Good Equipment vs. Bad Equipment (Conclusion)

OK, it's time to wrap up this series of posts. In this post I'll talk about some of the main pieces of motorized small-scale gold mining equipment I've used over the years. Feel free to comment on the gear you've used in terms of what has worked and what hasn't since I tended to stick with a few tried and true products. And remember... to a certain extent "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" in this regard.

Dry Washers

I already know that many of you out there have never used a dry washer and probably never will. But for folks like me who either started their mining careers working dry placers or who frequently work arid or desert regions for gold, the dry washer is your best bet for moving gold-bearing material without water. Once again, the dry washer I used for the better part of a decade or longer was a custom-built, wooden "puffer" designed and built by Sam Radding back in the day. I never owned any other type of dry washer but I have "test driven" other designs over the years at the urging of their owners and I've also seen some pretty unique (maybe weird is a better descriptor) designs in operation firsthand.

 (Here's a nice little "puffer" design.)

The "Thing"

One of the most bizarre pieces of equipment I ever came across in this regard was a do-it-yourself (DIY) metal job that employed a lawn mower engine to shake and vibrate a batea-looking disc or bowl that sat atop the rig on springs. The idea in play here was that the pre-screened material fed into the shallow bowl would be shaken around and vibrated in such a way that the lighter material would spill over the edges of the bowl. Well, that "thing" (a good name for it!) was noisier than hell and would shake, rattle, and roll all over the place. At times, it appeared to be moving of its own volition for parts unknown. I remember standing nearby and watching its operation with my mouth hanging wide open. I was fairly green back then but despite that fact, I just intuitively KNEW that this piece of gear wasn't the best option for moving dry placer gravels. In truth it was the most "crackpot" piece of gear I've ever seen in four decades of small-scale gold mining. Needless to say, I don't recommend an approach like this although I appreciate the "inspired" creativity and ingenuity involved in its design and construction.

Simple is Best

If you're going the store-bought route with a dry washer, Keene Engineering makes a number of different designs as do a number of other designers/sellers online. I've tested both a Keene hand-cranked and motorized puffer, and they both worked very well. So does their electro-static blower version. But I'm old school, all the way. I'm partial to the "puffer" design because of its overall simplicity and efficiency in processing dry material. And here's the deal...unless you're brain dead from a DIY standpoint like me, you can design or build your own "puffer" from plans that can be found online. The thing to remember with dry washers (store bought or DIY) in terms of good vs. bad is the old KISS ("Keep it simple, stupid!") routine. Fancier designs and added gadgets (like the "thing" I mentioned) are not the way to go with dry washers. Again, simple is best. 

Suction Dredges

Let's get suction dredges out of the way since those two words leave a bad taste in my mouth these days for reasons that should be apparent to small-scale guys and gals out here in the West and Southwest. Anyhoo, the only dredge I ever used was a Keene store-bought model. This was back during the 1980s when I was spending the bulk of my summers dredging, sniping, and highbanking up along the North Yuba River in Northern California. Again, I'm partial to Keene products because Garrett detecting gear...have always done well by me. However, you have to remember that 30-38 years ago the engines driving many store-bought pieces of gear were balky at times and the motor on my Keene fell into that category on occasion. Not being much of a mechanic, I probably added to this issue at times. Otherwise the unit worked well for me. Today, the motors on most gear like this are much better engineered and much more reliable. There are other manufacturers of suction dredges out there but I can't speak to how good (or bad) their products are. In fact, I don't like talking about suction dredges at all any longer. The entire topic just pisses me off. But again, feel free to comment on your favorite type or brand of dredge.

(Keene 4-incher that's been worked hard.)


It seems to me that these days there are as many builders/sellers of highbankers as there are stars in the sky (well...maybe not that many...but close!). My highbanker? Yep, you guessed it. A Keene store-bought model. Again, despite some engine issues, that highbanker worked like a champ and could handle just about all the material you threw its way. One thing I didn't like about its design were its "legs" or stand. They were always a bit "frail" in my opinion...sort of like a body builder with a huge chest and arms and little, spindly legs. Other than that, I liked that Keene highbanker just fine and it captured a lot of placer gold for me over the years. You know, a sharp guy or gal with good DIY skills and some time on their hands could design and build a decent highbanker...hell, even a suction dredge for that matter. As to good vs. bad with dredges and highbankers? Keene is good. But I never used anything else. (And by the way, if you're wondering about gold trommels I never had occasion to use one...ever. So I can't speak to that particular piece of gear.)

(Brand-new highbanker waiting to be used. Nope...not a Keene!)

The Real Definition

To wrap things up here what What doesn't...doesn't. That's the real definition of good vs. bad I reckon. You know, the basics of gold recovery via various types of basic mining equipment are pretty straightforward. So my suggestion is that you avoid the bells and whistles or "gadgety" approach and stick to those simpler designs or configurations that work well for you. If you don't have the folding green to shell out for store-bought gear then, by golly, make it yourself. After all, your dry washer, or dredge, or highbanker doesn't have to be pretty. It just has to work.

Best to all.

(c) Jim Rocha 2018

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. JR, your description of the "Thing" cracked me up! Ha! I can picture it perfectly in my mind!
    Really, the idea behind it doesn't seem too bad, but it sounds like it needed quite a few "Improvements!!"
    All I have ever used is a sluice and a pan. I did try to use my sluice like a rocker once on our big trip "down under". There was no flowing water, just puddles. Took the riffle bar out and left the miner's moss, and hand dippered water into it on a fairly steep seemed like it should have worked, but I didn't find anything.
    I'd like to try some of these others someday. Gary

  2. The "Things was quite a contraption Gary. Just as you imagine it but painted entirely black!


Post a Comment