Gold is often found in and around quartz, which means prospectors often have to extract the precious metal. However, gold is much softer than quartz, so it’s important that you know how to remove it properly without damaging or dissolving it.
To extract gold from quartz, wrap it with a towel and crush it with a hammer until it’s all around ½” (1.27cm) in diameter. Grind the rocks with a mortar and pestle or use a metal rod. After filtering the materials through a sieve, pan the gold as you normally would.
In this article, I’ll show you the step-by-step instructions to extract gold from quartz. I’ll also explain how you can find out if a quartz has gold in it.
1. Crush the Gold-Filled Quartz
Crushing the quartz allows you to reveal gold and other precious metals inside. You can use a mallet, a hammer, or a sledgehammer to get the job done. Rock Seeker recommends a three to five-pound sledgehammer. The most important thing is to wear safety goggles and gloves to prevent yourself from getting injured in the process.
Follow these steps to separate gold from quartz:
- Wrap the quartz chunk in a towel or a blanket to contain the debris. The last thing you want is to crush a piece of quartz and lose the gold because it flew off in a random direction. You can also place the rock in a shatterproof bowl as long as there’s enough room for a hammer.
- Hit the center of the quartz piece with a hammer, mallet, sledgehammer, or another hard tool. You’ll need to use a considerable amount of force since quartz can be quite tough (especially if it’s mixed with iron and other dense materials). Reposition the broken piece into the center of the towel after each swing.
- Crush each piece of quartz into ½” to 1-inch (1.27 to 2.54cm) chunks. They shouldn’t be too big or too small; otherwise, you’ll make it much harder to grind the piece of quartz and gold when you’re done. Feel free to open the towel after each swing to check if there’s any exposed gold in the quartz pieces.
- Open the towel and remove all of the pieces to ensure there’s no dust left behind. Use prospecting tweezers to retrieve smaller pieces of quartz and other materials from the surface. Everything should go to the grinding bowl to ensure it’s all the same size before filtering or panning.
Crushing the quartz makes it much easier to grind into a fine powder. While some people prefer using acidic solutions, these are best left to large gold nuggets. Using too much acid on a quartz rock can be expensive, not to mention the fact that it takes quite a bit longer than this method.
2. Grind the Rocks Into a Sandy Powder
Once you have the gold-bearing quartz crushed into rocks, you can grind it into a fine sandy powder. This grinding process makes it much easier to spot gold pieces. Additionally, it allows you to pan for gold. You can use traditional panning techniques or opt for drying panning. That being said, it’s important to know how to grind the rocks properly.
Here’s the process to grind the quartz:
- Pour all of the broken rock chunks into a scratch-resistant container or on a workbench. Quartz will scuff almost any surface, so it’s important to choose a surface that you don’t mind messing with. This is one of the many reasons that a mortar and pestle are some of the best tools for the project.
- WikiHow suggests using a metal rod or a mortar and pestle. A metal rod is a power tool that lets you grind all sorts of materials. It’s much quicker and easier to use. However, a mortar and pestle is more affordable and practical because you don’t need to worry about finding a scratch-resistant surface.
- Stop grinding for 30 to 60 seconds if you smell burning odors. This issue won’t happen with a mortar and pestle. However, power tools can grind and overheat the quartz chunks, which risks burning them (or the metal rod). Let the tool cool down before using it again or switch to a different method.
- Grind the rocks until they’re the same consistency as sand. It shouldn’t be too fine because it’ll slide through a sieve without getting rid of any contaminants. However, a grind that’s too coarse won’t go through the sieve at all. Move the pieces to the center of the bowl, grind them, then repeat the process to ensure an even grind.
- Pour the sandy powder into a bucket or a pan, then discard the dust left over in the container. Run your fingers through the powder, ensuring there aren’t any chunks or other large pieces of debris. You can grind them individually until they’re all the same size and consistency.
Note: Avoid grinding the quartz on porous surfaces. A lot of the debris can get stuck in the surface, which prevents you from being able to find gold in it. Additionally, it could chip the surface, causing unwanted repairs.
3. Filter the Materials With a Sieve
Sieves are common tools in the prospecting industry. They allow you to separate fine materials from coarse, dense materials. Gold is much heavier than quartz, so it’ll sink through a sieve much quicker. If you don’t have a sieve, you could also use a mesh filtering screen that you’d use for cooking and baking.
All you have to do is pour the materials into the sieve, shake the sieve back and forth, then check the sieve for larger materials. You can crush the larger pieces with the aforementioned grinding process to bring them down to the same consistency as the rest of the pile. Once everything is the right size, you can move on to the panning process.
4. Pan the Gold With Water
Panning for gold is one of the oldest methods around. You can pan for gold in the quartz you crushed, but you’ll need a few supplies.
Here’s a list of what you should get:
- Prospecting pan
- Bucket with water
- Shovel or spoon
Once you’ve gathered all of the materials, follow this process:
- Scoop the sandy, crushed quartz into the prospecting pan. Those of you who’ve panned for gold know this process all too well. You only need up to two cups of the material in the pan at a time. Adding too much of the powder will make it very difficult to tilt, tap, and collect gold from the quartz.
- Pour some of the water into the pan. You only need about an inch of water above the top of the crushed, ground quartz. Make sure you don’t splash any of the powder out of the pan or you’ll risk losing gold and other valuable materials (which is why I advise against using hoses and sinks).
- Swirl the prospecting pan and tilt it toward your body. This process pulls heavier materials toward the bottom of the pile of powder. Gold is much heavier than most materials found in and around quartz, so it’s likely to fall to the bottom. It also helps you remove pyrite, which looks a lot like gold.
- Pour out some of the water while tapping the pan. Make sure you don’t accidentally dump out any of the heavier materials. A small amount of surface debris will inevitably leave with the water, which is what you want. This material isn’t gold because it’s lightweight and moves with the water.
- Repeat the process until all of the water is gone and the heavier sediment (and hopefully gold pieces) stays near the top of the pan. Tilt the pan, tap it, and check for gold near the top of the pan. You could also add more water to the pan if there’s a lot of dirt and quartz left behind.
Sciencing explains an alternative method of panning in which you submerge the pan and rotate it simultaneously. This route takes a bit more time and technique, but it can help to push the heavier materials toward the bottom of the pan much quicker.
5. Collect and Inspect the Gold
It’s easy to initially mistake fool’s gold (pyrite) for real gold after the panning process. However, there are many things you can do to inspect the materials, ensuring that you have raw gold. Keep in mind that you can also find silver, platinum, palladium, and other valuable materials in quartz.
So, how can you inspect the potential gold you’ve collected?
Weigh the Materials
Gold weighs more than pyrite, quartz, and many other materials you’ll find in a quartz rock. If you think you found gold, weigh it. It’ll be heavier than a piece of quartz of the same dimensions. If it weighs the same or less than the quartz chunk, it’s more likely to be pyrite.
Use a Magnet
Gold isn’t magnetic, so running a magnet over it won’t do anything. However, pyrite is slightly magnetic. In fact, pyrite often has traces of iron, which will also pull toward a magnet. You can use this simple trick to know if anything in your quartz chunk is made of gold or contains traces of gold.
Bring It to a Metallurgist
Metallurgists and goldsmiths can quickly identify gold through a series of tests. They can use scales, chemicals, and other methods to tell you whether or not the material is gold or something else. They should also be able to give you a price estimate, though you should always get multiple quotes before selling raw gold.
Gold found in quartz is always considered raw gold, which means you won’t get the same profit that you would for pure gold. However, you can still get quite a decent income for a few grams of raw gold. Raw gold needs to be melted and refined, which is why it doesn’t come with the same price tag.
6. Consider Hydrofluoric Acid for Large Gold Nuggets
Gold Prospecting explains that hydrofluoric acid will melt most materials surrounding gold. You can submerge the quartz chunk into acid, melt away all of the excess debris, and expose the gold within. However, it’s essential to note the dangers, legal requirements, and other precautions that come with using hydrofluoric acid for gold prospecting.
Review these issues before using hydrofluoric acid:
- Hydrofluoric acid typically requires a usage license. It’s extremely toxic and corrosive. Never use it without the required permits. That being said, you could bring your quartz chunks to people who have the necessary licenses to purchase, handle, and use hydrofluoric acid to extract gold from quartz and other materials.
- You need to use safety gear, including goggles, gloves, masks, and long sleeves. Hydrofluoric acid can cause severe burns if it touches your skin. After all, it’s strong enough to corrode quartz and many other minerals. Wear a breathing mask or an N95 mask to prevent yourself from inhaling the acidic gases.
- It’s important to remove the gold pieces from the solution as soon as you spot them. Hydrofluoric acid can’t melt gold, but it turns into aqua regia when it’s mixed with nitric acid. Aqua regia can melt gold and many other precious metals, so make sure you avoid it. Many people use nitric acid to reveal gold by itself, though.
- If you want to use hydrofluoric acid to extract gold from quartz, do so in a ventilated area. It gives off thick, dense gases that are dangerous to inhale. I suggest using it outside to prevent inhalation. If not, make sure you use powered ventilation to quickly remove the gases.
- Discard the leftover liquid (never reuse hydrofluoric acid). It’s contaminated with quartz and other minerals. Not only will this reduce its corrosive effectiveness, but it can also cause adverse reactions with other materials. Make sure you follow the labeled disposal instructions (i.e., don’t dump it down the drain because it’ll corrode it).
Hydrofluoric acid is one of the most effective ways to extract gold from various ores and rocks, but it’s not always the safest method. If you have the required permits, then it could be a quick and easy way to get the job done. Using hydrofluoric acid without a license could lead to fees, jail time, and citations.
How Do You Know if Quartz Has Gold in It?
There are many ways to know if quartz has gold in it, including checking the corners of exposed materials, trying to scratch a piece of glass with gold, and considering where you got the quartz. You could also weigh two identical pieces of quartz to look for a weight difference since gold is much heavier.
Here’s a handful of ways to know if you found gold-bearing quartz:
- Check for gold and pyrite around the edges of your quartz chunk. Gold is often found around the edges of quartz and other minerals because it broke off of the main vein. This type of ore is called alluvial gold. You can usually spot a few pieces of shiny gold near the surface, but there could be a lot more within the quartz.
- Rub the piece of gold against a piece of glass. Gold won’t scratch glass because it’s too soft. It’s not even sharp enough to scratch softer materials, such as wood. If the material leaves scuff marks and scratches, it’s pyrite, not gold. Pyrite is much denser and will scratch glass without a problem.
- Gold-bearing quartz is most commonly found deep underground, in caves, or near volcanic systems. If you got your quartz chunk from any of these areas, there’s a higher chance that it has gold. Additionally, quartz pieces found in rivers and other moving bodies of water can contain gold because it flows away from the source.
- Weigh two pieces of quartz with similar dimensions. If one piece weighs significantly more than the other, it has gold, silver, platinum, palladium, or another heavy material. If you spot gold within the quartz and it weighs more, it could be gold or pyrite. Keep in mind that gold weighs more than pyrite, though.
- Place a strong magnet against the potential piece of gold that you got from the quartz. Pyrite will pull towards a magnet, but real gold won’t move because it’s not magnetic. You can also use a high-frequency metal detector if you want to know if there’s any metal inside of the quartz chunk.
These methods will let you know if a piece of quartz is worth breaking down with the previous processes. However, it’s nearly impossible to know if a piece of quartz has gold if there’s nothing exposed around the edges. You’ll have to crush the material, which is a different process from extracting gold from pyrite.
Although gold-bearing quartz is quite rare, this method will help you quickly find out if there’s any precious metal in the rock. It also lets you collect samples and pan for gold at home, which could save a lot of time and energy.