How to choose between a gold pan, gold dredge or high banker

If you’re a amateur gold miner like me, you only gold mine on weekends.  On top of that, sometimes the good mining locations are pretty far away and by the time you get to the property you might only have a couple of hours to gold mine!  I would say it’s pretty common to hear this statement:

“The more material you move, the more gold you find!”

From this statement, it would seem pretty obvious that you should always use the gold mining equipment that moves the most material, right?  Well, before we examine this statement, let’s take a look at the different mining equipment:

I actually have all the above mining equipment available to me to use when I go gold mining.   Let’s examine the advantages and disadvantages of each piece of equipment of mining equipment :

Gold Pans and classifier screens 

Advantages:  Light, cheap and very easy to take into the field.  If you have a very limited time or budget, this is your best bet.  Since it’s a great tool for cleanup or to prospect for gold, pretty much ever gold miner owns one.

Disadvantages:  A gold pan is the slowest method of gold mining and used together with picks and shovels can be back-breaking work.  On top of that, a gold miner using only a gold pan will only move a limited amount of gold bearing material.  There are approximately 400 standard gold pans to the yard, so I would say working a 1/4 yard of material a day with a gold pan would be working pretty hard!

Mini sluice box 

Advantages:  Light, cheap and very easy to take into the field (same benefits as a gold pan and classifier screens).  However, a sluice box does the work of washing the material for you.  Instead of constantly bending over in the river and swishing and swirling the pan, you let the river do the washing for you!  A sluice box works in conjunction with a creek or river and doesn’t work without a moving water source.

Disadvantages:  Since you need a pretty good stream of water to operate a sluice box, it limits you to working directly in a creek or stream.  You also still need to shovel the gold bearing material into the sluice box, so the amount of material moved per day is probably limited to about a 1/2 to 1 full yard a day.   Still back-breaking work, but a step up from only a gold pan!  If you have a very limited budget and want to move the most gold possible, a good sluice box will set you back about $100 dollars.

high banker or power sluice 

Advantages:  High bankers start around $400 dollars, so they’re not cheap.  However, gold mining equipment is notoriously expensive so high bankers are one of the lower cost options.  You still need a water source, like a sluice box, but since you pump the water a significant distance from the stream or river, a high banker would allow you to get closer to the gold gold or work material not directly in a creek.  The flexibility of directly working old timer tailings and low cost makes a high banker a great choice for beginner gold miners.

Disadvantages:  You still need to shovel the gold bearing material into the high banker hopper, so the amount of material moved per day is probably about the same as a regular sluice box or about 1/2 to 1 full yard a day.   On top of that, the hopper of the high banker is usually pretty high off the ground so the digging is more difficult than a sluice box sitting directly in the stream.

2″-3″ gold dredge 

Advantages:  You can’t beat a 2″ dredge for portability!   At a total weight of 65lbs, a 2″ back-pack dredge is one of the lightest pieces of mining equipment you can find!  They start at around $1500-1800 dollars, so I wouldn’t call a 2″ dredge inexpensive, but still within some budgets.  A 3″ dredge weighs around 85-177 lbs, so it adds significant weight and cost (a 3″ dredge costs between $2000-3000 dollars)

Disadvantages:  A 2″ dredge is rated at 2 yards per hour, but almost every rock is larger than 2″ so you have to manually throw a lot of rocks!!  I swear I’ve used a 2″ dredge and thought to myself, “man I could move more material panning”.  I think when you factor in manually throwing all the 2″+ rocks and nozzle clogs, clogged intake filter and other problems, processing a yard yer hour would be pretty good rate with a 2″ gold dredge.

4+” gold dredge 

Advantages:  Wow, a 4″ gold dredge moves a LOT of material!  I’ve never used a 5″ or 6″ dredge, but I can imagine they’re monster gold getting machines!   Anything over a 6″ and you’re talking a commercial gold mining operation.  As far as processing power, a 4″ gold dredge is rated at 5 yards per hour, but so many factors can effect that rate (loose or compact material, cobble size, operator, etc)  it’s probably closer to 2 or 3 yards per hour.

Disadvantages:  A 4″+ dredge is $3000+, so that’s a negative!  Another disadvantage is the weight.   The lowest weight 4″ dredge is probably around 160 lbs, so they’re not light.  I’ve gone 4″ gold dredging by myself, but I was a lot younger and wouldn’t attempt now at 45 years old.  If you afford the cost and handle the “beast”.  One final thought about a large gold dredge, it takes substantial time to transport and set-up a gold dredge.  After you drive to your site, unload your gold dredge, set it up in your chosen location, you can loose hours in a day!  So the final disadvantage to a large gold dredge is set-up time, you need at least an hour, maybe 2 hours to set it up at your location.


On the way to the gold mining fields of north GA, I was attempting to explain the benefits and disadvantages of the different types of mining equipment to my brother, Mike.  We only had a couple of hours to gold mine once we reached the property, so I thought we should just work old timer tailings with a gold pan and sample, sample sample.  The stream in this area has been well worked many, many times over the years and I never thought we found what we should be finding directly in the creek. Plus, Like I said above, with a 2″ dredge you have to throw a lot of cobble! In fact, this particular creek has very large rocks.  Well, Mike called me an “idiot” and said it would be stupid to think we’d find more gold with a gold pan and shovels versus a 2″ gold dredge (we had both pieces of mining equipment in the truck that day).  Well, I challenged Mike to prove it!   We both had 3 hours, Mike would use the 2″ gold dredge directly in the stream and I would only use gold pans, buckets and a shovel.  When the challenge was over, we’d both take our gold concentrates back to the clean-up shack and see who got more gold!  Here’s a video of our challenge, who do you think won the challenge?

Reading a river and finding a great spot to gold pan (or gold dredge)

The first step in gold panning, highbanking, gold dredging or any gold mining adventure is to pick your spot. In this article, we’ll go over the best spots to find gold and how to examine the river, creek or gold property that you have available to find the most gold!

There is a property of gold that you’ll hear over and over that’s very important in gold mining. That property is the specific gravity of gold! Gold is heavy and this property helps us find the elusive metal! Gold enters a creek or river from a lode vein outcrop and travels with the flow. Where it stops, “nobody knows”, but we can make a educated guess! Let’s look at a diagram of a river and discuss possible locations that gold might be found:

reading a river gold mining to find the best spot to gold pan or gold dredge

As you can see from the above diagram, the best locations to find gold in a gold bearing river or creek are around the inside bends and behind large obstructions such as boulders or bedrock protrusions. This is due to the fact that the water slows down on the inside bends causing heavy gravels and gold to fall out of the water stream. The same is true for large boulders pretty much anywhere in the river, they create natural riffles with a large pressure drop directly behind them. The gold is 19 times heavier than water, so the large boulders or bedrock protrusions drop the gold travelling in the gravels during heavy rains and flooding.

Pyrite vs Gold – how to spot the difference

Fool’s gold, AKA, “Pyrite” has “fooled” many prospectors and gold miners! It’s tricky because its a similar color as real gold and it glitters in the sun. You’ve probably heard the expression, “all those glitters are not gold”, they’re referring to pyrite and other minerals that catch the sun and sparkle in the gold pan. The first difference between pyrite and gold is the fact that pyrite isn’t even a metal, it’s a mineral.

PYRITE — “a very common brass-yellow mineral, iron disulfide, FeS2, with a metallic luster”

GOLD — “a precious yellow metallic element, highly malleable and ductile, and not subject to oxidation or corrosion. Symbol: Au”

So pyrite is iron disulfide and a mineral or a naturally occurring, inorganic substance. In pyrite’s case it has a very crystalline structure. Gold is extremely malleable and would never have sharp edges if it’s spent any time tumbling in a river! Let’s look at both pyrite and gold side-by-side:

As you can clearly see, gold has a much deeper yellow color than pyrite. In addition, you can see sharp edges to the pyrite, in fact, it’s not difficult to see the crystalline structure. Gold on the other hand usually has rounded edges and softer lines, since its soft and easily manipulated by the forces from tumbling with the rocks, gravel and sand in the river or creek. If gold has been recently released from the lode rock, it can be “stringy”. The gold nugget on the left in the comparison above is an example of potted or “stringy” gold, but it still looks nothing like pyrite!

To the novice prospector or gold miner, pyrite looks quite similar to gold, but don’t be “fooled”. It won’t take you long in the field to be able to tell the difference. You don’t want to spend a day collecting worthless minerals instead of what you’re after, GOLD! One other distinct difference between pyrite and gold is the specific density difference. Gold is very heavy! Pyrite is not. The specific density of pyrite is 5 and the specific density of gold is over 19! That means that the same volume of gold weighs 3.8 times that of pyrite. All methods of gold mining use this fact to separate gold from lighter materials, including pyrite. So, if you can’t figure it out, put your pyrite in your gold wheel and if it makes it up to the catch bin, maybe you really found some gold!

Cleaning gold dredging concentrates

My brother and I have been gold mining since the mid-1990s. Originally we would dredge all day and then cleanup and pan the dredge concentrates directly in the field. We found out that we were missing some of the gold by just panning in the field, so we started to save the dredging concentrates for further reclamation at the cleanup shack back home. We would still pan out in the field and remove any pickers and large flakes, but now instead of panning directly into the river, we save the concentrates. After running the secondary concentrates thru the gold wheel here is what we found:

As you can see, it really pays off to take your gold dredging concentrates home for final gold removal! We missed a lot of gold in the field!

Here’s a video describing our gold concentrates methods: