Placer mining is a form of mining for gold. The word ‘placer’ translates from Spanish to mean “sand bank” and describes one of the common locations one would placer mine. It was the method of choice of prospectors in the late 1800’s who followed gold rushes from California to British Columbia.

Here is a general breakdown of placer mining techniques:

1 – Gold Panning

A Gold Pan is One of the Most Common Tools for Mining.
Image Source: Wikimedia

Probably the oldest and best known mining tool is the gold pan. In addition to being inexpensive and easy to transport, store and use, all one needed was a pan full of dirt and a water source. By ‘weeding’ out the large rocks and debris with circular motions, the gold pan would trap heavier gold nuggets in black sand at the bottom of a pan.

2 – Sluice Box

Designed as a wooden trough with a long bed and open ends, with one end narrower and lower to the ground, this is an effective way to mine for gold. The floor of the bed would contain a series of ridges and when placed in deep enough water to be partly submerged, this tool did amazing work. By dumping shovels of dirt in the box bed, the water stream would wash it away leaving gold trapped in the ridges.

3 – Rocker

When water is too shallow or unavailable to use a sluice box, the next best thing is a rocker. This device is also known as a cradle or dolly and it does exactly as the name implies. A shovelful of dirt is placed in the box of the rocker and with water added the entire unit is rocked back and forth – usually with a long attached handle. The rocking motion breaks up the dirt and debris to be washed away by the water. What remains is gold trapped in the ridges of the rocker bed.

4 – Dredge

A Dredge Can be Used to Efficiently Sift Through Sand and Gravel.
Image Source: Wikimedia

This is a mechanical apparatus which collects sand, gravel and dirt with a series of ‘buckets’ in a continuous line at the front of the machine. Water is used to sift through the collected material that is often dumped on a steel rotating cylinder. Large material gets carted away from a belt at the bottom of the cylinder which has several smaller holes in it to collect undersized material, such as gold, to be filtered through.

5 – Trommel

Built around a rotating metal tube with a slight incline, this tool has a screen at one end and lifter bars attached to the interior. The tube is known as the scrubber section and ore is loaded into the top end of the standing tube. With pressurized water and a mechanical action moving the scrubber the ore is broken down separating gold which is released through the screen.

Miners Taught Us All

Who would have known that prospectors from 150 years ago would be using mining methods that are still in use today? Recreational hand panning continues to be a popular hobby that attracts both young and old. Plus, there are still several active claims staked along rivers and streams throughout the country that are continually worked for gold to this day.