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.
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, well...you know where to find me.
(Are they coming for me yet?)
Best to all.
(c) Jim Rocha 2018
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org