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Build Your Own Dry Washer And Dig For Desert Gold
A dry washer is a piece of equipment used to separate gold from sand by pulsing air that exits through a porous fabric medium. This allows the gold to sink down and catch. It is the gold prospecting equipment of choice in dry desert areas. Vibration and air flow replace the function of water in a normal dam, allowing the gold to settle downwards. Screened gravel passes down a sloping cross-grooved rifle box. The bottom of the box consists of thin, light canvas or some other fabric through which moving air passes upwards.
There is a question that dry cleaners are the kind of gold panning equipment that you just have to have if you work in the desert, but the prices are really high. Plus, at least for dry cleaning with a bellows, they’re not that hard to make. Only in the last 40 years you can easily buy ready-made washing machines for dry cleaning. A hundred years before that, most dry cleaners were homemade, designed and built by a gold digger. If you want to be a part of that great tradition of seekers, read on.
First, the bulk of what homemade washing machines are made of is wood, so standard home woodworking tools are sufficient for everything but the tile drawer. I have prepared some general plans for the average domestic buffer type washing machine and these can be seen on my website (see below). You can adopt and use these plans or use them as a starting point and design your own washing machine. To build it, you need to think about how you will build your particular unit and what design ideas you want to use on your own home washing machine. There are also commercial units on the market, and it can be useful to look at them when considering your own design.
The first design concept you need to think about is the air source. Do you want to build a bellows blower or a powered blower unit. Both work well, but the buffer type is just easier to make. This is why I recommend a Puffer dry cleaner if this is your first one. Keep in mind that dry cleaners are designed so that you can always modify them in the future to switch from a Puffer type to a Blower type if that’s what you ultimately decide you really want to do.
Regardless of your design, you will need the following building materials: wood, metal, fabric, screws, screen. I suggest a 3/8 inch weave for the material screen – half an inch would probably be OK, but I suggest 3/8 inch as best. Oversized and those larger rocks will help push the gold out of your hole, and if they are too small, you may lose a nice nugget if you dig it out.
You will need standard work tools. Check out my website on getting the tools you will need. I created a hand tools page for this type of project, you can check it out on my website.
My best suggestion if you want to start making mining equipment (and keep the stuff you have in good shape) is to buy a small welder. In fact, I recommend you consider purchasing one of these welding machines so strongly that I made an entire website about it. If you are serious about building your own washing machine, check it out on my website.
The tumble dryer basically consists of two connected boxes, an upper and a lower box. The top box is actually just a container that you can fill with gravel. Material too large for the screen falls off the screen as “oversize”. The exact dimensions of the top box are not that critical, but you don’t want it to be too big or too small. The lower box contains the bellows or blower as well as the rifle setup.
You shovel the screen until the top box is full, then step upwind with the buffer and pull the rope to inflate the bellows. The material is then pushed through the funnel and over the opening. When the tank is empty, you start shoveling again until it’s full.
Make sure the screen you buy for the top box is durable and well supported on the bottom of the tank. If you throw too many large rocks at a weakly supported screen, it will simply bend and break. It’s something that can be fixed, but when you’re in the field, it can be very inconvenient. A few quarter-inch diameter steel rods can be very useful supports for the screen.
The gold catch guns in the lower box of the dry cleaner are different than the ones on the water dam. The design on the water weir box is to keep the gold downstream of the gun. On a dry wash, the gold is designed to hold on the upstream side of the gun. The flat tray is one of those things that really has to be assembled by welding. I guess small screws would be an option, but welding would be much better. Welding the removable tray does not require much work. On the underside of the reefs is a light muslin fabric that allows air to pass upwards through it. The riffles must be a movable tray, so that periodically (usually every hour or two of operation) the riffles and concentrates can be removed and placed in a bucket for later processing. In addition, with the buffer, dust is sucked into this lower air box and needs to be cleaned from time to time. See the welding page above for more details.
On the underside of the lower box is where the air enters. If you are using a blower, this is where the duct goes in. If you are building a blower/bellows dry cleaner, this is where the bellows will go. A good heavy canvas makes a good bellows. Material that is rubberized or waterproof is best. You also need a flap so that air can only go in and out through the grooves. A one-way valve is usually just a 1/8-inch piece of rubber that covers a hole about 4 inches in diameter. The bellows are hinged on one side and the pull cord is attached to the end opposite the hinges. Pulling the cord blows air through the gun cloth. See photos on my website for more details. It is helpful if the support legs on the lower blocks are adjustable in some way, since the ground surface in the goldfields is often very uneven.
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