Good Equipment vs. Bad Equipment (Part 1)



Mike W. in New York suggested I write a post from my point of view outlining good small-scale mining equipment versus bad equipment. There's a popular saying about opinions, but despite that fact I'll give it my best shot. I may end up approaching the true issue here in a roundabout way but I'll get there eventually. So bear with me, will you?

A Simple Premise

First of all, let me say that I've never been much of an equipment fanatic when it comes to my mining endeavors. Even back during the height of my powered gear mining days in the very late 1970s and all through the 1980s (until the early 1990s when I moved to New Mexico) I stuck with a few pieces of equipment that proved themselves over time. My mode was to travel, prospect, and mine as light as I possibly could and still get the job done. I still operate from that simple premise and unless you're going at things from strictly a money making standpoint I suggest you do the same. Mining was never my main source of income and it still isn't as I approach the winter of my life as well as my mining career (such that it was). As most of you already know, making a reasonable living from small-scale gold mining is an uphill battle that few individuals are able to win over time. It's the nature of the beast and you newcomers (greenhorns) will learn that fact quite quickly...if you haven't already.

(So does small-scale mining if you can pull it off.)

The Name of the Game

When I first started out in small-scale gold prospecting and mining the only gear I owned was a couple of gold pans, a quarter-inch classifier, a few digging and crevicing tools, and a couple of venerable five-gallon buckets. I was so green back then that I was hard pressed to be effective even with these simple items. But as I grew more knowledgeable and experienced (thanks in main to some "tough love" mining mentors) I realized that if I wanted to recover more gold I needed to move more material. After all, that's truly the name of the game isn't it? Anyway, I was spending the bulk of my time back in those days in desert terrain working dry placers so my first piece of motorized gear was a wooden "puffer" dry washer designed and built for me by Sam Radding...one hell of a treasure hunter, gold miner, and yes...wood worker. Actually that last descriptor is not fair to Sam. He was an artisan with wood and his custom guitars and Appalachian dulcimers were truly works of art. For quite a few years now Sam has been doing the underwater gold sniping thing up in the Northern California Motherlode Region and he's now an acknowledged expert on pulling gold from bedrock cracks and crevices underwater. In fact, he's co-written a great book on the subject.

(Sam Radding with one of his "GO" guitar creations.)

Simple and Tough

The puffer that Sam made for me was a little gem. It was powered by a Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engine mounted atop a metal stand and used a pulley and drive belt set up to power the canvas bellows that puffed bursts of air air up through the removable wooden riffle tray backed by linen cloth. It was a simple and tough design that took all the punishment the desert (and I) could throw at it. I used it to good effect all through the 1980s into the early 1990s when I would work dry placers during the colder wet placer months. I finally retired it a couple of years after moving to New Mexico in 1991. Why? I was struggling to start a new career in unfamiliar terrain and had a new-born child and wife to support. My mining and prospecting activities took a back seat during this period...we (the family) were in survival mode back then and I had little, if any time, for "frivolous" pursuits. I'll end this train of thought simply by telling you those were very tough times and I had little in the way of time for doing the things I loved. I was also heading toward the inevitable conclusion (and end) of my addiction to alcohol and certain drugs. I've been clean and sober for 23 years now. Enough said on that.

  (A "puffer" very similar to the one I used for many years.)

The Early Days

During my early mining years I began working wet placers in the warmer months (those desert placers I worked with my puffer in cooler months would boil your brains in the summertime!) My first piece of wet placer gear was a wooden sluice box that I made myself out of pine. It was five-feet in length, ten inches wide, and about six inches high. It had removable wooden riffles and was lined with dark green indoor/outdoor carpet. I was still pretty much a newbie back then so I just winged it with this box. It wasn't much on portability but I have to say with a certain measure of pride that it worked like a champ. But then, the basics of a sluice box are not rocket science, right? Around this same time a buddy of mine was into making rocker boxes (i.e., "miner's cradles") and he built one for me. The sized-down version rocker box I used only occasionally in wet placers where water was in short supply or not flowing strongly enough to run a sluice efficiently. I'll tell you this...a rocker box works just fine but the process of feeding it and running material through it is just too laborious for my tastes. For the old timers working richer ground it was certainly viable. Not so much for me. These were my earliest, non-motorized pieces of wet placer mining gear.

(Too laborious a process for my tastes.)

Stick to the Basics

By now I hope you're starting to get the drift that high-priced, motorized gear or gadgets are not always necessary to get the gold. I'll talk about a few of my "store-bought" pieces of equipment and give you my direct thoughts about good vs. bad items next time. I'll also try to find some old photos (if I can locate the album containing them) to illustrate some of my early efforts and gear. However, before I end this post one thing you should keep in mind is that buying a better "mousetrap" is not necessary, nor even needed in most instances. Like I said before, stick to the basics and you can't go wrong from a small-scale mining standpoint. In the long run whatever works is "good" and what doesn't is "bad." And I don't care how much it's hyped online or in YouTube videos. If it can't cut the mustard any better than the old school gear why shell out boo-coo bucks for it?

A reasonable question, don't you think?

(c) Jim Rocha 2018

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

Comments


  1. A very nice read Jim. I like reading about interesting life stories. We all have a life story, don't we?
    We have more in common than the two of us turning 70. I'm scheduled for next week!
    I think it's great. I'm thinking about taking a few days and go down to the southern Oregon Coast and do some beach prospecting, and just enjoy the scenery.
    Do you still have the old gem of a drywasher?
    I've never had the opportunity to run one, but I'd sure like to give it a try.
    I like dirt.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Michael in Mid-HudsonJanuary 31, 2018 at 1:34 PM

    Some manufacturers are forever selling the public old ideas that are marginally functional in performance. When approaching the need for buying an item off of the shelf, Don't believe a thing that they say, and only half of what they print. Their job is to move merchandise at whatever the cost. I started out doing a ton of research, and found that they were for the most part selling the very same device with a few new functions that appear to add value... but really didn't.

    The biggest standout that I just stated, is they blatantly suggest that the buyer add "Miners Moss" for even better sluice recovery. If their design or engineering was so good, why would they need long stranded nylon spaghetti carpet to play catchup, because of the lack of good engineering. Years ago, I was a software development programmer... so it was either a -1 or 0. It was a true or false, it worked or it didn't. I left the industry when my job finally went to India, but my logic stayed here. I looked around and settled on a somewhat controversial, fairly expensive sluice called the Gold Well sluice. If Twinkle Bell shed her angel dust onto the sluice, it would catch it.

    I've tried Angus MacKirks' Eureka Sluice for $140.00, it's not bad for preliminary prospecting. But much more than that, sorry Angus, I've got to kick you to the curb. When I tried out my Gold Well sluice, I put the Eureka at the end of the Gold Well to receive material to check the Gold Well sluice for loses. There were none. The primary sluice was unique, it was a Gold Well vortex drop sluice. The designer/engineer is a very eclectic, oddball named Bernie Makowski (meant warmly). He lives off the grid in Arizona. His sluice is probably the only one to actually catch micron gold with consistency. I sat over a honey hole for over two weeks.My sluice is a 12" X 60" I would have given it a five stars for functionality, but for the weight. It's made of solid machined aircraft aluminum billets. Most people would claim that the sluice is overpriced, but if a piece functions as designed, I'll buy it. It cost me over $600, but I sat over a "honey hole" for two weeks and it paid for itself about 40 times over. I wasn't shoveling material, I had my four inch suction dredge attached with a classifier feeding the beast. I am the patent holder of this unique, but simple classifier, driven by physics, not good looks for the marketplace.

    Most users will claim one reason or another as to why the device doesn't work. First is usually a user input error. GIGO... garbage in, garbage out. Or the machinery is designed for all of the lemmings in the herd, it possibly is poorly designed and/or engineered, but that doesn't matter. Brand identification does.

    This winter, I'm spending time designing a better mouse trap for the dry wash community. But, either it works or doesn't work, is the question. Thankfully, I've access to a couple of Math and Engineering PhD's in the family to eliminate/refine my design or erroneous event calculations. Or, as I always refer to them as transient anomalies, not "bugs". As with all things in life - Caveat Emptor", let the buyer beware.

    =============================================================================
    DO NOT INCLUDE THE TYPE BELOW THE DASHED LINE.

    I did not include the links to Angus MacKirk's site. This would have effectively sent website viewers to a competing site or would appear as an endorsement. They can google it. HMResearch.com is a different story. I would endorse his product, but would not send any of your users to his Facebook site. Your web site, your choice. Sadly, an associate purloined the machine design and machine readable gCode and patented the design as his in Canada. Devon Gold Exploration Manufacture are the "patent holders" of this stolen intellectual property in Canada.

    Google - goldwell vortex drop riffle sluice box or
    hm research sluice

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well Happy 70th my friend! The time does fly. I passed on my venerable old puffer to a friend and it's still running as far as I know. And digging dirt...always at your service!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Here's a redacted comment from Mike W. Sorry Mike, but I screwed up the initial posting of the comment. J.R.

      Some manufacturers are forever selling the public old ideas that are marginally functional in performance. When approaching the need for buying an item off of the shelf, Don't believe a thing that they say, and only half of what they print. Their job is to move merchandise at whatever the cost. I started out doing a ton of research, and found that they were for the most part selling the very same device with a few new functions that appear to add value... but really didn't.

      The biggest standout that I just stated, is they blatantly suggest that the buyer add "Miners Moss" for even better sluice recovery. If their design or engineering was so good, why would they need long stranded nylon spaghetti carpet to play catchup, because of the lack of good engineering. Years ago, I was a software development programmer... so it was either a -1 or 0. It was a true or false, it worked or it didn't. I left the industry when my job finally went to India, but my logic stayed here. I looked around and settled on a somewhat controversial, fairly expensive sluice called the Gold Well sluice. If Twinkle Bell shed her angel dust onto the sluice, it would catch it.

      I've tried Angus MacKirks' Eureka Sluice for $140.00, it's not bad for preliminary prospecting. But much more than that, sorry Angus, I've got to kick you to the curb. When I tried out my Gold Well sluice, I put the Eureka at the end of the Gold Well to receive material to check the Gold Well sluice for loses. There were none. The primary sluice was unique, it was a Gold Well vortex drop sluice. The designer/engineer is a very eclectic, oddball named Bernie Makowski (meant warmly). He lives off the grid in Arizona. His sluice is probably the only one to actually catch micron gold with consistency. I sat over a honey hole for over two weeks.My sluice is a 12" X 60" I would have given it a five stars for functionality, but for the weight. It's made of solid machined aircraft aluminum billets. Most people would claim that the sluice is overpriced, but if a piece functions as designed, I'll buy it. It cost me over $600, but I sat over a "honey hole" for two weeks and it paid for itself about 40 times over. I wasn't shoveling material, I had my four inch suction dredge attached with a classifier feeding the beast. I am the patent holder of this unique, but simple classifier, driven by physics, not good looks for the marketplace.

      Most users will claim one reason or another as to why the device doesn't work. First is usually a user input error. GIGO... garbage in, garbage out. Or the machinery is designed for all of the lemmings in the herd, it possibly is poorly designed and/or engineered, but that doesn't matter. Brand identification does.

      This winter, I'm spending time designing a better mouse trap for the dry wash community. But, either it works or doesn't work, is the question. Thankfully, I've access to a couple of Math and Engineering PhD's in the family to eliminate/refine my design or erroneous event calculations. Or, as I always refer to them as transient anomalies, not "bugs". As with all things in life - Caveat Emptor", let the buyer beware.

      Delete
  4. JR, I've always enjoyed making things. Outdoors equipment especially. If you make something yourself, you get more satisfaction out of it when it works. When it doesn't work, or breaks down, since you made it, you know you can fix it too. Lastly, every dime you spend on something puts you that much farther in the hole. You have to pay for your operating costs before you make money. Keeping the cost down, helps no matter what the venture might be. Gary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Best way to operate Gary. Lean and mean.

      Delete

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