Tools used to mine gold during the Gold Rush

During the gold rush period, miners used different tools and techniques to mine for gold.Person_panning_gold.jpg

Panning – was a simple technique used to find alluvial gold, which was small nuggets or flecks of gold that were found in creek beds and under the surface of shallow underground streams.

To use the pan, a miner would place a small amount of soil, gravel and/or sand into a pan as well as a significant amount of water. The miner would then swirl out the muddy water leaving gold specks at the bottom of the pan that had sunk to the bottom when the water was being swirled.

cradle.pngCradle – was a large wooden tool used to wash through a large amount of soil, gravel and/or sand.

A miner would shovel a large amount of soil, gravel and/or sand into the hopper, which had a piece of mesh on the bottom that would allow gold and sand to fall through but would catch large rocks and pieces of debris. On occasions, gold nuggets could be caught in the hopper as well. Water would be tipped onto the soil in the hopper by a miner while another miner rocked the cradle back and forth to help wash the gold and soil through to the riffles. Any sand and soil that washed through the hopper would be washed away with the water as it was not heavy enough to sink and be stuck in the riffles as the gold would be.


Puddling – was used to separate gold from clay. The clay/gold mixture would be placed in a large contained and then water would be poured in. Using a wooden stake, the miner would stir the mixture and the clay would dissolve leaving the gold flecks and sand in the bottom on the container. The remaining mixture would then be panned or cradled.

alluvial_windlass.gifShaft mining – when gold started to become scarce just under the surface of the ground, miners turned to digging deep holes, or shafts, in the ground. These shafts would be approximately one meter squared and could be up to 50 meters deep. The miners would prop timber along the sides of the shaft to stop it from collapsing and would use a windlass or winch to bring up buckets full of soil.

When working on a shaft mine, there needed to be a minimum of three to four miners working on the one site. The first miner would be down in the shaft shovelling soil into a bucket, the second miner would be up the top of the shaft and would use the windlass to bring up the bucket. The third and fourth miner would wash the soil in the cradle.

Miner’s Pick – was used to break apart solid pieces of rock and soil so it could be placed eithepick_and_shovel.pngr directly in the cradle or in the case of shaft mining, in a bucket to be brought up from the shaft mine and then put through the cradle. The pick was also used to help dig shafts when the ground became too hard to dig with the shovel.

Shovel – was used to put the soil into the cradle as well as used to dig shafts.

1. Barwick, J. & J. (2001). The Gold Rushes – Milestones in Australian History. Port Melbourne Victoria: Reed Educational & Professional Publishing
2. Hocking, G. (2004). Eureka Stockade – A pictorial history: The events leading to the attack in the pre-dawn of 3 December 1854. Victoria: The Five Mile Press Pty Ltd
3. Nicholson, J. (1994). Gold! – The fascinating story of Gold in Australia. St Leonards NSW: A Little Ark Book
4. Red Apple Education. (2010) Success of Early Mining Methods. Retrieved September 2010 from Skwirk Interactive Schooling website:
(Listed in chronological order)
Image one – panning for Gold
Sydenham, S. & Thomas, R. (2000) Gold!- Searching for Gold. Retrieved September 2010, from
Image two – cradle
Gold – The Greatest Treasure Hunt!. [n.d.] Retrieved September 2010, from
Image three – miner puddling for gold
The Virtual Exhibition (2009) Hand puddling near Ballarat in the 1880s. Retrieved October 2010 from the State of Victoria website:
Image four – Windlass
Windlass. (February 2010) Retrieved October 2010 from the University of Melbourne website:
Image five – Shovel and Pick
Gold Facts (2009) Retrieved September 2010, from: