Placer Pan

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Placer Pan


This report provides practical, timely information on methods
and equipment used in placer gold recovery. Included is
detailed information on equipment, practices, recovery factors,
efficiency, design, and, where available, costs. Selected
gold recovery operations are described in detail. In addition,
the reported efficiency and reliability of various types of equipment
used today is presented. One notable method not described
is the cyanide process, the recovery of gold through leaching
with cyanide, a hazardous substance that must be handled with
great care.

The information presented herein applies to small as well
as large placer mining operations. Recreational and independent
miners will find information on available equipment and
designs with some suggestions for improving recovery. Those
intending to mine small to medium-sized placer deposits will
find detailed descriptions of suitable equipment and recovery
methods. Finally, those interested in byproduct gold recovery
from sand and gravel operations and other large placer deposits
will find descriptions of appropriate equipment and
byproduct recovery installations. There is also a list of manufacturers
and suppliers for much of the described equipment.

Gold has been mined from placer gold deposits up and down
the state and in different types of environment. Initially, rich,
easily discovered, surface and river placers were mined until
about 1864. Hydraulic mines, using powerful water cannons
to wash whole hillsides, were the chief sources of gold for the
next 20 years. In 1884, Judge Lorenzo Sawyer issued a decree
prohibiting the dumping of hydraulic mining debris into the
Sacramento River, effectively eliminating large-scale hydraulic
operations. For the next 14 years, drift mining placer gold
deposits in buried Tertiary channels partially made up for the
loss of placer gold production, but overall production declined.
Production rose again with the advent of large-scale dredging.
The first successful gold dredge was introduced on the lower
Feather River near Oroville in 1898. Since then, dredging has
contributed a significant part of California’s total gold production.
The last dredge to shut down was the Yuba 21 dredge
at Hammonton in 1968 (Clark, 1973). It is fitting that the 1981
revival of major placer gold production in California started
with the reopening of this same dredge.

Over 64% of the gold produced in California has come from
placer deposits. The reason so much of it has been mined from
placers is that placer deposits are usually easier to locate than
lode deposits. A lone prospector with a gold pan can verify
the existence of a placer gold deposit in a short period of time.
Small placers are also relatively easy to mine, and the ore
usually requires less processing than ore from lode mines. The
same holds true for large placers other than drift mines. Today,
placer gold production comes from the dredge operating
at Hammonton, from large placer mines employing the cyanide
process, from byproduct recovery in sand and gravel
plants, from small placer mines, and from small dredging operations
in rivers and streams.

With placer mining, recovery of the gold from the ore is
usually the most expensive phase of the mining operation and
can be the most difficult to implement properly. The value of
gold deposits is based on the amount of gold that can be recovered
by existing technology. Failure to recover a high percentage
of the gold contained in the deposit can affect the
value of the deposit.
Gravity separation remains the most widely used recovery
method. Gravity recovery equipment, including gold pans,
sluice boxes, long toms, jigs, and amalgamation devices, has
been used since the time of the California gold rush, and many
present day operations still employ the same equipment. The
major flaw of the gravity separation method is that very fine
gold, referred to as flour, flood, or colloidal gold, is lost in
processing. Early miners recovered no more than 60% of assayed
gold values, and as late as 1945 recovery of free gold
averaged only 70-75% (Spiller, 1983). Moreover, it is likely
that most remaining placer deposits have a higher percentage
of fine gold than placers worked during the gold rush. It is
understandable, then, that today more care is given to the recovery
of fine gold.

In recent times a number of changes and new designs in
gravity separation equipment have been developed. Most of
these were developed outside the United States for the recovery
of materials other than gold. Some of the new equipment
has been successfully used to recover gold and some older
designs have been modified and improved. Today, many types
of equipment exist for the efficient recovery of placer gold.
It is important to note that recovery techniques are often
very site specific. A recovery system that collects a high percentage
of fine gold from one deposit may not perform effectively
with ore from a different deposit. Many factors, such as
particle size, clay content, gold size distribution, mining methods,
and character of wash water, affect the amount of gold
recovered. Extensive experimentation and testing is usually
required to design an optimum gold recovery system.

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