To amalgamate with zinc amalgam, clean the copper plate by means of a swab, with fairly strong sulphuric acid diluted with water; then while wet apply the zinc-mercury mixture and well rub in. To prepare the zinc-amalgam, clip some zinc (the lining of packing cases will do) into small pieces and immerse them in mercury after washing them with a little weak sulphuric acid and water to remove any coating of oxide. When the mercury will absorb no more zinc, squeeze through chamois leather or calico (as for silver amalgam), and well rub in. The plate thus prepared should stand for a few days, dry, before using. If, before amalgamation with gold takes place, oxide of copper or other scum should rise on this plate a little very dilute sulphuric acid will instantly remove it.
Sodium and cyanide of potassium are frequently used in dressing-plates, but the former should be very sparingly employed, as it will often do more harm than good by taking up all sorts of base metals with the amalgam, and so presenting a surface which the gold will pass over without adhering to. Where water is scarce, and is consequently used over and over again, lime may be added to the pulp, or, if lime is not procurable, wood ashes may be used. The effect is two-fold; the lime not only tends to “sweeten” sulphide ores and keep the tables clean, but also causes the water to cleanse itself more quickly of the slimes, which will be more rapidly precipitated. When zinc amalgam is used, alkalies would, of course, be detrimental.
When no other water than that from the mine is available, difficulties often arise owing to the impurities it contains. These are various, but among the most common are the soluble sulphates, and sometimes free sulphuric acid evolved by the oxidisation of metallic sulphides. In the presence of this difficulty, do one of two things; either utilise or neutralise. In certain cases, I recommend the former. Sometime since I was treating, for gold extraction, material from a mine which was very complex in character, and for which I coined the term “polysynthetic.” This contained about half a dozen different sulphides. The upper parts of the lode being partially oxidised, free sulphuric acid (H2SO4) was evolved. I therefore, following out a former discovery, added a little metallic zinc to the mercury in the boxes and on the plates with excellent results. When the free acid in the ore began to give out in the lower levels I added minute quantities of sulphuric acid to the water from time to time. I have since found, however, that with some water, particularly West Australian, the reaction is so feeble (probably owing to the lime and magnesia present) as to make this mode of treatment unsuitable.