Necessity, it has been said, is the mother of invention. But sometimes, the invention part can come years later, depending on when one can find the time to tinker and actually make it happen. So it was when Australian-born geologist Kim Hillier decided he would one day create a better gold pan.
As a young man in his early twenties, Hillier had spent many hours test panning for an exploration company that was searching for alluvial and hard rock gold deposits in Australia.
“We had to do a lot of panning, and the compaction of black sands was a real problem, so I thought I could make a better pan, y’know,” he said.
The years ticked by, but the idea stuck with him.
That was then, and this is now
Decades later, the mining industry ground to all but a halt in Australia.
“Mining just died a natural death. The jobs just dried up,” Hillier said. “There was no work. For geologists, there was an unemployment rate of 25 percent, but it’s more like 50 percent because a lot of people left the industry and didn’t come back.”
Finding himself without meaningful or gainful employment, and with time on his hands, ‘Mother Necessity’ took charge, and Hillier began to invent.
“It was like 20 years later,” he said. “I started developing the pan in 2000 when I got into competitive panning in the World Gold Panning Championships. And, that is where the maximum dimensions came from, because the original designs were all done in 20-inch pans to accommodate 45 pounds of dirt in one take.”
The result was his brainchild that Hillier aptly named “Turbopan.”
“A river is a natural sluice, and because a sluice is an excellent way of recovering gold, I designed the Turbopan to act like a sluice in a pan.”
Turbopan was launched in 2009 and has been a popular product not only in Australia but in the North American market as well. His product is now a household word in the small-scale gold mining community.
Hillier, now 52, is coming to Placerville, Calif., an historic Gold Rush town and the site of the most recent World Gold Panning Championships in September, which Hillier attended. And, he is planning on returning in the spring.
“The important thing is that I’m coming to America,” he said. “I’m coming there on an E2 Investor Visa. I’m not to keen on your winters, so maybe in March.”
Developing the Turbopan
Before he devised the Turbopan, Hillier went back to the very basics of gold panning — all the way back to the most simple of pans. Hillier looked at the batea, a deep, conical shaped, often wooden bowl or pan used as far back as the Mayans and then later by other cultures. He also looked at the basic copper pans that were used in the Klondike Gold Rush.
Even the more modern metal versions of the batea pans require hundreds of hours of practice to master. And, while easier to handle than a batea, the traditional copper ‘Klondike’ pan has its own set of problems, including the compaction of black sands. Today’s plastic pans with riffles are better but panning can be tedious and it takes time to learn your own technique, so Hillier set his mind to work.
He took the idea of the batea with its conical bottom, although the Turbopan sits flat, and he added what he calls the central gold well to the bottom of the pan. Hillier then chose a lightweight, but strong plastic, and began to add finishing riffles like most modern pans. But then, he went a step further to create spiral riffles to act like a circular sluice. The Turbopan riffles are designed to use gravity to accelerate the gold to the bottom of the pan. The bottom well of the Turbopan is in the center of the pan to be as far away from the lip of the pan as possible.
“The further the gold has to travel to get out of the pan, the less likely it’ll get lost,” Hillier said.
A pan with a new twist
Unlike most other flat-bottomed gold pans, the center of the Turbopan is designed with spiral riffles. It is wider and shallower than most pans on the market today. At about 16 inches in diameter, it’s a no-nonsense, serious pan. But, for those who prefer something a smaller, Hillier has also produced the Turbopan Mini, which is about 10 inches across.
When Hillier set out to design a better gold pan, his goal was to create a pan that is easy to use, even for beginners. He wanted a pan that relies less on skill level, and instead takes advantage of sluicing action as well as the physics of a vortex where the lighter material moves upwards and outwards while heavier minerals move inwards and downwards. Hillier wanted an affordable pan that would quickly move the heavy gold-bearing material to the bottom and trap it, and then efficiently eliminate the lighter material, allowing the gold to be easily collected.
“The unique design of the pan allows the whole circumference of the pan to eject waste material and there are more riffles to easily trap the gold,” Hillier said. “This is a huge advantage over a traditional pan, which tends to concentrate all your material to one side of the pan.”
As most gold prospectors can attest, a little panning can be enjoyable, even relaxing in a quiet, timeless setting. But, most will also agree that a lot of panning can be tedious, time-consuming work, and is best not done under pressure. So, the next obstacle to overcome was speed.
In the end, Hillier chose the shallow design, which helps to move waste material out of the pan much more quickly — the same reason flat pans are used in many international speed panning competitions. He claims the Turbopan can reduce your panning time by up to two-thirds. Or, if you’re not in a rush, you can pan more than three times the material in the same amount of time it would take using use an average gold pan. Bonanza!
“So, the Turbopan is really fast,” Hillier said. “You’ve got maximum riffles if you’re panning out over the front and also you can get the waste out before you start the cleanup. It’s sort of a bit of a hydrocyclone as well if used to it’s maximum ability, and its also good for wet sifting through gravels for gems.”
Though he has enjoyed Turbopan’s success, Hillier isn’t ready to hang up his inventor’s hat just yet.
“I’m working on a new version,” he said.
How to use the Turbopan
• Step 1: Place your material in the Turbopan. Be careful not to overload it. The Turbopan is meant to hold up to about 10 pounds of material per panful. With the clean-up riffles facing away from you, submerge the pan into water, and then spin the pan counter-clockwise and then clockwise 180 degrees to allow the water to saturate your material. (It’s always a good idea to use a catch tub, rather than panning directly into a stream — just in case. There is nothing worse than watching a nugget roll off the lip of your pan into a fast-flowing stream.
• Step 2: Before you begin panning, use your finger to feel the texture of the material in the bottom of the central trap. Does it feel too tightly compacted? If it does, simply shake up the material for better stratification.
• Step 3: Now, with your Turbopan partially submerged, begin moving it in a counter-clockwise circular motion so that the material moves over the circular riffle bed. This action will break up clumps of dirt and prevent compaction.
• Step 4: Because gold-bearing black sands are much heavier than dirt and gravel, it will sink and become trapped in the spiral riffle grooves and gravity will move gold into the central trap. The circular motion creates centrifugal force, pushing light sands and clays to the outside of the pan, leaving the heavier black sands and gold in the center of the pan. Hillier advises alternating between a “centering swirl” to get the gold-bearing “heavies” to the middle of the pan and the “lights” to the surface, and an ejection swirl to get rid of the waste materials.
• Step 5: Because the pan is shallow, you’ll notice how easily you can clear the small rocks, pebbles and debris from the pan with a simple sweep of your hand.
• Step 6: When the amount of material remaining in the pan barely covers the central trap, do two or three more clockwise swirls, then about five seconds of vigorous back-to-front and side-to-side motions, and you’re almost home. (Remember that this whole procedure is only going take a few minutes)
• Step 7: Now this stage is critical. Tilt the pan away from you and gently shake it side to side while tilting the pan up at about a 30-degree angle.
• Step 8: Next, pan off any waste until you have only a small amount of concentrates (about the diameter of a 50-cent piece) containing the gold.
• Step 9: Finally, tilt the pan towards you and look for your gold in the bottom of the central trap.
• Step 10: If you see gold in the cleanup riffles, don’t worry. With a little more practice, you’ll master your own technique.
To watch a video of the Turbopan in action, go to www.turbopan.com
. There are also plenty of testimonials on eBay, Facebook and YouTube.
Article as featured in Gold Prospectors magazine November/December 2016 issue.
• Turbopan: $25
• Turbopan Mini: $16
• Turbopan kit: $45
The Turbopan Kit includes both a large and a mini Turbopan with a snuffer bottle and a vial for your gold all packaged in a convenient lightweight string backpack to eliminate packaging waste.
Geominex Pty., Ltd.
Australia: +61 (0) 428-250-364 (mobile)
International: +61 (0) 7-5641-2464
U.S. Distributors for Turbopan include:
• Tuscon Tools
• Serious Detecting
• Jobe Wholesale