A Basic Mining and Prospecting Kit for Beginners (Conclusion)

 (Remember, dark green shows gold best.)

In this post I'll be finishing up my suggestions to newcomers on what they should have in their tool arsenal to get going out there. Hopefully this will help some of the newbs and greenhorns out there and help them save some serious cash at the same time.

Rock or masonry hammer: This tool is an absolute must in my kit. I use an Estwing geologist's rock hammer but a good masonry hammer works about as well. The main difference is that the geology hammer has a sharp point for cracking rocks open for investigation while the masonry hammer has a flat "blade" used for breaking bricks, etc. Both hammers have a blunt business end as well. Each of these puppies is great for knocking loose compacted gravels or caliche, or loosening gold-bearing material from tight spots between boulders and other obstructions. On a smaller work scale, a rock or masonry hammer makes a good substitute for the larger and heavier full-sized miner's pick. I NEVER go into the field without my Estwing geology hammer no matter what I'm doing or what type of equipment I'm running.

(Estwing geolgist's rock pick or hammer.)

Small garden shovel or collapsible shovel (E-tool): You don't need to lug around a full size pick and shovel if you're sampling and panning. Your rock or masonry hammer becomes your pick and a sturdy, small garden shovel (usually about three feet long or so) or a military E-tool becomes your shoveling device. For those of you who never served in the military and had to "dig in," an E-tool is a military issued entrenching tool. They are collapsible and fold up into a nice little package that can be carried on or in your pack or inside a five gallon bucket. Personally, I prefer the sturdy, little garden shovel because it's easier to use, albeit not quite as portable as the E-tool. One plus the E-tool has over the garden shovel is the fact the blade can be set to scrape material as well as dig it. Either one or both are good items to have if you want to lighten your load and not have to lug a full-sized shovel around. And when prospecting or sampling for gold you want to limit the crap you're lugging around both from a weight and item quantity standpoint. Travel lean and mean, my newbie friends.

(Military style E-tool.)

Smaller digging tools: These are the small hand trowels and hand rakes that your grandma uses in her begonia garden. They come in handy for scraping, shoveling, and raking material from tight spaces or feeding material into a small sluice box or your gold pan.

Crevicing tools: Absolutely mandatory for those times when you're cleaning out bedrock cracks and crevices or doing a bit of underwater gold sniping. You can buy ready mades of various sizes and configurations from prospecting/mining supply vendors or you can make your own from welding rods, stiff wire coat hangers, flat-bladed screwdrivers...you name it. With crevicing tools it's a matter of whatever fits the bill and works is what you should carry and use. Make sure at least one of your crevicing tools can fit inside the tiniest bedrock cracks. You'd be surprised at what you can find in those.

(Some store-bought crevicing tools.)

Small pry bar: Always handy when it comes to prying tightly packed rocks apart, moving the same,  or even busting a bit of friable bedrock apart so you can get at the goodies. I tend to use a flat pry bar that's about a foot long and 2.5 inches wide with a hooked claw at one end. But a smaller, regular heavy duty pry bar that can be wielded with one hand is a good pick for most folks.

Sniffer ("snifter") bottle, tweezers, or fine-point model paintbrush: Once you find that gold in your pan the next phase is getting it out. Nuggets and chunkers notwithstanding, the bulk of what you're gonna find in that Garrett "Gold Trap" or in your sluice box concentrates are fines and perhaps a few small flakes. To get those fines and small flakes out of that pan and into your vial you'll need one or more of these items. The sniffer or "snifter" bottle is handy device that uses suction to "slurp" up the non-pickers from your gold pan. It's just a small, plastic bottle with a suction tip at the business end. Leave a bit of water in your pan, squeeze the bottle, stick the little "snifter" nozzle down onto the gold, and suck it up. Voila!

 (Sniffer or "snifter" bottle in use...DO NOT buy a blue gold pan...geeze Louise!)

Now you'll find a lot of "experts" out there telling you need a good set of tweezers in your kit. This can be true IF YOU'RE UNDERWATER GOLD SNIPING. However, tweezers are virtually useless in normal gold retrieval contexts. I never use them unless sniping underwater myself and then rarely. But to each his or her own. I recommend you get a good set of jewelry tweezers (like the kind the diamond guys use to handle stones) and keep them in your kit...just in case. But I'm telling you here and now over the course of nearly 40 years of gold mining and prospecting I've used tweezers (aside from shallow water sniping, that is) less than five times. Your call, though.

A fine-point model paintbrush is a simple but effective tool for picking up fine gold and transferring it to your gold vial. You simply moisten the tip with your tongue, move the water away from the fine gold in your pan, and "roll" the tip of the paintbrush into the fine gold where it becomes entangled in the brush's hairs. Then dip the brush into a gold vial filled with water and all those fines will drop neatly to the bottom the vial. How about that for a tip from an old timer?! I still use this technique on occasion but mostly I use my own method which doesn't include a "snifter" bottle, tweezers, or a model paintbrush. Nope, I ain't giving that one away.

 (Model builder's paintbrush.)

Small gold vials: These are used to hold your finds out in the field. They come in various sizes and can be purchased online or in any gold prospecting or mining supply shop. Most of these venues sell glass vials, by the way. WARNING!...WARNING!...WARNING! Never...I repeat...NEVER use glass vials out in the field when you're sampling, panning, or working. Sooner or later you'll drop that glass vial and all your hard-won gold will scatter to Kingdom Come, especially if running water over rocks is where you drop that vial. I made this mistake twice in my mining career. Once early on in the desert when I dropped a full day's worth of dry washed gold onto the hard ground (I was able to recover nearly all of it) and more recently in 2008 when I forgot to heed my own advice in California's Northern Motherlode. I had about 3 grams of flakes in a glass vial sitting in my gold pan when my son walked by, slipped on a rock, and accidentally kicked my pan. That glass vial flew out of the pan onto rocks at the edge of the fast-flowing North Yuba River, broke, and my gold went back to whence it came. I was only able to recover maybe a gram. Take heed with this tale of woe. Use plastic vials in the field (yes, you can buy those as well) and only use glass vials for display purposes.

You can put this basic kit together quite easily and for very little expense ($25.00-$60.00). And as I've stated in earlier posts, you need to learn how to "walk" before you try to "run" when it comes to gold mining endeavors. Keep it simple and learn the basics first. Then move on to more complicated and expensive placer mining gear.

Have fun out there!

(c) Jim Rocha 2017

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


  1. The only other thing I have added is a classifer. Helps a little with the area I'm in since I see lots of flat flakes and fines. Bought an assault pack on base so it's nice and sturdy and fits everything you mentioned.Also thank you for the tip about fine point paint brush, I'll be adding that to my pack.

  2. Rene I covered the classifier in Part 1 of this series of posts.

  3. JR, One thing that really helped me build confidence is a about a half dozen small pieces on lead bird shot. Since gold is almost twice as heavy as lead, learning to pan, if you can keep your bird shot, you can keep the gold. I dropped 3-4 (count them) right on top of the gravel in a pan and panned it out. If you still have 3-4 when you are done, you are doing it right.....if not, better practice until you don't loose any!

  4. Yes, that's a good way to learn how to pan efficiently Gary.


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