Gold Prospecting
Clean Ups
Gold Pics
American Mining Rights Association

Just like much of prospecting for gold, your cleanup process is one that you develop based on your own style. Now you may find yourself saying "what do I need for cleanups"? That's a great question, so here's a couple pointers:

First, you need to learn how to pan. No matter how good your cleanup and recovery system is, it all ends with panning. The only way to get good at panning is to do it. You can practice at home with a tub of water and some material. Throw a couple pieces of lead shot or tiny fishing weights in with some sandy and rocky material and practice. Panning is like driving a car... Everyone has a different way of doing it, but there are still a couple basic rules that must be followed:

-Don't overload your pan with too much material. You need to be able to agitate it without spilling any.
-Keep the material in your pan wet and covered with water. The material needs to be fluid to help gold settle.
-Don't dump material out, let the swirling action of water move lighter waste out of the pan.
-Always pan pay dirt or cons into a tub or bucket.
-Keep your pan clean and away from oily substances.
-Test your accuracy. Pan gold bearing cons into another pan and then test your work.
-Never drop your pan on rocks when the temps are below freezing! I've broken two pans doing this...

Next, realize that no matter how good you are at panning, try not to pan down your concentrated pay dirt on the creek unless you are panning into a bucket or tub. Definitely look at what you are finding when you empty out your sluice, high banker, or dredge, but pan into that bucket and take it home where you can do it in a much more controlled and relaxed environment.

For cleanups, what do you need out at your favorite honey hole?
You need a 5-gallon bucket, a shovel, a hand scoop, a gold pan, a snuffer bottle, and at least one classifier. A black mortar tub is also very helpful if you are dredging or sluicing so you can rinse out your equipment and also to put your mats, moss, and carpet in for a vigorous shake.

Start with a #4 classifier first. This is the most commonly used classifier and its good for all around prospecting activities. Next I'd recommend either the #8 or the #12 classifier, these two are used by many to help separate waste from black sand and heavies. The picture below shows a #4 classifier (left), a #12 classifier (center), and both of them side by side.

You can add more classifiers to your collection as you go as each has a purpose and is useful in one way or another. Also keep in mind that most classifiers are made to fit perfectly inside the top of a standard 5-gallon bucket. Also, be very mindful of your snuffer bottle while your working around your equipment. They have a tendency to be misplaced or forgotten and they will float downstream!

At home, you can start processing your concentrates by panning into a mortar tub or another 5-gallon bucket. You can find the mortar tubs at Lowes or Home Depot for about $9. This is a great way to practice panning with gold bearing dirt, build your confidence, and allow you to do it in the comforts of your own home. Some prospectors save their cons all summer long and do their panning at home during the winter months.

If you feel the need to take it up a notch, you can either purchase a small recirculating cleanup sluice or you can make one yourself. They're very simple to make using any small cleanup-style sluice, a small pond pump, some hose and PVC pipe, and a catch tub. You can add stuff to your system, such as a feeder tube with a little drip line which puts just enough water in the feeder tube to keep material moving down into the cleanup sluice at a slow pace. You'll have to experiment with water flow, material size, and angle, but that's the fun of the hobby! The best part of doing your cleanup at home is that you can always run the material again if you think you've messed something up, and you've lost no gold in the process.

During the first few years of prospecting, I started to accumulate buckets and buckets of concentrates. I was panning cons at home in a tub, and I just couldn't keep up. Soon, a handful of buckets turned into 24 buckets piled into a pyramid, and I knew that there was no way I was ever going to pan that stuff out by hand. I decided to build a small recirculating cleanup sluice in my basement.

I built the cleanup sluice using a small fish pond pump, two Angus MacKirk "Mini Long Tom" sluices, and a feeder tube with a controlled drip. This system worked very well, but it did much better when the material was classified into different sizes so that I could adjust the pump according to the size of the material being run.

The next order of business was to get all those buckets out of my shed and get them dried and classified. I laid out a tarp on the yard and dumped the cons onto the tarp to dry them out. Once dried, I classified them into four sizes: +12, +20, +30, and -30. The tarp was doubled over for safety, and I was able to dry out 8 buckets at a time. The cons would be completely dry if left in direct sunlight for one full sunny day or two somewhat sunny days. Every hour or so I would use the flat side of a hard rake and stir the pile and spread it around.

This was a lot of work to dry and classify all those buckets, but in the end it saved time as I could load the feeder on the cleanup sluice with a specific size of material and run the correct speed needed to process just that size. It proved to be a very effective process and I rarely found color in twice-run material. It took about 4 hours to run a full 5-gallon bucket of cons through these sluices, with cleanups being conducted about halfway through the process.

I used this cleanup sluice for two years and was able to knock out those two dozen buckets. Once eliminated, I was able to keep up with the ebb and flow of bringing cons home from the creek for processing. I continued to use this system until I got a good deal on a used RP4 shaker table. The timing of the RP4 purchase was great because there were small scale placer mining initiatives on the horizon, and I needed to learn how to process a larger amount of concentrates in less time. There was no way Mamma was going to let me build a full scale cleanup system in the basement...

I built the new cleanup system in my shed and carefully planned out the structure, water flow, and electrical needs before I started building. That was a feat of novice engineering in itself because I wanted to use gravity and knew that the water source was going to be high in the air. Once the plans were drafted, I started off by building a 54" tall wooden platform capable of holding two 275 gallon water totes that Steve Martin found locally. The platform had to be strong as these two containers could hold over 4,000lbs of water.

Water flows from the containers down into a mini trommel crafted by Steve Martin. The material enters the trommel from twin 8' drip feeders. Material greater than 1/4" exits the trommel into a large tub (used to fill potholes on my driveway), and material smaller than 1/4" enters the RP4 Shaker Table.

Once on the table, the cons are processed using water, vibration, and magnets. The pay dirt transits along the table and down into four chutes. Chute 1 is waste and is discarded after random checks. Chute 2 is usually mostly quartz and some black sand, and that material enters a mini sluice for a "just in case" check. Chute 3 and Chute 4 both drain into a single catch tube and drop into a bucket. I've angled the table so that 99% of the gold goes into Chutes 3 and 4. Every once in a while I will find a small piece in Chute 2, and that's why that mini sluice is there as a safety net.

The super cons from Chutes 3 and 4 contain most of the gold, and those two chutes empty into a single bucket. After a 5-gallon run of cons, the bucket is classified down into two sizes, +30 and -30. Both sizes are placed into their own blue bowl for processing. Separating the super cons is important because the blue bowls run at very specific speeds based on the size of the material. Waste from the blue bowls enter their own buckets, and those buckets are run through the entire cleanup system a second time.

The system is an orchestra of moving parts, pumps, hoses and pipes. Water at the bottom of the system is returned to the elevated 275 gallon tanks through a 2" hose with a high power sump pump. It's a tricky combination of water control, valves, and spray bars. Water levels must remain at appropriate marks, but once the system is set it will run for hours without any need of babysitting. I can turn a full 5-gallon bucket of cons into blue bowl gold in about an hour with an extremely high degree of efficiency and effectiveness. It's actually kinda boring once you load the feed tubes!

I like to keep all the +20 gold and store it in plastic vials. I was using glass vials but learned a hard lesson with those. Once I get a vial of +20, I stop off at the bank and put it in the safety deposit box for safe keeping. Henry Dickens taught me how to refine natural gold into pure gold using a combination of chemicals and agents to remove impurities. I now take all the -20 gold I recover, refine it, and then use a furnace to create small buttons of pure gold. Even though I love to look at that small gold in its natural form, I think turning that stuff into small buttons is a safer and more secure way to store it over the long term.

Here's some Virginia gold I've recovered sorted by size (from left to right): +4, +8, +12, +20, +30, -30.

For Virginia gold, I make a quarter ounce button (120 grains) by starting off the process with about 128-132 grains of raw gold from the creek. Virginia gold is very pure in natural form and comes in around 23 karat right out of the ground. Most of the weight lost during refining is silver, and this can be recovered with another process. I like the 1/4 ounce and 1/2 ounce buttons because the smaller size/lower value make them easier to sell or trade and they are easier to combine and melt into larger bars.

The below pictures show what the gold looks like in the final stages of being turned into a pure button. This step is done after the gold has been recovered from the aqua regia. The furnace runs between 1750 and 1800 degrees. The cupel absorbs impurities leaving only the gold. The gold forms into a molten sphere in the center of the cupel and looks like the sun. The gold "flashes" as it cools and hits its solid state, and the result is a circular "button" of pure gold.

This gold (below photo) came out of a decaying quartz seam that was running along bedrock under 24" of overburden. The bedrock was smooth on either side, and this 12" wide rough spot filled with sharp and broken quartz provided an awesome trap for heavies as fluid material slid downstream along the bottom. The quartz vein was not "bearing" in nature, it just provided that perfect trapping environment. This just goes to show that even if you land on smooth bedrock, a crack or rough spot may be just out of site but packed with great gold.

Most of my dredges are set up so that I can remove the top 1/2 of the moss/riffles and clean out just the upper portion of the sluice. This speeds up the cleanup process especially when testing areas that require frequent checks for values. I do my best to knock the larger waste out of the concentrates while on site so that I'm not lugging a bucket of worthless rocks home. I'll use a #4 or #8, sometimes a #12 if I'm in a spot with more fine gold. The concentrates go into a tub or bucket and I carefully check the screens for larger gold. I like to do those quick pans on site to see what color I am finding in the location where I am working. Making mental, written, or photographic notes of recovery is important when trying to establish pay layers and potential pay streaks. Don't expect to remember everything, so be prepared to document your finds. Every once in a while you'll have a cleanup that just blows your mind. A top mat covered in gold and other heavies is a major rush, and it's fun to cleanup just that top mat and give yourself a hefty mental boost. Here's a photo of a top mat after working below a layer of hardpack which revealed a 3" wide crack. Yup, someone was too lazy to break the clay and get down to true bedrock, and this is what they left underneath that clay in the awesome bedrock crack.

Here are a couple pictures of some cleanups I've had over the past few years. I recovered most of this gold using a suction dredge, but a couple pics are from sluicing out in California. There are good days and bad days with regards to recovery, so don't get discouraged if you have a lousy cleanup. Stick with it, study your environment, test as much as possible and the great cleanups will follow.

I would say that the bottom line with any cleanup process is to do it in an environment that you control to maximize your gold recovery.

Copyright 2007-2016. Image and Content owner is David Shackleton unless otherwise stated. All Rights Reserved.