I’ve been playing in the mud and dirt for three weeks. I’ve sifted, classified, melted, roasted, shaken, stirred, and thrown buckets of it in frustration because I found gold. It’s everywhere but you can’t see it. It is in the form of micro or flour gold. Tiny particles were infused into the rocks during their formation rather than in visible quantities in quartz veins.
Much of the gold is encased in what is called sulfides: minerals that are a mix of sulfide and something else (I’m not an accomplished metallurgist or geologist so I’m not sure on this). These sulfides have to be broken down to iron oxide or rust in order to release the gold in them by way of roasting them. You basically burn the rock in a furnace or in a pan with an open flame. This must be done in a well ventilated area with a respirator as the gases are toxic. I’m so small scale I’m not worried about a small pan being cooked here and there as far as the environment is concerned.
All of the above factors add up to incredibly difficult recovery of gold and it might not be enough to make it worth the effort. THAT’S what I’m trying to determine; is it worth it? Separating the small particles from the rest of the riffraff is near impossible unless a prospector has the equipment. The unwanted materials include iron, silica, clay, organic material, maybe silver and copper also.
To make things even more difficult, gold is hydrophobic; it doesn’t like water and tends to repel it when it’s small in form. The kind of gold dust we have here likes to float right over the edge of a gold pan so you have to add dish soap or Jet Dry to make it sink to the bottom of the pan. This leaves me two choices: sink it or take advantage of it’s hydrophobia to separate it from the other materials.
Commercially, a process called flotation is used to float the gold to the surface of the water but for me, my food processor and some dish soap suffice. I’m the woman of the house so when I ruin my own dishes and appliances, I don’t have to explain. I took the cast iron skillet, a metal mixing bowl, our only really big spoon, and the use of the electric mixer for my purposes. Most of these items will never see service in the kitchen again.
Outside in my “shop” it’s mayhem. Piles of dirt, tools, kitchen utensils, a homemade sluice, a store bought sluice, a blow torch, cut up coffee cans and all other manner of weapons lay strewn about in a generally circular area. I tend not to put stuff away in my feverish quest for the golden metal so there is an area that looks like junk fallout.
Despite all of the backyard refining I have yet to build a furnace capable of melting a crucible full of Borax and concentrates. I have yet to effectively separate the materials in an efficient manner. I have yet to determine how much gold we actually have per pound or ton nor am I sure if it will be worth the effort to refine it.
Maybe my slow cooker will work?