Spiral Wheel Gold Panning Machines: Automated Gold Recovery

Updated on April 2, 2020
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John has prospected for gold in Arizona 10 years. His experience taught him to deal with the terrain, heat, and gold fever. He makes tools.

A Spiral to Keep You Busy

If you having trouble relaxing and are always looking for a way to make a little money like me, this discussion may be for you. Recreational gold prospecting has taken off as a hobby throughout the United States. It is a great pastime for one person and can also be a wonderful family activity.

I tend to spiral out of control if I'm not working. I get panicked and don't know what to do with myself.

— Rose Byrne

The Theory Behind Spiral Panning

Like many machines used to separate gold from paydirt, the spiral wheel uses two forces to deposit gold into a little plastic pail suspended by a handle behind the spiral. The spiral is powered by a small 12V motor (about 12 revs a minute) and water is sprayed onto the spiral near the spiral's middle while another water tube sprays from right to left at the bottom of the spiral. The agitation allows lighter material on its way up to be washed away, but the heavier gold is unaffected and lies motionless as it goes up the spiral.

Adjustments can be made to the flow rate and the angle of the wheel. These adjustments are minimal after assembling and following the setup instructions.

As the water runs down the spiral wheel, lighter material is washed over the bottom lip into a tub. The heavier material, mostly gold, will be pushed against the spiral sides and overcoming the water pressure, travel up the spiral to a hole at the center of the wheel. It then runs through a hole and into the small pail suspended by a handle. With a tablespoon, paydirt is placed at the bottom of the wheel. When it is used up, you take the cup off the back of the wheel and put that material in a pan. Panning it is very fast, as not much winds up in the cup (that is why gold is so precious!). I have on occasion gotten a piece of lead or platinum in the cup, but nothing much else.

One more use for the Gold Miner is to take small specimens from an area and use the Miner to sample. Usually, when a gold prospector goes to an area, he pans small samples moving about to find a promising area to spend time on. Hand panning is tough; it can be miserable on your legs and back. The sampling process is a necessary step to save your back. I have parked my truck in an area with the tailgate down and my Miner positioned on it. I can walk away and come back with a small sample and test it with the machine quickly. It doesn't seem that many people do this, but I think it is helpful. You can't wash a lot of material this way because it will clog up your pump with mud.

The Gold Miner Spiral Panning Machine with Action Packer
The Gold Miner Spiral Panning Machine with Action Packer

What's the Best Brand?

I am familiar with five brands of spiral wheels, but there may be more. Of the five, two seem to be the favorites. One of the best and my own machine is a Gold Miner Spiral Panning Wheel. The other is called the Desert Fox Gold Panning Machine. It is these two brands that this article addresses. For those interested in reading up on other brands, there is also a Gold Genie Spiral Wheel, a Camel Mining Desert Fox Gold Panning Machine, and a Gold Magic Spiral Wheel.

What Sets the Gold Miner Apart?

A helpful feature on the Gold Miner is a recess on the side of the wheel. Black sand that is moving falls as the wheel turns increasing the turbulence and enhancing the speed of black sand extraction.

There is a cardboard template that is easy to use while adjusting the angle and flow of the panning wheel. It is also reported that additional tweaking will enable the owner to accumulate gemstones. I have never done this.

Recent models of the Gold Miner include a micro adjuster for fine-tuning the pitch.

Each spiral wheel machine comes in a tub. The tub is used as a recirculation tank and a stow away box for the machine when disassembled. Case vent holes allow for quick drying of the tank.

The frame supporting the wheel is made of stainless steel. The machine can wash 60 pounds of concentrate an hour.

I bought my Gold Miner several years ago because it was less expensive and the options with other spiral wheel brands were not important to me. If you shop online for sales, you should be able to find the Gold Miner for $20 or more less than competitors.

Gold Miner Spiral Panning Wheel Specifications

Number of spiral wheel grabbers: 7
Weight: 10 pounds
Extended length: 20 inches
Packed height: 10 inches
Diameter of wheel: 12 1/2 inches
Pump capacity: 450 gph
Packed width:14 1/2 inches
Tank width: 14 1/2 inches
Folding stand is separate
Water tank capacity: 3–4 gallons
Extended height: 20 inches
12-volt DC motor

The Desert Fox and Its Added Utility

The other machine that is one of the most popular is the Desert Fox. Though most of the features are the same as included in the above table, there are some differences. Prospectors in their quest for maximum return for their investment tend to be excessively fastidious about equipment. Any feature that proves the slightest bit superior for the individual soon makes the brand the machine of choice.

The Desert Fox manufactures a variable speed option. The wheel can turn at up to 105 revolutions per minute, providing a way to quickly wash away larger pieces of black sand. It is touted to produce 50 times as much gold as hand panning alone. There seems to be some debate over what the best RPM is for gold recovery. It can wash 70 pounds of concentrate an hour. It is recommended that a scoop be added to the spiral every 20 seconds.

This machine has a motor with sealed bearings. This is a feature that the others do not share. And in addition, it is praised for being able to be set up in a stream. It sits on a small A-frame type leg in the tub, so it can be lifted out and placed directly in a stream. The frame is made of rugged plastic.

Claims of superior strength of the wheel are borne out by the double wall thickness.

The Gold Miner and the Desert Fox offer five-year warranties.

Perfect for Hiking in and Hiking Out

This is a Desert Fox showing how everything can be packed in the Action Packer tub and secured with its latch-down top.
This is a Desert Fox showing how everything can be packed in the Action Packer tub and secured with its latch-down top. | Source


One of the things you hear frequently is that old-timer prospectors got all the gold. Since placer gold is moving downstream from its sources every time it rains unless the source has played out, that should make new prospectors somewhat optimistic. And furthermore, as mountains and hills are worn by the weather, new placer might just make it down into places previously investigated. And finally, even though it is true that one may be able to find placer gold more easily if he/she prospects where gold has already been found, the Earth is a big place.

In Arizona when I look out at the desert hills, mountains, and plains, it is not hard for me to imagine areas where no prospector has visited. Though I have only found gold once in 8 years in a place that wasn't claimed, I know it can be found.

Yes, gold is hard to find. That's why it is valued at slightly over $1200 an ounce as of the close of the market today (23 OCT 2018). So make the wonderful process of finding your treasure a little easier with a gold panning machine. You'll be glad you did.

Desert Fox Automatic Gold Panning Machine - Variable Speed - Gold Mining Equipment (Desert Fox)
Desert Fox Automatic Gold Panning Machine - Variable Speed - Gold Mining Equipment (Desert Fox)
I have owned a Desert Fox for about 14 years. It has sifted through a lot of material. It is still running well. I occasionally clean the tubing out to maximize spray. That's really all I do; it is well-built. It's fun to watch and easier on your back!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

  • What is the price of your spiral wheel gold panning machine?

    You can buy one at Amazon or eBay for about $289 at current prices. I also see that for about $20 less you can get a refurbished one. Many times these are items with a small blemish that have been returned but are highly functional. Others have a small fix that is necessary. I buy refurbished stuff all the time and have been very satisfied. In fact, the computer I am typing on is refurbished.

© 2018 John R Wilsdon


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