damage over time. Its biggest drawback was that it was heavy and awkward to carry. As a counterpoint, most manufactured sluice boxes today are constructed of extremely durable materials like aluminum or high-impact plastics that are virtually unbreakable. They are also much lighter in weight. You can't beat that combo...lightweight and durable.

(Manufactured sluice boxes come in all sizes, materials, and configurations these days.)

Excellent Recovery Rate: Various factors contribute to any sluice box's recovery rate. These include length of the box, how well it's set up, water flow, size of the material being processed, and of course...operator skill. In general, sluice boxes have an excellent gold recovery rate and will trap even the tiniest grains of flood gold providing the factors mentioned earlier apply.

I'll give you a tip here. I don't care what the promotional materials say about manufactured boxes, there's a rule here that goes way back to the days of the old timers. That rule is: the longer the box the greater its gold-trapping capability. These short, highly portable sluice boxes you see for sale online and elsewhere are good to go from the durability and lightweight standpoints but I wouldn't use one simply because they are...well...too short in length for my mining tastes. Plus, they can't handle the larger amounts of gold-bearing material like a longer, bigger box with a flared header tray. God forgive me but it drives me absolutely crazy to watch videos online of people using these little boxes about two feet in length and sitting there patiently spooning (yes, with a spoon or scoop) tiny amounts of material into it. Geeze Louise! This defeats the whole DAMN purpose of using a box in the first place. I can see the sampling value of one of these little mighty mites but I don't take them seriously from a material processing standpoint. But hey, that's me. (By the way my old-time Keene portable is a little under four feet long and about 10-12 inches wide or so.) The decision you need to make when constructing or buying a sluice box revolves around weight and portability versus material capacity and efficiency. Remember, the longer the better in terms of trapping finer gold. Of course I expect to be bombarded with semi-angry counterpoints by readers and others out there, but I'll stand my ground on this issue no matter what. After all, I'm an old timer now and I know my shit. End of argument.

(This Keene box is very similar to the one I've used for over 35 years now.)

Ease of Set Up: Now here's where we get on shaky ground brothers and sisters. Compared to motorized machinery I've used in my mining career (suction dredges, highbankers, and dry washers), a box is pretty damn easy to set up and get running. That said, however, getting the right angle and pitch and water flow can be exasperating at times, especially if you're new to the small-scale mining game. Here's the solution to that issue though. Experience with a capital E. The more you use that box of yours the quicker and easier you'll learn to set it up correctly. Sluice box set up and operation is a topic unto itself so we'll discuss that at a later point.

Easy Clean Up: A good sluice box is extremely easy to clean up. So if your designing and building one as a do-it-yourself project bear this fact in mind. My oldie but goodie Keene box has a riffle tray that unsnaps and can be raised up so you can pull out the expanded metal and miner's moss or carpet. It takes about two minutes or less to do this, including rolling up the carpet, dumping it into a five-gallon bucket, and flushing the residual material out of the box's channel. Some of those little mighty mights I spoke of previously have fixed riffles or a box configuration that allows easy clean ups (or clean outs, if you prefer). Whatever the case, ease of clean up should be a prime factor when buying or building a box.

(This is a nice, basic D.I.Y. box but I'm wondering about the ease of clean up. Those riffles better be removable.)

Want to do things the old-fashioned way and really feel like an old timer? Follow in their footsteps and use a sluice box. This is especially true of you newbies out there. Granted, where suction dredging is still allowed and you're proficient at it, that's the single-most efficient way of getting placer gold from a running stream. But the whiny piss ants in California have stopped suction dredging and are seriously eyeballing other motorized gear which makes the classic sluice box a more viable option for small-scale miners there. Other states are trending in this direction as well or have put serious restrictions on all types of motorized mining equipment. I rest my case.

Be good to yourself and one another.


As newcomers to small-scale gold mining you should start out under the K.I.S.S. principle. Keep it simple stupid. Now I'm not implying you're stupid as it stands now, but if you're just starting out in this small-scale mining thing of ours and and are laying out hundreds or thousands of dollars for all sorts of high-falutin' mining equipment before you know your ass from a hole in the ground first, then by gum you ARE stupid. I can't paint this picture any prettier for you. You just read about sluice boxes, right? Use one of those to process material first, learn the ropes to using it, and build your experience level. Doing things that way will not only save you money but lots of frustration and heartache over time. Trust me on this, OK?

(c) Jim Rocha 2017

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. JR, Your "newbie notes"....100% right on! Just remember, every dollar spent is just one more in the hole. Yes, you need good equipment, but every dollar spent is just that much more gold you need to find before breaking even.
    Good stuff here, but I'm afraid you are going through it too fast Jim. Three posts on sluice boxes could have been stretched out three weeks....I know, not your style.....but slowing down ain't a bad thing either. Wanting to help here, not criticizing! Gary

  2. I figure if I have the time I'll write Gary...if I don't have the time I won't! But thanks for the suggestion.

  3. OK,....So, I've been thinking about this rocker box idea. looking at a lot of pictures on the computer of old time rocker box miners. Some are really wide. 20 inches or so,maybe more, but not very long. Is there any advantage to that? Since you are hand dippering water a little at a time, it doesn't seem like it would matter. Those folks back then, didn't have the benefit of books, computers, or bedrock dreams to help them out...maybe they didn't know what they were doing either! They did find gold, for the most part though. Reading about the Alaskan gold rush, most didn't do that well. Do you think we have been mislead? To hear the tales, it was "easy" back then, but was it really? With today's inflated prices, it's pretty near impossible to make a living at this, but back then? Lower cost of living, nearly no taxes, no forced health insurance....but an ounce of gold was around $12 too. Are we better off or worse than our ancestors? Again....thinking out loud, but something to ponder just the same.

  4. They learned as they went Gary. Trial and error in many instances. Some ground was extremely rich back then. It's said the Goodyear Brothers pulled as much as $30,000 a day on Goodyear's Bar in the NorCal Motherlode, for a while at least. Most miners in 1849-52 eked out a living and some didn't do even that. Gold was low, gear and supplies was outrageously high. Most miners went broke and headed home...


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