A Beginners guide to Washing for Gold
Getting the heavies to the bottom
The Process in Theory:
The concept of gold panning is quite simple and is based on the fact that if a variety of materials are held in suspension within a flowing body of water the heavier material relative to the volume of water it displaces will sink to a lower level in that body of water that any other material of a lesser specific gravity. As the flow of the body of water slows the materials having the higher specific gravity will settle on the static base material first regardless whether it be a stream bed or the bottom of a gold pan.
From the above it will be seen that the main objectives when panning, is to firstly get the material in the pan into a suspended state for a short period of time so that all of the gold is deposited on the bottom of the pan. Then when this has been accomplished progressively wash away /div>the lighter materials over the top rim of the pan, leaving the heavier materials remaining in the bottom. This process is continually repeated until only the heavier black sands and gold remain.
The Required Equipment:
For the beginner the main requirements are quite simple and all one should need is a couple of gold pans (one large and one small), a digging tool such as a car spade or light shovel, a small garden trowel or scoop, a few assorted crevassing tools (see Crevassing paragraph), a container to hold any gold found (old film canisters or pill bottles etc.), a sturdy pair of gum boots if the water is cold, also an old towel can be handy to dry ones hands.
The more serious operator may also include a crow bar, a mash hammer and assorted gads, a larger pick or mattock, a large shovel, and maybe even a sluice in his tool kit.
Gold Pans are available in either metal or plastic materials and may be square or round, with the round shape being by far the most common in general use. The size of a Gold Pan is still usually quoted in Imperial inches, indicating the diameter of the top rim of a normal round gold pan, while square pans are specified by both linear dimensions of the top rim. Manufactured sizes usually range from 6” to 18” in diameter allowing a choice of size depending on the physical capabilities of the user and/or the particular task at hand.
Many prospectors who use a pan on a regular basis as a means of locating prospective gold bearing areas prefer the older style metal pans, however if metal pans are only used occasionally they will rust (which decreases their effectiveness) if not stored properly and they need to be coated with a film of light oil for long term storage.
White's 14" round Plastic Gold Pan
When metal pans are purchased new they are coated with oil to prevent rusting and it is imperative that every trace of oil be removed before use otherwise fine gold will be lost. A common method to remove the oil from a new or previously oiled pan is to place it on the camp fire which will burn any oil off and leave the pan ready for use, some care needs to be taken when using this process that the pan is not over heated and it’s temper lost. Chemical cleaning can also be used to remove oil film but care should be taken that no residue from the oil or any chemicals used remains which will cause an oily film to develop on the water being used in the pan, finishing with a dish washing liquid is usually an effective means of eliminating this problem.
Whichever method used for cleaning a metal pan it is essential to check before use by half filling the pan with clear water and ensuring that no oil film is visible floating on the surface, as this increased surface tension will allow fine gold to also float on the surface and therefore be lost during the panning process. Plastic Gold Pans require far less care and maintenance during their useful lifetime and are without doubt the best choice for beginners and the more infrequent user alike.
The Le Trap square gold pan
A large pan can be very heavy when fully loaded with material especially when lifted from out of the water after being submerged and is usually beyond the capabilities of most women and children or even the majority of beginners. It is best use pan that is not too large and can be handled comfortably than use a larger unwieldy size which will rapidly tire the operator and from which gold may be lost due to sloppy handling, with a good size for children being about 10” and for most women no more than 14” while the smaller sizes are often used by the more experienced fossickers for the final clean up of their previously saved concentrates at the end of a days work.
For a beginner to successfully pan gold two essential elements must exist, gold bearing deposits and ideally water, a creek does not have to be flowing at the time of your working it, but it is desirable that some water remains close enough to where you are proposing to extract the material to process, so that you can readily transport the material to the water. A water hole suitable for panning should be deep enough to completely submerge the top rim of the pan below the surface and of a sufficient area to work comfortably.
For starters the first place to try is the most obvious watercourses which may be dry or near dry creek beds, look for the deepest section which is where most gold will have gravitated to and will now be lying on the bottom bed rock. Remove the top gravels and fill your pan two thirds full with the bottom most material, then carry this to you water source and fill almost to the top with water.
The final wash or clean up process
Next use your hands to break up any lumps of clay or other matter and remove any large rocks, twigs, leaves or other foreign matter. The next process is as shown in the top photograph, immerse the dish so that the top is just below the surface of the water and then shake from side to side vigorously without allowing the material to flow over the edges of the pan, the purpose of this process is to concentrate any gold contained in your wash dirt to the bottom, and once you have the gold on the bottom of the pan unless you do something clumsy your chance of recovering it is virtually assured.
The pan is now raised with the top rim slightly above the water surface and the motion of the pan is now changed to a circular swirling motion and at the same time the side furthermost away from you is lowered and dipped slightly into the water allowing the lighter upper most materials to be washed over the rim. As you employ this technique you can also speed the process somewhat by combining a gentle pulling or withdrawal motion towards your body of the pan lip while keeping it slightly immersed in the water thus helping the lighter material wash from the pan. Continue to repeat the shaking process resettling the heavies to the bottom and then continue with the washing until all you have left in your pan is about a spoonful of material.
Extracting visable small nuggets
When you have reached this stage carefully discard the excess water leaving only enough to barely cover the bottom of the pan and then check if you can see any visible small nuggets. At this stage remove any small nuggets large enough to pick out manually and place them into your container, and then, holding the pan with one hand each side proceed to give the move the pan with an anticlockwise circular motion thus swirling the remaining contents on the bottom of the pan around the outer circumference.
This motion should only be fast enough to cause all the remaining material to move over the bottom of the pan with the flow you have created, and then when you have all the material in motion, abruptly stop the motion so that the flow of water continues while at the same time slightly raising the right hand side of the pan just as flow of water passes, this motion may take a few attempts to acquire the knack of, but when you do get it right, and if you are lucky enough to have found gold, you should see a lovely golden trail at the tail end of the remaining material shining in the sunlight.
Gold can be recovered without using water by using a method known as dry panning but it is more difficult, slower, and less efficient than the conventual method of panning using water. Generally speaking the method works best if the material is very dry, as one of the main techniques used at the final stage is to carefully blow away any lighter surplus material leaving the heaver gold remaining.
The process in principle is really a combination of the panning process described above and a crude form of dry blowing. Due to the effort required, to make this process worthwhile, the material to be processed needs to be far richer than for the more conventional method described above and we do not intend to elaborate on this method any further in this article.
The Final Recovery:
This is probably the most exacting task of the whole process, and rather than spend a lot of time attempting to separate the gold from the remaining material with each pan you process, it is recommended that you carefully wash the contents of your pan into a holding pail or bucket, and then undertake this task at the end of the day, or better still, take your concentrates home and process them there at your leisure.
It is best if you can remove as much of the liquid from your concentrates as possible and then place the rest into a pan and spread it evenly over the pan base. If you place this in the sun and allow the material to completely dry, you will find that recovering your gold will be easier. The heavy black sands can be separated using a strong magnet covered with a cling plastic, which, when removed from the pan with the black sands attracted by the magnetic force removing the magnet from the cling plastic allows the black sands to fall away, otherwise they can be somewhat tedious to remove from the magnet.
Using the process above will still leave some of the more persistent lighter sands combined with the gold, and if your material is perfectly dry slightly tilting the pan and gently blowing the sands uphill will often give good results. Gently tapping the pan while slightly tilted will also usually cause the heavier gold to move to the lower section of the pan at a faster rate than the lighter sands, whatever method you use to separate your gold this final process is always slow and delicate.