Mining Methods


Mining on Vancouver Island, does not disturb the river, or the fish – practices of mining have little to zero impact on the environment, actually far less impact than that of the spring runs.  Mining above the Pot Holes there is little to no fish that survive in the Leech Water shed.

VIPMA believes a good youtube on one of our local club members mining up the Sombrio shows you what a pan and a bit of digging can do:  


The simplest technique to extract gold from placer ore is panning.

In panning, some mined ore is placed in a large metal or plastic pan, combined with a generous amount of water, and agitated so that the gold particles, being of higher density than the other material, settle to the bottom of the pan. The lighter gangue material such as sand, mud and gravel are then washed over the side of the pan, leaving the gold behind.

Once a placer deposit is located by gold panning, the miner usually shifts to equipment that can treat volumes of sand and gravel more quickly and efficiently.

This is panning – Ted Turner and his wife Vi at Cunningham Creek a true Placer Miner : Photograph by: Donna Smith


The same principle may be employed on a larger scale by constructing a short sluice box, with barriers along the bottom to trap the heavier gold particles as water washes them and the other material along the box. This method better suits excavation with shovels or similar implements to feed ore into the device. However, sluice boxes are NOT allowed in British Columbia so a similar principle to a sluice is a rocker, a cradle-like piece of equipment that could be rocked like a cradle to sift sands through screens, which was introduced by Chinese miners in British Columbia and Australia, where the practice was referred to as “rocking the golden baby”. Another Chinese technique was the use of blankets to filter sand and gravels, catching fine gold in the fabric’s weave, then burning the blankets to smelt the gold. Chinese were noted for the thoroughness of their placer extraction techniques, which included hand-washing of individual rocks as well as the complete displacement of stream beds and advanced flume and ditching techniques which became copied by other miners. Displacement of stream beds is not allowed in British Columbia any longer, one would have to apply for a stream diversion through Mineral Titles.

Miners working a sluice on Lucky Gulch, Alaska

Alaskan Trommel at the Potato Patch, Blue Ribbon Mine

A trommel is composed of a slightly-inclined rotating metal tube (the ‘scrubber section’) with a screen at its discharge end. Lifter bars, sometimes in the form of bolted in angle iron, are attached to the interior of the scrubber section. The ore is fed into the elevated end of the trommel. Water (often under pressure) is provided to the scrubber and screen sections and the combination of water and mechanical action frees the valuable minerals from the ore. The mineral containing ore that passes through the screen is then further concentrated in smaller devices such as sluices and jigs. The larger pieces of ore that do not pass through the screen can be carried to a waste stack by a conveyor.

A pan used to extract gold.


Underwater gold dredging takes you to a place the 49ers could never reach – the gold on the bottom of the river.

A suction dredge vacuums the gravel and gold off the river bed. Take a look here and see what it takes to mine placer gold underwater with a small sized suction dredge. Note the dredge sits upon pontoons which float on the water, and water and gravel are pulled through the hose and emptied onto the sluice box which is affixed to the pontoons. The miner will continue to vacuum water and gravel and have it run over the sluice for a good period of time, clearing larger rocks out of the way, knowing gold is heavy and falls to the bottom. The placer miner is trying to get to the gravel that is on top of the bedrock, as this is where you will find the gold. As the material is brought up through the hose and is washed over the sluice box, the rocks will fall away and the heavier material, such as the black sand and the gold will deposit at the bottom of the sluice where there are mats placed. Also if there are gold nuggets they will be found along the riffles of the sluice box. At the end of the dredging, the material is cleared off of the sluice box, and the riffles are closely checked for any nuggets. The riffles are lifted free, and the mats are turned into a large bucket or pail and washed with water in the pail, keeping the sand, gold, and other small material in the bucket. With the mats thoroughly rinsed out, the sluice box can be put back together, and the second process starts which is panning the material that has been collected in the bucket. It takes a while to learn how to pan, but a good panner can easily pan out a pan of material in 5 to 10 minutes. Usually, the panning is done down to the black sand and gold and emptied again into another bucket. This process continues, until you have one bucket with a lot of black sand and gold, and then you can start the process of panning out the gold.


Magnets are used in the final stages of panning out gold. As one pans, there is often a lot of heavy black sand in the bottom of the pan. Miners will take a magnet and run it around the bottom of the pan collecting the black sand, and along with the sand comes the flower gold (very small gold particles). The sand is then placed in another contained for panning out at a later time, or using a different process to separate the fine gold from the black sand. The black sand is magnetite, and with a magnet collects very easily along the magnet. Below you will see a pan with black sand and how the black sand and the gold are together. The magnetite is quite heavy, as well as the gold. This is a beautiful pan of gold, and once cleaned of the black sand would be for a nice afternoon of just panning.

Scoop for scooping up gold with brush tool

It is exciting to see the gold separating from the black sand, and once you see the color of gold in the bottom of a pan, you are hooked, for nothing is quite as beautiful and exciting as finding one of nature’s most precious metals out of a pan of gravel and mud. The gold in this pan is generous in size, but not yet of nugget size, we will discuss that later, and show you nuggets.

In not wanting to re-invent the wheel, I have listed a couple of websites, a new prospector should look at ready very carefully, to determine what equipment is required, and what type of mining they wish to do. This is a Government Website which is Important to Read

This site, reading what we have online and visiting Mineral Titles Online BC; one should be prepared to venture out into the back country equipped to shovel up some dirt, swirl it around, and see what you find. It is technique, practice, determination, and weighing finding what you truly enjoy, finding gold, enjoying the peace and quiet, enjoying the challenge, the comraderie, so many good things to enjoy, but a nugget makes it a special day. You will always remember the one hole you went into and found that precious nugget, and you will forget all the digging you ever did in holes where there were none. Have fun.

Many individuals like to use metal detectors out mining:  Here is a good link on best metal detectors

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