The Gold Dredge

In the beginning of the Gold Rush, the miners were limited because they could only work the areas that were accessible to hand tools along the banks of the streams and rivers. Their equipment was limited to gold pans, sluice boxes and rockers. As time progressed and as they became more experienced, they realized that the deeper gavels in the riverbeds were often richer than the surface gravel along the banks.
In the early 1900s, several crudely built steam powered dredges were active on some of the northern rivers of California. The divers worked futility on the bottom of the rivers with heavy diving helmets and cumbersome diving suits.
Although history reveals that dredging has been in existence throughout the world for many years, it is just recently that it has reached such a high degree of popularity due to advanced technology in dredging equipment. Dredges of today are lighter, more portable and more efficient than ever.
A small portable backpack dredge of today can weigh as little as forty pounds and cost around eight hundred dollars. It can process as much gravel as a larger three hundred-pound dredge, some twenty years ago. One of the most exciting features of this type of dredge is that it allows the prospector to penetrate areas that were otherwise impossible to reach with heavier and more cumbersome equipment.
They are also far more efficient than the machines of old. It is not uncommon to see a dredge profitably working the tailings of some of the old mines and tailing dumps.
There are three basic types of dredges on the market today. They include surface dredge, submersible dredging tube and the underwater submersible dredge. The surface dredge is the most popular, efficient and versatile gold recovery machine.

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The Surface Dredge

The surface dredge floats on the surface of the water. The material is pumped to the surface through a suction hose into an efficient sluice box that is capable of recovering extremely fine particles of fine gold. The sluice box can either rest on the bank, or float on the surface of the water. Another advantage of the surface dredge is it can easily be operated with or without diving equipment. Marlex plastic floats are normally preferred as they are rugged and stable in rough water and are extremely lightweight.
Modern dredges are provided with a Single or “multi stage” recovery systems, such as a the new 3 stage sluice. The multi stage sluice boxes are preferred, because they have a greater capacity to recover a finer grade of gold and black sand concentrates that often hold values. Normally, the smaller size dredges from two to three inches in size are equipped with single sluice boxes, as their primary function is portability and compactness

Medium sized 4" gold dredge (Model # 4505PH)

Large 8" dredge Model # 8222

Small back pack 2" dredge Model # 2004PJ



For more complete understanding on this subject, we recommend you read any one of a variety of books available through the Keene Library of Books, such as The Gold Miners Handbook, Dredging for Gold or Advanced Dredging Techniques. The vacuum on a portable dredge is created by a "venturi principal". A volume of water is pumped through a tapered orifice (jet), by a special designed water pump. A high velocity jet stream is created within the jet tube producing a powerful vacuum. As indicated in the diagram gravel is dredged into the suction hose and is delivered to the sluice box header. As a slurry of water and gravel enters the header box and is spread evenly over a classifier screen. The smaller and heavier particles drop below the classifier screen into an area of less velocity, allowing a slower and more selective classification of values. Often values are recovered and easily observed before they even enter the riffle section. The lighter non bearing values and larger aggregate are returned back into the water. The riffles, or gold traps in the sluice box are best described as "Hungarian Riffles". This type of riffle has proven to be the most efficient gold recovery system. As material flows over the riffles a eddy current is formed between each riffle opening. This force allows the heavier material to settle out of suspension and the lighter, non value bearing material to be washed away. This continuous self cleaning principal allows a dredge to be operated for prolonged periods of time. Normal conditions require a sluice box to be cleaned only once or twice a day.
Before starting the engine, the pump must be fully primed. This means the pump must be full of water and all air removed. All jetting pumps provided with our dredges have a mechanical water pump seal. Without the presence of water in the pump, friction could cause a seal to overheat and require replacement. Priming the pump on some of the smaller models is accomplished by thrusting the foot valve back and forth under the surface of the water in a reciprocating motion. This will cause water to become pumped into the foot valve assembly into the pump. A pump is fully primed when water is observed flowing out of the discharge end of the pump. It sometimes may become necessary to hold the discharge hose above the level of the pump to complete the priming operation. The larger dredges that have a rigid foot valve, are easily primed by removing the cap provided on the foot valve and filling, until water overflows. Caution must be exercised to prevent sand from entering the foot valve or intake portion of the pump. Excess amounts of sand could dam age the water pump seal, or pump impeller. It is recommended that the intake portion of the foot valve be placed in a sand free environment underwater, such as a small bucket or pan.
Priming the suction hose need not be of concern in most dredging operations, but is important to understand the principal. When the tip of the suction hose is taken out of the water during operation air will to enter the suction system and cause the suction power to cease temporarily, until submerged again. The suction will commence as soon as the air is passed through the system. It is important to ensure that no air leaks occur in the suction system.

The suction system can become jammed while dredging. This can be caused by dredging an excess of sand, causing the suction hose to load up, or a rock that has become stuck in the suction system. Rock jams generally occur in the jet, or just before entry into the jet. This can easily be cleared by removing the rubber plug located on the front of the header box and thrusting the probe rod through the header box and down through the jet in an effort to strike the obstructed area. It may occasionally be necessary to remove the suction hose to remove an obstruction. Sometimes obstructions can easily become dislodged by back flushing the system. Back flushing a suction system can be accomplished on some models by reversing the flow of the suction hose at the header box, by blocking the flow of the water as it enters the header box. If this is not successful. it may be necessary to locate the blockage in the transparent hose and dislodge it by a striking the obstruction, taking care not to damage the hose.
Care must be exercised to prevent dredging excess amounts of sand. A solid to water balance must be maintained. The solid content being dredged should never exceed 10%. If a suction tip is buried into the sand and not metered properly the solid content could cause the suction hose to become overloaded with solids and suction will cease, this will also cause the sluice box to become overloaded with solid content, resulting in a loss of values.
Most models have a slight adjustment to raise or lower the sluice box. The proper sluice box adjustment can effect the recovery of values. If the sluice does not have enough angle, the sluice box will "load up" causing the riffle openings to fill with unwanted excess material. Too much angle will cause the material to flow too fast, resulting in loss of values, evidenced by the riffles running too clean. The optimum adjustment of a properly working sluice box is evident by only a portion of the riffle visible while operating. A loss of values can also occur if the solid content of the suction discharge is too heavy in solid content. Remember, the solid content should not exceed 10 %. A normal sluice box tilt is approximately 1/2 inch to the running foot. A four foot sluice box should have an approximate tilt of 2"
Before attempting to clean the sluice box, it should be allowed to run with only water for a few minutes in order to wash out any excess gravel that have accumulated. Either turn engine off, or let run with a slow idle, then remove the classifier screen and replace the wing nut to prevent losing it. Unsnap the riffle latches, fold the riffle tray up, and let rest against the header box, taking care not to let it drop back into place while cleaning. This could result in a potential injury! Place a wide tray, bucket or large gold pan at the end of the sluice, then carefully roll up the riffle matting and wash into the container at the end of the sluice. Rinse any excess gravel that remains in the sluice into container. All material must be removed before replacing the riffle matting, riffle tray and classifier screen.
Most small engines are throttle controlled. The speed of the engine can be controlled with the use of a lever. Although the rated horsepower is achieved on most small engines at 3600 R.P.M., it may not be necessary to operate the dredge at full speed. Lower speeds conserve engine life and fuel economy. Be sure to read all instructions and especially the engine instructions that are provided with each unit. ENGINES ARE NOT SHIPPED FROM THE FACTORY CONTAINING OIL. OIL MUST ADDED PRIOR TO USE! ENGINES OPERATED WITHOUT SUFFICIENT OIL SUPPLY WILL INVALIDATE ENGINE WARRANTEE!


1. Check the suction device for an obstruction. An obstruction can be removed by probing the obstructed area with the provided probe rod. I may be necessary to check the suction hose for a visible obstruction. This can be remedied by either back flushing the system or dislodging the obstruction with a gentle blow.
2. Check the pump for loss of prime or blockage. The foot valve may be too close to the surface of the water and air may enter the intake of the pump via a small whirlpool. The pump intake or foot valve screen may be plugged with leaves or moss, restricting flow into the intake of the pump. Check and tighten all clamps to prevent an air leak.

1. Check all clamps for an air leak.
2. It may be necessary to check the foot valve for a small leak. This is accomplished by removing the foot valve assembly from the pump and blowing air into the hose portion of the assembly and listening for an air escape. It may be necessary to remove the hose and check the rubber valve for an occurrence of a leak, or for a small obstruction preventing the valve from sealing.
3. If a water pump seal is either defective or damaged, a leak will be evident on the inside portion of the pump around the drive shaft. Often a new pump will leak slightly, until the seal and gasket has become fully seated. This is a common occurrence in most new pumps.

Principal of dredging operations

I wish to thank Keene Enginering for the information and pictures on this page.