Good Equipment vs. Bad Equipment (Part 3)

Although I'm plodding along here, I'll eventually wind this series of posts down. You see, it's never a good idea to beat a dead horse over and over again. In fact, it doesn't make a whole lotta sense to beat a dead horse at all! Anyway, onward and upward my friends.

Sluice Boxes

The good ol' sluice box is a piece of basic equipment that should be in any placer miner's arsenal. It's simple, works well, and catches most of the gold you shovel into it. The latter depends on certain variables like slope angle, water flow, and so on. But you already know this stuff. The sluice box was developed back in the days of yore as a more efficient equivalent to the gold pan (never meant for moving material or "mining") and the rocker box. Now here's a point you need to remember about sluice boxes when it comes to this whole deal about good vs. bad equipment. A sluice's efficiency at trapping gold is directly linked to its overall configuration, especially its length. That's why the old timers during the California Gold Rush (1849-1855) developed the "Long Tom," a series of sluice boxes linked together. They did this because they found out that the "Long Tom" was even more efficient at trapping placer gold (including very fine gold) than a single box. So the length of the box became the central issue of designing and constructing sluices back then.

 (Argonauts using a "Long Tom" back in the day.)


Fast forward to today. It isn't feasible for most small-scale gold miners to use the "Long Tom" approach for any number of reasons, including the most important factor...portability. However, portability doesn't necessarily mean you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater in terms of a box's length. As I said earlier, I built my first sluice out of wood and it was roughly five feet long. Long enough to do the job well but still portable to some degree. I attached a handle to its side and carried it that way. Later on for my birthday my wife gave me my first store-bought piece of mining equipment, a Keene Engineering sluice like the one pictured below. It's portable and long enough to do the job as I've proven over time and still do on occasion 38 years later. I love that Keene box, truth be told. But the sluice box trend these days seems to emphasize portability over length and that is dead wrong in my opinion.

(An updated version of my Keene portable sluice box.)


There's a bunch of very short (a couple feet in length?) but highly portable sluices for sale online these days of various names and brands (none of which I'll mention for obvious reasons) and some of these are constructed of what appears to be pretty thin green plastic (but at least they got the color right!). When I see YouTube videos of them being used I have to tell you the truth...I cringe. You see, the whole concept of a sluice box is to move lots of material by shoveling directly into the box's header or, alternately, steadily pouring the contents of five-gallon buckets into it. These YouTube videos I speak of tell a different tale though. I see miners (?) sitting next to these "shorties" painstakingly spooning small amounts of gold-bearing material into them from a five-gallon bucket like a mother feeding a tiny infant. This is absolutely insane in my mind. It totally defeats the purpose of a sluice box. That sort of approach is best applied to fiddle-farting around or doing final clean ups, not processing material. Again, the sluice box was developed to move material. The more material moved, the more gold you get. It's a simple premise that hasn't changed for over 150 years or more. So I will tag these newer, very short "designs" as bad, pure and simple. As far as mining equipment goes, sacrificing efficiency for portability is piss-poor thinking. There, I said it. Now let the hounds of hell loose (or the lynch mobs, as the case may be).

(Thanks, but I'll pass.)

It Takes a Miner

Getting back to other store-bought boxes like my Keene, I have to say they've struck a good balance between portability and length. Those Keene boxes are durable as hell too. Like I said my Keene portable sluice has been beaten to shit over the course of nearly four decades and it still works like a champ! You can shovel material directly into it or use the five-gallon bucket "pour" approach. As long as you've got that box set up right with decent water flow it will gobble up the dirt and send the remnants down the chute and back into the stream with minor fiddling and fussing. I won't mask the fact I like Keene mining products almost as much as I like Garrett gear. Like the Garrett company, Keene knows its shit. Why? Most members of the Keene Engineering family were or are small-scale gold miners. It takes a miner to know what miner's need.

 (It takes a miner...)


Anyway I have no hard on against a small-scale guy or gal using one of those shorty, plastic riffle trays (a more apt description than sluice, methinks). If your thing is to sit there on a five-gallon bucket slowly spooning small amounts of material into your baby and just enjoying the wonders of nature, more power to you. But you ain't mining brother or sister. You're just playing. That's my opinion, such that it is. A sluice box is meant to MOVE material as efficiently and as quickly as possible. If you don't care about that point that's your prerogative. And if I've pissed some folks off by telling it the way I see it, know where to find me.

(Are they coming for me yet?)

Best to all.

(c) Jim Rocha 2018

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. Another very good article Jim. Thank you!
    I don't understand why you think this article would piss people off. A real miner wouldn't take offense would they..and the rest of them can just deal with it.
    Now that I'm officially 70 years old my plan is to spend more time outdoors this year and get an early start to boot.
    We have a recreational gold mining withdrawal area 30 miles away up in the hills.
    I drove up yesterday to scope it out and did not see one speck of snow on the ground.
    I was pleasantly surprised and if this very mild winter keeps up then there is no reason to get up there, camp a couple days, set up my biggest sluice box and see what happens.
    The creek is still kinda high but down enough to walk some bedrock near the shore and clean out some pockets of sand and gravel. And DUMP it in the end of the sluice box.
    I have a large Angus McKirk
    with adjustable legs that I have never tried out. I'm itching to do that really soon.
    By the end of May the place will be overrun with recreational miners, to a certain degree.
    But I live an hour away and since the weather is so mild I'm going to go up there and own that place as much as possible before ma and pa family gold miners show up.
    Have a great day everyone.

    1. Well most of us are miners but then again, who knows? I don't where you are sniper but maybe one day I'll come out and we'll tear that creek up!

  2. Hello JR, Good one here once again. That second picture of that green plastic sluice.....I've seen those for sale and can't figure out why anyone would buy one. If you look at the picture, the feed end isn't open for water to go in. Is it supposed to be dippered in? Clean up would be super easy, no miner's moss ,carpet of riffles to remove.....or to trap gold. It has to be supper light weight, but I can't see it working at all. Keene sluices are hard to beat. Well made and thought out, and they don't weigh that much either. That green thing is probably less money, but in this case it's still too much! I think I'll stick with my homemade stuff . All the more gold I find, I can't justify spending more money. Maybe if I start finding more someday. Until then, my stuff works just fine.
    Hey, back to the gold pans, did I send you that magazine article about all the different styles of pans? It would have been about a year ago. After seeing those, I got looking at antique ones. There are about a million different types, all promising to make you rich! Some are strange looking things, I'm sure they all work about the same. In the end, it really isn't that hard to not loose gold in a pan once you get the hang of it.

    1. You can DIY all of this gear Gary...even a suction dredge with some time and expertise.

  3. Hey fellas. I run the "green plastic sluice" in a highbanker configuration and it works well (see the guest posts I authored several years back) I'm still using the same one from those pics and for testing it can't be beat as you can clean it out in under 30 seconds. The Keene and homemade stuff has their benefits (durability) and cost so each to their own.

    1. Thanks for a different perspective on this gear.

  4. I've seen those green plastic Le Admaral Ackbar sluices, guys will cut the top off them to convert them to a river sluice. Problem is the plastic gets so flexible it's a pain in the ass to keep down seeing as how you can't just place a large flat rock on it. I'll tell ya what though I really enjoy my Grizzley Gold trap sluice. It's a different animal but I like not having to classify.

    1. Thanks for the info and comments Jacob.

    2. I have a proline sluice box for prospecting creeks in southern oregon around grants pass. I also have a 2" Keene high banker combo dredge with garrett pans, great equipment, fun time!


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