The Siberian Sluice and the apparatus at Voltchanka, which may be taken as a type, consists of a head sluice and three secondary sluices, which are placed at right angles to the head sluice, and which leave it at different points and converge to a common centre, where the tailings are discharged. The head sluice begins at a height of 13 feet from the ground ; it is about 90 feet long by 2 feet wide, and has a fall of about 1 in 14. The sands are dumped from the waggons on to a wooden platform situated above the sluice-head, and shovelled into the latter, a stream of water being turned in at the same time. After passing through a grizzly, the gravel runs over a series of cast-iron cross-bar riffles, which form a number of rectangular depressions (or pigeon-holes) in the bed of the sluice, by which the disintegration is favoured. The stream then flows over an iron screen, through which a part of it falls into the first secondary sluice, while the remainder continues its course over more pigeon-hole riffles. This arrangement resembles the Californian undercurrent. A second and a third screen open on to the other secondary sluices, and the part of the gravel (consisting chiefly of small stones) which has resisted disintegration, and has not passed through the screens, is then let fall into a hopper, whence it is removed to the tailings waggons.

The secondary sluices are wider than the head sluice, and have a steeper grade, and the amount of water and auriferous material passed is of course much less in each one than on the principal sluice. The sands first pass over a number of transverse riffles, and then over about 30 feet of blanketing, the sluice being widened at the same time, and subdivided by longitudinal wooden partitions, and the grade being as much as 1 in 6, while small drops are introduced at intervals of a few feet. The third sluice has a more gentle inclination than the others. The tailings fall into a shallow sump, and are instantly lifted out of it by a bucket elevator or “ tailings-wheel ” operated by water power, and stored in a hopper, whence they fall into waggons, by which they are removed to the dumping ground.

No mercury is used in these sluices, and only the production of “grey concentrates” is attempted, this work being continued from 6 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. every day, after which the concentrates are collected from the riffles. They consist of gold in scales and plates, magnetic iron oxide, pyrites, rutile, together with some quartz, &c. They are treated with mercury in the Siberian trough or on inclined tables, the method being that described on p. 51.

The apparatus described above treats 500 tons of gravel per day, the labour required being furnished by twenty men and ten horses. The gravel treated contains an average of from 12 to 15 grains of gold per ton, rarely falling below 6 grains per ton; the exceptional richness of 3½ dwts. per ton has been observed. The gold is chiefly found in the head sluice, where 70 per cent, is retained, 30 per cent, being caught on the secondary sluices. At a similar establishment at Tchernaia-Retchka, however, where the gold is less finely divided, 97 per cent, was caught on the head sluice, and only 3 per cent, on the secondary sluices. The amount of water used at Voltchanka is about six times the weight of the gravel. The cost of construction of the works was 70,000 roubles, or about £7,000.

 Siberian Placers Mining Method

The methods and apparatus employed in Siberia differ so markedly from those which have been adopted elsewhere, that they are well worth a special description, although they cannot usually be applied to placers found in other parts of the world, owing to the difference in economic conditions. In California the valleys are narrow and the grade steep, so that watercourses are usually close to the auriferous deposits, and the sluices can be made of almost any length, while still conforming to the general slope of the soil. In Siberia the slope of the valleys is so gradual that the flow of the water is almost imperceptible, and takes place through wide marshy tracts. The result of this is that the sluices must be short, being usually less than 100 feet long, and their upper ends must be raised on trestles. As a further consequence, also, the gravel must be excavated by hand and carried in waggons to the sluice, and the tailings removed in a similar way, the flow of water acting by gravity not being available for these purposes. The excavation is made in benches or terraces, working up the valley. The height of each bench above the lower one is about 5 feet, and the gravel is picked down from the face of each bank and shovelled into carts by which it is conveyed to the washing establishments. The additional expense entailed by these causes is balanced by the low cost of labour in the country, and an incidental advantage lies in the fact that the washing apparatus can be placed outside the limits of the river during flood time, and so may remain for a number of years undisturbed, while all the gravel in the district is being washed. Only surface deposits are exploited, no deep workings existing in the country.

There are three types of apparatus employed, each designed for washing a particular kind of deposit. They are:

  1. The Siberian sluice, which is used to wash light sand. (exposed at the Top)
  2. The Trommel, used for loamy sands.
  3. The Pan, used for gravel which is cemented together by means of compact clay.

The Trommel

Gravels which are too compact for satisfactory disintegration in the short sluices described above are subjected to a preliminary treatment by a trommel. At Berezovsk the trommel is of sheet iron of 9 mm. thick, having holes in it of about 1 mm. in diameter. The trommel is about 12 feet long, 3½ feet in diameter at one end, and 4½ feet at the other, and is set inside with denticulated plates of iron to assist in the disintegration affected by the water. The machine is driven by a water wheel, and is sufficient for the disintegration of from 400 to 500 tons of gravel per day, requiring the expenditure of about 3 horsepower to drive it. The amount of water used in the trommel and on the tables is 67 .5 litres per second, or about seven and a-half times the weight of the ore. The washing is effected on inclined tables only 30 feet long and 12 feet wide, and with a grade of about 1 in 4, placed with the incline at right angles to the length of the trommel. Near the head of the table, and stretching across it, is a deep trough-like depression, and below this there are a number of transverse riffles, in which grey concentrates are caught and treated as usual. The Berezovsk establishment employs twenty-five men and fourteen horses constantly; the trommel usually lasts for two seasons.

Pan Washings

Sandy clays cannot be economically disintegrated in a trommel, and are, therefore, treated in a washing pan, which bears a strong resemblance to the cement pans employed in California. The pan usually consists of cast iron, and is from 8 to 16 feet in diameter, with vertical sides from 1 to 5 feet high. The bottom is of cast iron or sheet iron, and has numerous holes in it of about 1/15 inch in diameter, widening downwards. The bottom is divided into 25 sectors, between which are deep grooves for the collection of the pebbles. Through a circular opening in the centre of the pan there passes a revolving axis to which are suspended eight horizontal arms studded with vertical iron teeth, some of these being shaped like plough-shares. The revolution of these arms effects the disintegration of the sandy clays, which are fed into the pan together with water and puddled until fine enough to pass through the holes in the bottom, and the stones are removed at intervals by opening little gates placed opposite the radial grooves. The disintegrated gravel falls from the pan on to concentration tables, similar to those used after disintegration in the trommel. At Berezovsk the pan is 11½ feet in diameter and 5 feet deep, and the arms revolve at the rate of 25 turns per minute. From 50 to 55 tons of material are treated in twelve hours, the water consumed, including that required for power, being ten times the volume of the sand.