Panning Tips
by Steve Johnson

This page is dedicated to all those who enjoy the pursuit of gold. The information provided here will help the novice as well as the more experienced gold prospector. Most of my prospecting has been done in Colorado because that is where I live. I found the gold pictured in the blue pan in little more than four hours within the city limits of Denver. As they say, "Gold is where you find it."

 Basic Panning Equipment

The most basic form of prospecting for gold is the use of the gold pan. I prefer the "Keene Super Pan" for doing a quick panning to find if there is gold present and also to pan down my concentrates at the end of the day. In addition to the gold pan, there are a few other items that I use. Here's a list of basic equipment:

  • Large riffled gold pan
  • Rock classifier seive
  • Magnet
  • Artist's paint brush
  • Hand scoop
  • Large black plastic pans
  • White 5-gallon dry-wall buckets
  • Small clean-up gold pan
  • Sniffer bottle or eye dropper
  • Small capped glass vials

 Quick Gold Panning Technique

First locate gravel which may contain gold. The best place to look is in obvious gold producing creeks, streams, and rivers. I try to find a gravel deposit that is out of the water in a sand bar, behind a large rock, or an area of gravel exposed by erosion in the side of a body of water. Gold travels the path of least resistance, usually on the inside bends of moving bodies of water.

I have found that it is a good idea to try a few sample pans to determine if the spot I have chosen is a good one to work. For this type of panning, I usually do not classify the gravel but instead I fill my pan full of gravel and do a quick panning to determine if there is any gold present. I do this by filling the pan with water and shaking it back and forth to settle the heavy material to the bottom of the pan. I also dip the pan away from me and, after several back and forth shakes, I allow the lighter material to wash over the top of the pan and back into my work tub. I remove the larger rocks and pebbles by scooping them over the edge. I keep doing this until there is only about a tablespoon or two of concentrates left in the pan. Most of the panning is done using the riffles in the pan. When I get down to a fairly small amount of gravel, I move it to the textured/smooth part of the pan where I finish panning.

At this point, I change my panning technique. I switch to a smaller clean-up pan. I keep a small amount of water over the remaining concentrates. I add a drop of liquid detergent to keep the very small flakes from "floating." Now I move the concentrates away from me in the pan and begin letting the water wash over the concentrates and float towards me to the other end of the pan. The lighter material will float down with the water and the gold, if present, will "stick" and stay at the upper end of the pan. It takes some practice to make this work correctly. I find a small artist's paint brush is ideal for moving the gold specks together and moving stubborn pieces of gravel, lead, and black sand out of the way. I then remove the gold with a "Gold Bottle Sniffer" or and eye dropper.

If I determine that there is gold present, I begin to dig gravel and classify it down to about 1/8" size gravel with a classifier sieve. I use five-gallon dry wall buckets and large black concrete mixing pans to move the gravel and to classify it down. This gets the gravel down to a manageable size. From here I return to my basic panning technique.

 Using a Portable Sluice

After you have tried your hand at panning, you'll soon discover there is a lot of work involved with very little gold to show for it. As your panning technique improves, you will want to get more gold per outing. Probably the next step in your gold panning hobby will be the purchase of a small portable sluice box. A sluice box increases efficiency by many times. I like the "Keene A51 Mini Sluice" and the "Keene A52 Hand Sluice." Both sluice boxes have a new riffle design and new black rubber ribbed matting for instant gold recognition and improved fine gold recovery.

Rather than panning each shovel full of gravel into a pan, I run the material through a sluice box. Placement of the sluice box in a river or stream is critical. Too much water flow and everything is washed away. Too little water flow causes the riffles to jam up and become ineffective. It takes some practice to obtain the optimum flow. Most river gravel will contain larger rocks which can also cause problems with a sluicing operation.

Again, I use a system of buckets and large rectangular pans to classify the gravel before I run it through the sluice box. In this case, I use 1/4 inch or 1/2 inch classifying screens to eliminate the larger rocks that can slow down production. At the end of the outing (or when the riffles are full of black sand), I again go back to my basic panning technique. This time I classify all the material down to #20 mesh with a classifier sieve and pan each down to insure I do not throw away any small nuggets. If the gold is particularly fine, I will also use a #50 mesh screen to further classify the material.

 A Simple Concentrator

After a while, you will start to get a lot of black sand in your clean-up at the end of an outing. Panning is effective, but it becomes very time consuming and difficult when there is a lot of black sand to process. I have made an inexpensive concentrator out of clear plastic tubing, a funnel, and a water control device hooked-up to my hose.

I do all my clean-up at home. Doing the clean-up at home helps eliminate mistakes and also allows me to spend as much time as necessary to do a more thorough job. The idea of this concentrator is that I fill the clear tube with water from the control valve on the garden hose. Slowly and carefully I fill the funnel and clear tube with black sand concentrate. Then I start adjusting the water flow to move the light weight material over the top of the funnel while leaving the heaviest concentrates in the tube. This takes practice and care in controlling the water flow. When done correctly, there is nothing left but very concentrated black sand and gold, which I can then clean up with my pan.

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