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Build Your Own Gold Rocker Box Or Gold Cradle
First developed in the gold fields of the state of Georgia, the rocker was an important gold mining tool. At the very beginning of the gold rush to California, the tipping box, also known as a cradle, was perhaps the most widely used piece of gold prospecting equipment. For a period it was perhaps even more important that the gold pan. Mostly it was because the miner could make a seesaw for himself in the field from rough sawn timber cut in the forest. They are also easy to transport. Rocker boxes were also popular during the Klondike Gold Rush for working the hillsides that were far above the creeks.
The ‘vippe’ is a box with a funnel of approx. 3 to 4 feet long and 1 to 2 feet wide, sloping like a cradle, and mounted on semi-circular pieces of wood, and worked by a handle to give it a lateral motion ; and it is also inclined so that it carries the material down to the lower end which is open. At the upper end is a small, removable funnel, which has a sheet-iron bottom perforated with 1/2 -in. holes. Below the hopper, a canvas apron or tray is slanted against the head of the box, but does not touch either end of the hopper box. Several wooden rifles are placed across the box. The material is fed into the hopper and sifted through with water poured on top; the lighter material is passed over the end, while the riffles in the box catch the gold and magnetic sand. This concentrate is cleaned out and panned at the end of the operation. The rocker is used for the same type of work as the gold pan, being mainly a prospecting tool. A man is able to wash 3 to 5 times more yardage than with the gold pan, and the use of the rocker eliminates much of the shaking strain of continuous panning. On the other hand, the easy mobility of the pan as a prospecting unit is lost.
So why might a modern prospector be interested in building his own rocker box? The primary use of a gold rocker is for mining small deposits where water is scarce. It’s not really a desert device, and it uses quite a bit of water, but not nearly as much as a sluice. In a rocker, gravel requires about three times its own weight of water to wash it. So perhaps the best use is in streams and streams with very little water – where some water is present but not enough to operate a sluice box. If there is enough flowing water to drive a lock, a lock is faster and easier to drive than a rocker. The rocker is only a primitive machine, having a capacity but one-fifth that of the sluice-box, but being cheap, requires but little water, and saves a high percentage of rough gold, the rocker will continue to be used in many districts.
The operation of a rocker consists of shoveling gravel onto a screen or grizzly, pouring water over it from a dipper, and at the same time giving the device a back and forth rocking motion. The Grizzly retains all the oversized stones, which are removed by hand when washed clean. The operator briefly examines the large rock to make sure no large lumps or gold samples are thrown out. The cradle must be placed on an incline during the work, and under the action of the continued side-to-side rocking the dirt is rapidly dissolved, passes down the hopper grizzly, and the water and under-measure fall on the canvas apron, which traps most of the gold and places the remainder in the front end of the trough. From the apron it is carried to the inside end of the cradle floor (the sluice box-like part of the rocker), from where it flows over the riffles or rods and out at the mouth. Rifles, canvas, blankets, corduroys, burlap, or cocoa mats with expanded metal have been used to cover the bottom of the trough, and all have had varying degrees of success in saving the gold. The combination of cocoa mats covered with expanded metal lath has proven to be quite effective for most gravels. The frequency of cleaning depends on the richness and nature of the gravel, but cleaning is usually necessary two or three times a day. The container is first removed, then the apron is pushed out and washed in a bucket or tub of clean water, and finally the gold is collected with a spoon behind the rifle bars and panned out.
The rocking motion used should be sufficient to keep the gravel disturbed so that the gold can fall out, but too vigorous a motion will cause a loss of gold. The gravel bed must be shifted slightly with each movement and must be evenly distributed over the trough. Generally speaking, the rocker is not known for its ability to recover fine gold, but with careful and expert manipulation, decent fine gold recoveries can be obtained. Waste from both rockers and sluice boxes should be panned occasionally to check for gold loss. When gold is found near the lower end of the rocker or sluice box, the potential for loss should be investigated.
Because there is no “right” design for a rocker box, I don’t actually present specific plans, but on my website I give you the information you need to plan, design, and build your own rocker box if that’s what you decide on. do. My recommended design for a rocker is to start by buying a sluice box 40 inches long, 16 inches wide at the bottom, sloped like a cradle, and with rockers at each end. The funnel would be 16 inches square and 6 inches deep, with a sheet metal bottom made of perforated steel with 1/2-inch holes. This hopper box must be designed so that it can be removed for cleaning. A light canvas-covered frame is stretched under the funnel, forming a riffle. Square riffles of wood or steel are placed across the bottom of the sluice part of the rocker. Curved feet are placed under the lock part of the box so that it can be tilted back and forth. Historically, rockers are built of wood, as the early prospectors built them. However, there is no reason why a rocker couldn’t be built from sturdy heavy sheet aluminum. It would be much lighter than the wooden version. Remember that wood also absorbs water, and waterlogged wood is much heavier than dry wood.
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