Searching for gold almost belongs in a class by itself, as the metal detector is just one of many tools used in seeking that precious metal. A whole different set of equipment comes into play. For the purposes of this paper, gold detecting gear refers to equipment used in finding gold flakes, gold nuggets, and gold ore.
That being the case, you will want to research whether or not your physical location offers any possibility for success. Your best chances are in known gold deposit areas, in rivers and lakes in their vicinity, and in dry lake beds and arroyos with A history of water, again in gold bearing areas. The best advice comes from the Geology.com web page: “Prospect where gold has been found before.”
Geologically speaking, gold is found in quartz deposits, near gold and copper mines, in areas with a volcanic history, including hot springs, and in sedimentary soils created by erosion from gold-bearing sites. Source USGS Circular 1178, “1998 Assessment of Undiscovered Deposits of Gold, Silver, Copper, Lead, and Zinc in the United States.”
Selecting a Coil for Gold Metal Detecting
Coils for Standard Detectors
You can search for gold with pretty much any metal detector, but you will have better success with a machine dedicated to gold prospecting.
If you are using a standard detector you should be aware of the need for specific ground balance adjustments, because gold-bearing environments are often higher in minerals and iron oxide than regular soils. If your detector has motion sensing adjustments you’ll want to fine tune that as well. The instruction manual for the Fisher F75 is a good example; see page 38 in that manual.
Some high-end detectors have a built-in mode for gold prospecting. The Minelab Equinox 800 (Link to Amazon to check out the reviews) is a case in point. It it can scan five frequencies at once, but for gold hunting it uses the two highest ones, 20-kHz and 40-kHz, providing the best configuration for finding small particles. Similarly, the White’s MXT All Pro(Links to Amazon for current price) has a built-in prospecting mode for gold hunting.
Coils for Dedicated Gold Detectors
If you’re serious about hunting for gold, a machine made specifically for that purpose is your best bet, such as in Figure 3. Fortunately, gold detecting models come in all price ranges.
The standard coil that comes with your machine, usually 7 to 9 inches, will work fine for gold prospecting. Once you’ve had some experience you’ll generally find that most of the targets are tiny. This means that a higher frequency or small coil will provide an advantage for you. You’re probably limited in frequency choices, but you can always find a small coil. They go down to just a few inches in diameter.
My personal favorite is the 4 to 6-inch coil, as this is a nice compromise between getting a focused search field and not having to swing your detector a bazillion times just to cover a 10 by 10-foot plot.
I’ve gone for gold detecting in several river locations in California. Most of the trips yielded very few tiny nuggets. If this is the case for you, consider switching to panning or sluicing, which is covered in the next paragraphs.
Pans, Classifiers and Other Gold Detecting Accessories
Before you set out into the field it’s wise to be prepared with the right equipment. As mentioned already, most of what you’ll find are tiny specs and flakes. To sort this from the much more voluminous rocks, you need:
A good gold pan.
A set of tweezers.
A “snuffer” bottle and storage vials.
Picks and scrapers.
A simple gold pan works well, though experienced users prefer the green or blue colored pans, as it’s easier to spot gold in those shades. See Figure 5. Sometimes you can retrieve the smaller specs with a tweezers, but most folks use a snuffer bottle, sometimes referred to as a sniffer bottle. This is soft plastic bottle with a pointed intake. You squeeze the air out and as it returns to its normal shape it sucks in the air and the gold with it. Then you transfer it to a storage vial. See Figure 6.
For picks and scrapers you can use an old flat-head screwdriver to ferret out gravel and sand caught in bedrock along a stream.
Pan with rills, ribs.
Screens, classifiers, and sieves.
Pick, rock hammer.
Shovel and buckets.
For just few dollars more you might prefer a fancy pan with rills, ribs, and ridges that help trap the heavier particles. That same function is aided by screens of various mesh sizes, classifiers, which sort the soil by pebble size. Some kits have up to 9 different mesh sizes, but just two or three is all you need; one large size mesh and another for finer gravel, say a #4 mesh with 1/4” holes and a #20 with 1/20” holes. The larger rocks in the #4 classifier you just toss out by hand, giving a quick scan for quartz that might have gold embedded in it.
Sometimes in your search you’ll find what they call “black sand,” which is a good thing, because it contains the heavier particles that generally congregate with gold. If you have a lot of black sand, use a magnet to separate it out from the gold. Use a coated or covered magnet. A plastic scoop is handy too, so you can scan the scoop for gold with the detector coil.
Sluices and Hand-power Pumps for Gold
Panning for gold is fun, especially if you are teaching children about prospecting. The downside is that you’re lucky to find just a few tiny specs of the precious metal. The next level up involves using somewhat more advanced equipment to process more sand and soil in order to take home a bigger payload.
A sluice is a long metal channel that you place in a stream using the flow of the water to separate gold out from the sand and gravel that you feed in at the upstream end of the contraption. A small sluice is generally about 10-inches wide and 2 to 3-feet long. It has rubber or plastic ridges, or riffles, along the base that snag the heavier particles, including gold, while the flow of water pushes the lighter material back into the stream. See the Reference videos at the end of this article.
You generally shovel river sediment and soil piecemeal into the front of the sluice and, with a sharp eye and a quick hand, remove the larger rocks as you go. You’ll need to adjust the downward slope of the sluice so that the water provides enough energy to push out the lighter rocks away, but slow enough that it traps the gold in the bottom mat. With any luck, you’ll start to find tiny flakes of gold and small nuggets getting trapped in the ridges. See Figure 8 for sluice examples.
Typical sluice boxes. You feed material into the upstream end (left) and gold is captured in the mat as it flows down stream.
In practice, most prospectors use a shovel and buckets to carry the gravel from nearby sites to the sluice and process it one scoopful at a time.
More specialized and bigger sluices employ multiple stages of riffles to better sort out the wheat from chaff.
The Hand-Powered Dredge for Gold Prospecting
The hand-powered dredge is akin to the Super-Soaker water blasters that you see kids using in pools and water fights. There are many variations to this device and many names, such hand dredge, PVC suction, or Yabbie pump.
The idea is to pull back on a plunger to suck up water and sand from the creek bed, then squirt it into a gold pan or sluice to separate out the gold. See Figure 9. These pumps may sometimes include a narrow intake nozzle to reach into rock crevices, as well has built-in catch-basins which will store the heavier materials in a removable chamber.
An adjunct this process is the use of scrapers and picks to ferret out the gravel trapped in cracks and holes in the bedrock.
The Rocker Box (Shaker Table, Cradle Deck, Dry Washer)
In an effort to improve on the simple sluice, the Rocker Box, sometimes called a shaker table, or gold cradle, allows you to clear sand and gravel a bit more efficiently, thereby speeding up the gold retrieval process.
The Rocker Box usually includes at least one level for screening the input, which is a form of classifying. You scoop material into the top of the box, vibrate the box using a wooden arm or rocker-shaped base. When you pour water onto the top, the heavier material moves through the screens and onto a base that is much like your regular sluice. Then you can just pick out the gold nuggets and flakes. Many prospectors dump the larger, discarded rocks into a pile and then scan that mound with the metal detector, just to check that some nuggets might have slipped through the process.
A Dry Washer is similar to the rocker box, but instead of using water to separate out the materials, a blower is used; often a hand-powered bellows. As the name implies, it uses air instead of water to classify materials. It does this by blowing air under a screen-lined hopper. The lighter elements are blown away and discarded. The remaining material continues on down the sloping box. This variation is particularly useful in areas where there is little or no running water in which to run a stream-powered sluice.
The next level of commitment to gold prospecting is the addition of motors and pumps to help speed the process of separating gold from its soil. I use the word ‘commitment’ because this improvement can come at a hefty price tag, depending on the amount of dirt you want to process. Essentially, the techniques are the same as for hand-operated sluices and dredges, but the power tools allow you to sift through a much greater volume of material in a speedier fashion.
Engines, Pumps and Powered Equipment for Gold
You can take most of the devices described so far and add power to take the load off your arms. You can use gas powered engines or electrical motors to get the job done. An alternative is to use a gas-powered electric generator to run machinery on 110 volts AC or 12 volts DC. For example, you can use power to drive a rocker box, or to power a pump for a dredge.
Engines and pumps are described separately because many hobbyists prefer to build their own equipment, such as dredges. See any of the do-it-yourself dredge videos on the popular video-sharing web pages. Watch out, though; sand, soil, and rocks are very abrasive, so hoses and pipes can wear out quickly. Figure 11 shows a stand-alone pump for a dredge.
Highbanker for Washing Lots of Rocks for Gold
A highbanker is similar to the rocker box, except pumped water is used to separate out gold from the lighter elements. A pump forces water into the top of the hopper, dumping the lighter material out a back chute. The water is sprayed into the hopper where you load shovels-full of dirt. There is no need to shake the box, as the heavier elements are washed down into the secondary area which operates much like a regular sluice.
Highbankers require a lot fine tuning during the set-up stage, as you have to regulate the flow rate of the water, the slope of the hopper, and the incline and leveling of the sluice area. The picture above with highbanker in operation. A pump pulls water from the river and sprays it into the upper hopper, while the pay-dirt is poured into the loading area.
Concentrators for Gold
Gold concentrators range from a modified gold pan with a water jet input to a commercial grade helical spiral machine. The basic idea is that centrifugal force separates out the gold from lighter material. Think of it as mechanized gold panning.
A gold dredge works by sucking water, sand, and soil from the bottom of a stream or beach and running it through a process to separate out the gold. Some dredges work from land while others have floats, so you can move the dredge along with you as you scour the bottom of a river.
The key consideration here is the size (diameter) of the intake hose, as this will determine the power requirements of the pump motor and characteristics of the tubing and classifying sections of the dredge. Dredges make gold processing much more efficient. The old adage “It takes money to make money” applies here, as this equipment can run into thousands of dollars.
See examples at Proline Mining Equipment, or Keene Engineering to get an idea of costs and strategies. See Figures 18 and 19 for standard systems. Of course, many prospectors jury-rig their own contraptions using a stand-alone motor for the pump and an assortment of hoses, filters, and PVC piping.
Once you get into the realm of dredges, you are approaching that borderland of operation between being a hobbyist and full-scale gold prospector. In commercial jargon, they talk about “tons of dirt” to get one ounce of gold. In order to justify such expense, you will probably have to think about having access to a gold claim.
At the End of the Trail Searching for Gold
I hope can see by now that prospecting for gold has an attraction, an allure that is hard to resist. That is especially true once you’ve discovered your first few nuggets. The call to the rivers and hills can easily lead to the hobby becoming a second vocation. All that enthusiasm should be balanced, at least to some degree, by the cost of the more specialized equipment. Even if you don’t find the Mother Lode in your area, there’s an immeasurable pleasure in striking out into the wild, wading into rivers and streams, and immersing yourself in nature. Good luck, and let us know if you find “the big one!”
The first step in your underwater journey is to define the water depth you’ll be searching. Most detectors over $150 will have a waterproof coil and cable. Get a little deeper, say to your chest and you’ll need to think about a detector with a waterproof processor. If you plan to go “all the way under” your going to get into a combination of scuba and specialty metal detecting equipment.
The below article is organized by water depth, but remember that the electronics that work for chest deep usually work for full immersion.
Types of water metal detecting
Water detecting, much like detecting for gold, is a whole new ball game. It’s like the difference between basketball and golf. In both you want to get the ball (the ring) in the bucket, but there’s a big change in the equipment and techniques that you need for success.
At the beginner level, detectorists often use their standard, land-based, detector with a mode setting for “Beach” or “Water.”
This type of hunting gets you, at most, knee deep in the water, keeping the control box dry. Then a sand scoop helps you find the target. Let’s call this “Ankle Deep Water Detecting.”
Getting a Little Deeper (pun intended) Chest Deep Metal Detecting
Here you need a waterproof detector, snorkeling gear, and possibly a wet suit. At this level, detecting techniques require a new set of hunting skills and specialized equipment. We’ll call this Chest-Deep Detecting.
Fully Submerged Metal Detecting
Scuba or skin diving, is another level of complexity, where you may be swimming under water using fins and a hand-held detector. We will call this Underwater Detecting. NOTE: Scuba diving is an even more specialized activity, but it is distinct sport in itself, and far beyond the scope of this paper. Scuba diving is not covered here, but I do mention the equipment that you need, at the end, for those who want to explore this (much more expensive) variation.
Ankle Deep Water Detecting
There’s not much extra equipment you’ll need for ankle deep detecting. Most coils are waterproof, and most detectors have a mode or setting or beaches. If your detector does not have a beach setting you may have to adjust the sensitivity and ground balance. Beaches, especially salt-water locations have high mineral content and ionizing salts which will affect performance.
Wading Shoes, For this type of detecting you may want to look at shoes and socks that are specifically made for wading. The thickness and durability of the footwear will depend upon the presence of rocks in the surf and the water temperature. In cold climates waterproof boots or waders may be required. There’s more on waders below.
Scoops, For sandy locations you’ll need a sand scoop. For muddy or rocky bottom water detecting you can use a shovel or digging tool, but a sand scoop may still come in handy.
A sand scoop is essential for metal detecting in shallow water. A normal shovel will be way to heavy to lift the sand, gravel and WATER. Additionally it seems like your treasure gets washed away in the water spilling off the shovel. Read even more about digging for treasure in this article. A Complete Guide to Metal Detecting Tools for Digging
If you’re hunting in salt-water conditions, you should rinse all metal parts, including zippers, with fresh water when you get home, as the salt will easily corrode your gear.
“Beach Scoops – Your first thought might be this. ‘I can just use a shovel.’ You can do this if you want, but there are specialized shovels called beach scoops that will put an ordinary shovel to shame. I can’t say enough about how important a good scoop is.” ~ Metal Detecting the Beach, by Mark Smith
Chest-Deep Metal Detecting
Deeper water detecting is going to require waterproof equipment. You’re probably going to want to get a dedicated detector for this. Some manufacturers and third-party producers provide clears covers that seal the control box for detectors that are not fully waterproof.
Dedicated Water Metal Detectors
Here’s a list of some waterproof probes and detectors, increasing in price and complexity. These listings are for popular equipment. The fact that they are included here is not an endorsement of the product. Figures 7, 8, and 9 show sample detecting equipment in different price ranges. I’d suggest, if you’re just starting out, to try a few runs with the least costly items, then move up if your enthusiasm is piqued.
Water detecting is one of the few environments where Pulse Induction (PI) metal detectors work well. They are not known for good discrimination, but most metal you find in the surf is going to be something man-made, so you’ll want to dig up all targets.
Underwater Probes for Metal Detecting
An important feature for probing underwater is a vibration mode. You’ll be slowly sweeping the probe through water that has sand kicked-up. Sound and sight are useless underwater, you’ve got to feel the find.
If you want to get a “forever” metal detector take a serious look at the Minelab Excaliber II. It is a little more expensive than the general hobbyist unit, but once you learn how to effectively use this unit you’ll never look at another machine.
Weight belts, A weight belt is needed when you’re in water that’s deep enough to make you float. Nylon weight belts are cheaper. Rubber ones doesn’t slip as much. Many divers like to add accessory D-rings to the belt, for attaching bags and other items.
Snorkels and face masks, A face mask with a snorkel is needed so you can see and breath underwater, even if it’s just for a few seconds. Typical gear of good quality are listed here. Figures 10 and 11 show some popular snorkel and face mask combinations.
Wet Suits are coverings that let water enter between you and the suit, but the fit is tight enough that there is little circulation, so the suit keeps you warm. Wet suits come in different thicknesses to accommodate water temperature. For example 2-mm thick suits are for warm water and 5-mm suits for cold water.
“I have a two piece wet suit: a 7-mm farmer john and a 7-mm neoprene shorty. This gives me 14-mm of neoprene on my upper body. I also have a neoprene hood, boots, and gloves. On warm winter days I am baking potato hot until I get into the water.”
Dry Suits, as the name implies, are waterproof, so air, not water, is next to your skin. Most suits now have p-valves to allow urination on long dives. See p-valve discussion here. Popular brands are Hevto, O’Neill, and Stohlquist.
Gloves come in all shapes and sizes, with waterproof and tight fitting gloves, like nitrile, which is good for maintaining dexterity. Many surf searchers like webbed gloves, as these help you navigate in water, and by waving a hand over the target area you can whisk away sand to uncover a target.
Elbow length gloves are also handy for shallow water retrieving of targets. See these examples of webbed gloves and elbow length gloves.
Waders, the long boots favored by fishermen, come in all lengths and styles. Some have built-in boots and others allow you wear shoes inside. Waders are often all you need for water detecting and they are a lot less trouble to get into and out of than a wet suit. They come in different lengths, from knee high to chest high.
Miscellaneous. Once you’re actually out in the water, you’ll find there are hundreds of little things you absolutely need for water detecting. Too many to provide a comprehensive list, but items you can find at pretty much any hardware store or sports supply store.
Lanyards, belt clips, retractable key lines.
Mesh bags for stashing finds.
Detachable shafts for your detector control box.
Knives, probes, and tweezers for extracting items from rocks and crevices.
Underwater Metal Detecting (Scuba)
The only difference between chest-deep detecting and underwater detecting is that you get your head wet. This requires only minor add-ons in terms of gear. You might want to add a wet suit and a weight belt as described in the previous section.
You may also want to consider the following:
Fins to help with swimming.
Head cover for warmth.
Be sure to use the shorter, more manageable snorkel style fins as opposed to scuba diving fins. You can often save a little by buying the face mask, snorkel, and fins in a package deal. Have fun and be safe.
Metal Detecting While Scuba Diving
Scuba diving is profoundly different from metal detecting; so much so that it may be perceived as an entirely different sport. For the sake of brevity, I want to include just a short list of the gear you’ll need. If you’re interested in this activity it may be best to consult books and references dedicated to this sport.
Scuba diving requires a training class and certification. It’s a necessary step for your safety and enjoyment.
What follows is a short list of the types of gear you will need for scuba diving metal detecting:
Diving masks and snorkels.
Fins and boots.
Weight belts and buoyancy compensators.
Tanks and spare air.
Oxygen regulators, octopus regulars.
Gauges – depth, pressure, compass.
Clue: This will cost Thousands of dollars!
The Final Shovel Scoop
This has been just a broad view of the gear and equipment that you might need for metal detecting in the water. I’ve tried to provide links and photos to help you make choices. Don’t forget to add beach maps, tide charts and weather reports to your tool box.
One of the best ways to get started in metal detecting is to find a friend or a club that can help guide you in the initial steps. That introduction can sometimes be unreliable and disorganized, so I will outline some fool-proof steps you can follow whether you start detecting with other people or take the go-it-alone approach.
Metal Detecting is not a Get Rich Quick Scheme
You’ll have PLENTY of fun with your detector. You will find pocketfuls of coins and jewelry and odd metallic trinkets. You will easily pay for the cost of your machine. You are NOT very likely, however, to become a millionaire from your hobby.
Yes, some people do find big treasures. They are in the news because the incidence is so rare that it makes the headlines. The point is to have realistic expectations for you hobby.
Believe me, you’ll have a blast whether or not you hit “the big one!” Like the spinning wheels of a slot machine, there is still the hope, the excitement, of seeing what comes up out of the dirt for you, be it a zinc penny or a silver dollar.
Get the Right Metal Detector for Your Location
There are other aspects of your hobby that may also need review. Do you really need a salt-water, submersible detector when you live 1,000 miles from the ocean? Do you need a gold detector when there are no gold fields in your state? Can you really expect to find Civil War relics when you live in Idaho? See Figure 1.
No, but that doesn’t diminish your enjoyment. You will still have rich rewards.
Figure 1. Civil War and Gold-bearing sites in the USA. Match your goals to what is realistic in your location.
Unless you live in a house on the beach, don’t start off with a Pulse–Induction machine. Stick with a general purpose VLF detector.
Avoid single-purpose detectors, such as under-water only, or gold only machines.
Check the weight of the machines you are considering.
Stay within your budget.
Minor restraints and limitations will not detract from the fun you can have with this sport, but is pays to be wise enough to have realistic expectations.
Balance Your Enthusiasm With Your Budget – Metal Detecting Equipment
Are you the kind of person who buys a two thousand dollar camera with visions of becoming a world-renowned photo-journalist, but now the camera sits on a shelf collecting dust? Don’t let that happen with your foray into metal detecting.
If you are unsure of your commitment to the hobby, don’t go spending the rent money for a top of the line detector. Instead, buy a cheap one, and if you find (like most people) you really enjoy it, then you can trade it in for a more robust model.
For years my Garrett Ace 250 worked great for me. I just saw 1300 reviews on Amazon with a really high rating. Check out the price on Amazon here – Garrett Ace 250 Metal Detector
An inexpensive model, say under $100, will still let you find lots of cool stuff, though it may not scan as deep as a higher-priced item, and it may not be able to identify the target as well as a more advanced machine. Again, if you’re undecided on how much enjoyment you will get, then start simply and work up to the level of technology that fits your growing needs.
Learn the Basics of Detector Technology
They say men are better drivers than women, not because of men’s skill but because more men take the time to understand how a car works. The same is true for metal detecting. If you know how a detector works you can improve your detecting and analyze the problem when things go wrong.
Example: I’m getting a lot of funny noises and the machine just isn’t working right. Let’s see. The detector works by sending a radio signal into the ground. Oh, I’m under some overhead power lines. That’s probably causing interference.
Basic Metal Detecting Terms
So, here are the important concepts you should know:
Let’s look at each in turn. Meanwhile, Figure 2 shows some detector controls. Can you see the discrimination (phase shift) scale? Can you understand what some of the buttons stand for?
Figure 2. Typical detector face plates.
Metal Detector Term – Discrimination
In the social world, the word “discrimination” suggests a negative quality. It refers to judging other people, usually in a demeaning way. Discrimination in the metal detecting arena, however, is a quite favorable concept. It indicates that your detector is able to judge, or rather, distinguish, between a piece of junk and a valuable coin.
This helps your metal detecting success rate, as you won’t waste time digging up iron bolts, washers, and bottle caps.
Discrimination is the ability to distinguish between junk and a coin. The signal from your coil creates a bounce-back, an echo, from the object in the ground. A bolt from a machine does not conduct electricity very well, so the signal picked up by your machine is weak and choppy. A silver dime, on the other hand, conducts well and sends a clear, strong signal back to the detector. The detector calculates the Phase Shift, which it uses to categorize different objects.
If you’re an engineering type person who wants to know the whys and wherefores of discrimination, check out this more technical video.
Metal Detecting Term – Target ID
Target ID grows out of the discrimination function. It categorizes different phase shifts to identify more specifically what’s in the ground. Target IDs can specify a range, such as iron or silver or even a particular coin.
Modern detectors often use numbers for specific targets, such as 79 for a penny, 81 for a dime, or 85 for a quarter. These are called Visual Identification numbers, or VID numbers. Again, for more details, see the video listed just above.
Metal Detecting Term – Frequency
Frequency refers to the radio frequency that the detector uses to send to the coil. A low frequency, such as 5-khz, goes deeper into the ground, but is not suited for tiny objects. A higher frequency, such as 40-khz, does not penetrate the soil as deeply, but it’s excellent for picking up tiny specks of gold.
Interference refers to a poorly functioning metal detector due to nearby electrical, magnetic, or radio frequency sources. This can be from other metal detectors, overhead or buried power lines, electrical transformers, or light rail commuter trains.
Metal Detecting Term – Sensitivity
Like the volume control on your radio, sensitivity adjusts the gain, or amplification of the detector signal. A construction site loaded with nails and junk will cause a lot of static, so you may want to turn down the sensitivity. Your signal will not go as deep, but you will not be annoyed by all the chatter.
Different soils and locations produce various electrical characteristics. A salty or chemically unbalanced environment will affect the performance of your detector. Most detectors have a ground balance function where you can adjust for these differences
Choosing a Metal Detector
Once you’ve assessed your commitment level and budget, it’s time to look at detectors.
Sometimes it’s wise to consider a used unit. If you’ve joined a metal detecting club, you may find plenty for sale among fellow club member, or on line at auction sites. With second-hand machines, you have to balance lower prices with the unknown wear and tear on the detector.
Check out AMAZON for Metal Detectors (Link) and one of the BIGGEST most reputable metal detecting sellers KellyCo.
For a new detector, a good place to start is to look at review web sites, such as KellyCo reviews or Amazon user ratings. Under each listing on Amazon you will see a 5-star rating. Holding your browser pointer over the stars tells you the average rating. Choose something with at least a 4.0 user rating.
Curious Level – Playing with a Metal Detector.
If you’re just curious and not committed to the hobby, or just want something for the children to do while outdoors, then I’d recommend a low-priced unit to start with, such as the Bounty Hunter TK4 (link to Amazon for price and reviews), or the RM Ricomax Kit (Amazon link to checkout 100’s of reviews) with discrimination, headphones and a shovel. Another option that’s SUPER popular is the Bounty Hunter Discovery (Links to Amazon for more info), or the Garrett ACE 200, Garrett has been a great brand for many years. Again if your just starting and want to “feel the waters” the Garrett ACE 200 (check out the Amazon reviews) is a good option.
NOTE: The brands and models mentioned do not represent an endorsement, but rather a relatively safe choice recognized by many reviewers.
When you access these listings you will see similar items that other searchers have looked at. If any of these spark your interest, look at the user ratings, both the star ratings and and the number of reviews.
Beginner Level – Metal Detector
For adults just getting in to the hobby, and for folks who want better performance with respect to depth and discrimination, you might want to consider a just slightly higher priced machine. The next levels detailed below will have features that increase “finds”. These units are particularly good for scanning beaches and parks.
This price range allows you to get into the sport and get familiar with the technology. These choices are a good compromise between cost and performance.
Minelab X-terra 305 Metal Detector
At first glance the Minelab X-terra 305 (link to check out the amazing price at Amazon) may look simple, but DON”T BE FOOLED. The Minelab 305 is packed with features that will put more treasure into your pouch. Ground balancing is standard, the medium frequency 7Khz coil is excellent for general metal detecting and this unit has the option to change coils for more sophisticated searching.
The Teknetics Delta 4000 (Amazon link for price check) is a user-friendly metal detector great for scanning beaches for coins and jewelry. The LCD screen is easy to read and using a 9 volt battery is convenient.
Whites has been building metal detectors for many years. Proven performance in all price ranges. A standout metal detector is the Whites Coinmaster with Waterproof 9″ Coil. (Amazon link) Looking at what’s on the market I would get the “Kit” that includes headphones and batteries.
Garrett Ace 300 Metal Detector
A pioneer in metal detecting hobby, Garrett has been build metal detectors for enthusiast and the MILITARY Metal Detection for over 50 years. Amazon sells the Garrett Ace 300 Metal Detector get super fast shipping and a proven metal detector. This machine is one of those – “can’t go wrong” products.
Committed Level – Beyond the Enthusiast Metal Detecting
For the serious hobbyist who is all-in with the sport, you will probably want a high performance machine, often meaning well over $300. For this type of investment there is no substitute for doing your own research and self evaluation to see what is important to you and what types of detecting are practical in your area.
Start with video reviews on the internet, such as YouTube or Vimeo. If you know friends with detectors or club members, ask their advice. Make a list of 3 to 5 detectors that catch your fancy, then look at review sites and comments, such as KellyCo reviews or Amazon user ratings.
Here are some popular brands and models favored by experienced detectorists. These are listed by price, which will probably change by the time you read this. Again, the brands and models mentioned do not represent an endorsement, but rather models that are popular among users.
Key Items to Read in your Metal Detector User Manual
Reading your user manual is probably the most important part of your education for good detecting practices and success. Remember the primary concepts covered in Section 2, above:
Discrimination. Just about ever detector has a dial, slider, or menu option to adjust discrimination level. Set it too high and you’ll miss nickels, and rings. Set too low and you’ll be digging up paper clips and nails.
Target ID. Many detectors have notches or VDI numbers that you can delete out, such as pull tabs.
Frequency. Only some machines let you change frequency, generally to overcome electrical interference. Other machines, such as the Minelab Equinox can run multiple frequencies at the same time.
Interference / Noise cancel. Most detectors have a noise cancel option, which reduces ambient electrical interference.
Sensitivity. This is like the volume control on an amplifier. Use it to reduce the chatter in a junk-filled field.
Ground balance. Ground balance is important for successful hunting. There are many soil types with different electrical properties. Adjust the ground balance with every new location.
Bonding with your detector 😎
Garrett Metal Detecting has ALL their Metal Detector User Manuals online – find them HERE
Breaking the Sound Barrier – Metal Detecting Sounds
When you first turn on your detector you’re more than likely to be bombarded with an annoying blast of truck back-firing sounds.
Don’t do what I did. I fiddled with the controls until I found one that lowered the chatter level. Months later at a club hunt we were comparing the things we found. I had uncovered some coins, but my fellow searchers had several rings, pieces of jewelry and nickels, while I had only pennies, quarters and dimes.
I figured out then that had turned the discrimination dial all the way up, eliminating everything lower on the scale than a dime. I was missing out on nickels and lots of valuable finds.
Instead, as noted about a billion times: read the manual, and learn what the settings do.
The All-Important Coin Test for Metal Detectors
The air test is waving a coin under the coil while the detector is laying on its side on a wooden table. Hold a nickel, dime, penny, and quarter under the coil and get to know the sounds. Hold them at different distances from the coil. Repeat with a bottle cap, a paper clip and a nail, or other junk target. Do you want an example? Take a minute to review this air test video.
The air or ground test is educational, but it’s not the same as in the field conditions. The ground you hunt in will add a layer of complexity to the search for coins.
The crucial point here is this: You must learn to recognize how the different coins (and junk) sound at different distances from the coil.
The coins deliver a steady “pang, pang, pang” with every pass by the coil. The nail and the bottle cap will sound like static, or what I call the “flibbity-gibbit” sound. It’s a choppy, broken-up sound easily distinguishable from the coins. This broken sound, when out in the field, is usually an indication you’ve found a pull tab from a soda can or other junk metal.
A ground test is the same as the air test except the test objects are scattered on the ground. Pick a spot with very low background chatter.
Now, here’s the trick: Even the best detector can be fooled.
It may display a coin when it’s just a nut or washer in the ground. Likewise, a silver ring may appear as a pull tab. It’s wise, then, especially if you’re new to detecting, to dig up everything that offers a signal. In a short time you’ll begin to learn by sound alone whether or not to dig the target.
You notice, too, that a good coin that is very deep in the ground will generate mixed signals and jump around in the values displayed. You may have covered that in the air test. The reliability of the signals starts to diminish at greater depths.
Here is a video example of mixed signals. I received a signal that changed from junk to a coin and back again. See what I dug up from a wobbly signal
Out to the Field! – Real Life Metal Detecting
If you’re alone, going out into the field for the first time, a good beginner site is a child’s playground with a sandbox area. Beginners often start here because it’s easy to dig in sand, and there are always a few pennies and toys to be found.
This is a good place to practice with some of your own pocket change, just to get to know the difference in the sounds for a coin versus junk metal. Consider, too, your own back yard, in an area where you don’t disturb any of your precious landscaping.
Consider What Extra Equipment You May Need – Metal Detecting Gear
Once you have a detector, it’s wise to consider what other equipment you need to take along with you on your metal detecting ventures.
There are certain things I consider essential, though depending on your local environment, some may not apply to you. These are:
Target Retrieval: Digging tools. I prefer a Lesche digger, but a small spade or even a flat-head screwdriver will suffice for many people. Some like to use a blunt-nosed probe too, to locate finds. I wrote a COMPLETE GUIDE to Metal Detecting Tools.
Containers and belts: You need storage for gear and finds. I prefer carrying a small bag for junk finds and small pouch for coins. Many people like to bring a spray bottle filled with soapy water to clean their finds. I find a tool belt or cargo pants, or even a multi-pocketed vest works best. They also sell reflective safety vests that feature many pockets, and these work well for metal detecting.
Some of the gear I carry, left to right: 1. All-purpose utility belt. 2. Curved weeder for shallow digs. 3. Lesche tool for deep digs. 4. Pin-pointer. 5. (Top) Eye loupe to read coin dates, with spray bottle and toothbrush for quick cleaning. 6. Brush for boots. 7. Holster for diggers and probes, with a bag for finds, and clips to hold various tools. 8. Small towel to hold dirt for refilling holes and for clean-up.
Good But Optional Metal Detecting Gear
Beside the above, there’s a long list of good-to-have items, which may not be strictly essential, but worthwhile to consider. These are:
A small towel for cleaning and displaying your finds.
A garbage bag.
A dedicated gear box that you can throw into the back of your car.
A cell phone.
Extra socks and gloves.
Protective Clothing for Metal Detecting
We’re all adults here, so I won’t lecture you on wearing the proper clothing during your hunts. Still, I’ve too often seen people wearing flip-flops in a brier patch, and canvas sneakers in a muddy field.
The only suggestion I can make is to leave an extra pair of socks in your car, and maybe a towel and some water to clean up after your hunt.
Other Suggested Gear for Metal Detecting:
Protect yourself against bugs and sunburn. Consider a hat with neck flap and/or ear covers to protect against sunburn and flying insects. Some hiking and fishing caps also come with mesh screens across the eyes to keep out bugs.
Think about protective knee pads. If you get tired of squatting to dig up a coin, the pads will protect your pants and your knees.
Be mindful of the wind and wet weather. Bring a simple wind-breaker.
Always wear a sturdy pair of boots if you detect in the wild. There are plenty of little critters, rock hazards, and snares that can spoil your day.
Domestic Tranquility – Organize your Metal Detecting Gear
I mentioned above that I keep a mid-sized box in the garage with all my detecting gear. This saves arguments on the home front, because I leave the muddy boots and gloves in that box and don’t track dirt into the house.
When I leave for a hunting trip, I just throw the box into the back of the car and everything stays relatively clean. After the hunt I wipe down the detector and other dirt-caked gear and brush the mud out of the treads on the shoes before they get thrown back into the gear box. This attitude can save a marriage.
Learn Proper digging technique
If you’re just starting out with your detector for one of your first hunts, try hunting a playground with a sandbox. This will avoid the added trial of learning to dig in dirt. The sand is easy to explore and there’s always a stray toy or coin in the mix. You can focus on learning your detector settings and sounds.
Once you start retrieving target from the ground, you’ll need to learn proper digging techniques. There is a vast spectrum of soil conditions you will have to face, from pristine, pampered lawns to weedy vacant lots, and barren wastelands.
Cutting the Plug when Metal Detecting
The rule of thumb for all terrain types is to “do no harm.”
I generally avoid detecting in manicured lawns. You don’t want an angry land owner or facilities manager running towards you, red faced and cursing.
Use common sense. You wouldn’t want to dig up a baseball field or the White House lawn. Instead, get permission and learn to cut a plug that leaves the scene looking as good as when you entered the scene.
The technique for lawn care is called the trap-door plug. You cut three sides of the square then flip up the plug leaving one side attached to the grass roots. See Figure 6.
Figure 6. Trap door plug for coin retrieval. 1. Crisscross with your detector to locate the coin. Cut on 3 sides. The untouched side will mostly keep the lawn alive. 3. Lift up the pug, scan the plug first. 4. Replace and tamp down.
See the video on cutting a plug and using a pin-pointer. This allows the cut section to remain rooted, allowing the grass on top to survive the cut.
Another trick I use, such as in popular parks and public land, is to detect but not dig. Or, at least, not dig deep. After a public event, such as an outdoor concert, you can find most of your treasures right at the surface. Your detector will give a very shallow depth reading. You can then find the target with just a pin-pointer. In some cases, such as an inch or less deep target, you can just use a flat-head screwdriver to flip the coin out without visible damage to the grass.
From my experience, the vast majority of detecting sites don’t have vegetation that you have to protect. For example, many sidewalks have a strip of dirt between the walkway and the street. These areas are often neglected and have mostly weeds and bare patches. Even here, you want to leave the scene looking untouched. Use the 3-sided flip-up approach and restore the plug so it looks like no one has dug there.
Protect the Coins – Buried Treasure
In digging, try to avoid scratching the coin when you retrieve it. Use the detector or hand-held pin-pointer to locate the object, then start the dig at least one inch from that focal point. Plunge the digger slightly deeper than the depth of the coin and use a lever action to lift up the soil beneath the coin. Next, use your pin-pointer to find and retrieve the coin. Many collector-value coins have been ruined by sloppy digging technique.
In the same vein, protect tree roots and natural vegetation. Remember, your rewards in metal detecting come from the generosity of Mother Nature. The least you can do is return the favor by being a good steward to the land.
Know the Law and get Permissions to Metal Detect
A. Laws on metal detecting
There’s a dizzying array of laws that can restrict the areas you allowed to hunt in. If you want to delve into the details, check out federal laws and local laws (scroll down and select your state) as researched by Lee Wiese at Metal Detecting Hobby Talk.
Again, the general rule is “Do no harm.” Don’t make a mess of well maintained landscaping.
A more common approach is to simply use common sense, good judgment, and take reasonable action. You cannot take relics from National Historic sites. You cannot destroy vegetation or animal habitat on national lands. This means not destroying tree roots or gopher holes.
Some important laws to consider:
National Forests are generally open to detecting for coins, but you cannot remove any items of historic or achaeological value. You cannot prospect on “claims” in National Forests. Clue: Just about ALLl gold-bearing areas have claims on them.
The Bureau of Land Management allows metal detecting for coins on its land. Much of this land has “claims” for silver and gold prospecting, and you cannot remove minerals.
All National Parks prohibit metal detecting. – Read more HERE
Do Your Research on Metal Detecting Site Selection
Once you’ve gotten started in detecting, you soon learn that some sites are way more productive than others in offering up good finds.
The single most effective thing you can do is to buy an old map of your town, preferably one printed just before 1965, when silver currency began to be replaced by clad coins. Dig in the places that existed with lots of people walking around.
My stupid but logical mantra: “Cows don’t drop coins and jewelry. People do.” Pick sites where people have picnics or listen to public concerts.
Once you have a site selected and you visit the land, look for old trees, or tree stumps. Many stumps indicate a tree was in that location for 100 years or more. Visit school sites and fairgrounds. Look around. Where are the people walking and playing? That’s where you’ll find things.
Study your local history. Was there an old City Hall that is now a vacant lot? Where was the original fairgrounds? A whole book could be written on site selection, but the key is to visit places that saw lots of foot traffic.
Join a Metal Detecting Club
Join a club. You won’t regret it. A club offers companionship, but it has even more powerful gifts:
You learn from the experiences of other people.
You participate in group hunts and other activities.
You gain access to many more resources that will help your hunting.
You learn about coin values, digging techniques, and other detectors.
If there are no clubs in your area, at least link up with one or more fellow dirt-fishers. You’ll find it expands your horizons. At the very least, link up with some of the many on-line metal detecting forums, such as Treasurnet or Metal Detecting Forum.
Conclusion – Get Started Metal Detecting
There is no way to cover in depth all the topics that might help you in your metal detecting. I have touched upon some of the more important areas of focus. I hope this helps. Good luck in your hunting.
Strictly speaking, there are only a few things you really NEED other than your metal detector to enjoy the sport. Things like a digging tool and a pin-pointer. But you’ll have A lot more fun, and you’ll be much more comfortable and productive with the right equipment.
When I was a child, we took a
lot of pleasure in playing “baseball” with a rubber ball and a sawed-off broomstick
that served as a bat. Later, as an adult, the game became more grown up with a
good leather glove, real bats, and a regulation baseball diamond to play on.
You can expect to gain the
same types of benefits by learning and using the right detecting gear to
improve your searches. Here we cover the add-ons, tools, and peripheral gear
you might want to consider for general metal detecting. That is, for coins,
jewelry and relics. Specialized detecting, such as for gold and beach detecting
are covered in separate papers.
I’ve divided up the general
categories of related gear into three, somewhat overlapping, categories:
Before the hunt.
During the hunt.
After the hunt.
Before the Metal Detecting Hunt
Maps for Metal Detecting
The simplest, cheapest, yet most effective piece of “equipment” you can buy is a map of your town dated from the mid-1960’s. This will show you the oldest streets and where your best chances finding silver are.
You can find such maps on auction sites, from historic documents in your local library, or from older USGS Topographical maps, Figure 3. The most often used are the 1:24000-scale topographic maps available on line. The “Historical” topographic maps are generally older, which I prefer, as they more easily direct you to silver coins. Newer digital maps from the USGS began appearing from 2006.
When I first started metal detecting in my home town, I found only recent coins. Checking the map, my city was only about one-tenth the size back in 1965 when clad coins were introduced. I had been searching in areas that were built in the last 20 years, with not much of a chance to accumulate lost items.
Best Clothes for Metal Detecting
We’re all adults here, so I won’t bore you with a lecture on dressing appropriately. You know your home environment and which hazards to look out for. That said, some things you may want to think about:
A hat that has a
flap to protect your neck from the sun and insects.
A good pair of
gloves. This prevents cuts and bruising to your fingers. I use the new nitrile
gloves with cloth backing.
I use a box in the trunk of my car for all the detecting gear. This keeps things neat, and if you need the car for a vacation or group trip, carrying one box back to the garage is easier than gathering lots of little items stashed in various nooks and crannies.
I find it best to have a dedicated pair of boots and pants for metal detecting, as things get dirty quickly. Maybe keep the dirty items confined to the garage.
This can save your marriage. I also use an old dish towel to collect the dirt when I’m digging a hole. Simply fold the towel in half when you’re done, and pour the dirt back into the hole.
Get a Compass and GPS for Metal Detecting
The idea here is not to get lost. If you are detecting in wilderness areas it’s easy to become disoriented. I take a compass and generally set off in one direction, stick to that, and follow the line back to the starting point.
In extreme cases of wooded or hilly areas, it may be advisable to get a hand-held GPS unit, or have an app installed on your phone. Set the starting point as a landmark. The GPS unit will tell you the distance and the direction back to your car.
A decent map application on your smart phone also works well to keep you oriented. The trick there is to remember your starting location.
Be Prepared for Bugs and Vermin Metal Detecting
The big headache in my area is rattlesnakes and mosquitoes. I always bring bug spray and wear long pants and boots. Again, you know your home environment and what to do. It may be ticks and no-see-ums (sand flies, gnats and biting midges). Just use common sense and good judgment.
Be Safe Metal Detecting
For safety reasons I always bring a cell phone with me on hunts. More than once I’ve pulled out the phone and pretended to talk when unsavory characters started loitering too close for comfort.
In wilderness areas I’ve often encountered vermin and animals, but they are generally more frighten of me than I am of them. If you detect in an area where bears, wild boars, or other predatory animals roam, you might want to consider stronger measures such as pepper spray.
My digging tool looks something like a Bowie knife or dagger, which I feel is enough security for my purposes, against both small animals and threats of the the two-legged kind. More useful is to bring an ace bandage and various sized band-aids for the scratches and hazards so common in wild areas.
For really remote or distant hunts your best bet is to go with friends. I always find detecting with others more enjoyable than detecting alone, and it is a lot safer. If you hunt in areas that don’t have cell phone coverage, be sure to let others know where you are going, and consider using Walkie-Talkies to stay in touch with your fellow hunters.
Gear for During a Metal Detecting Hunt
Metal Detecting Coils
Most detector manufacturers let you change coils. You can then choose different coil sizes and types to meet your needs.
The main choices are smaller coils, larger coils, and Double-D (or D-D) coils. Small coils are better for junk filled areas. They help in sorting out coins from bottle caps and other trash. Small coils do not penetrate the earth as deeply and you have to swing the coil more often to cover the same area as a larger coil.
A larger coil will help you find deeper objects, but you will often pick up multiple items at the same time, so you would need to scan from different angles and use the detector’s pin-pointer function to separate the valuables from the junk.
Round coils create a bowl-shaped search field. Many detectorists prefer the Double-D type coil. This design forces the field into a narrow band, like two dinner plates stuck together. With this design it’s much easier to find the exact location of the object before you start digging. If you’re like me, once you start using DD coils you won’t want to go back to the round ones.
Essential a Pin-Pointer for Metal Detecting
The hand-held pin-pointer is the single most valuable add-on I would recommend. Sure, you can zoom in on the target area with the detector alone, but the pin pointer adds another dimension to your search. If you dig a 1-inch round hole, for example, 2-inches deep, the pin-pointer will vibrate the loudest when it’s on the side of the hole nearest the coin.
Likewise, it will tell you if the target is near the ground surface or deeper in the hole. The pin-pointer makes retrieving the target MUCH faster. This increases your productivity.
For a long time I didn’t have a metal detecting pinpointer. UGH…..that was a mistake. My finds increased and I was able to scan more thoroughly. Read about how to select and why a pinpointer is so important in this article. What is a Pinpointer and Do I Need One
Headphones for Metal Detecting
After your first hour of scanning a beach you’ll understand how important headphones are. The sun will shine off the detector screen and you won’t see a thing.
Headphones and learning “tones” is a basic skill when metal detecting. Learn beeps from bongs and chirps is going to fill you pockets with treasure or dash your dreams.
Sometimes a pin-pointer is called a probe, but strictly speaking, for detecting purposes, a probe is a thin metal or plastic rod used to puncture the ground and feel for a coin or object. This saves a lot of time by zeroing in on the target without a lot of digging. Once located, the coin can be easily removed with a much smaller digging tool, such as a flat-head screwdriver. A probe is shown between the two pin-pointers above.
A probe is best suited for sandy locations or loose, arable soil. Rocky and hard-packed ground generally prevents the effective use of a probe.
Digging Tools for Metal Detecting
Whoa! This is a big, messy topic. Much depends on the soil type where you live and what kinds of detecting you favor, such a coin-shooting or relic hunting.
If you’re like most folks, you’ll start with a 2-dollar gardening spade, and about the third time the handle comes apart or the blade breaks trying to pry up a rock, you start to think something much sturdier is needed here. Specialized tools, designed specifically for metal detecting are worth the extra cost.
If you’re hunting in farm land, deep, rich soil, or searching for relics, a long-handled but light spade might be appropriate. For general coin hunting you can usually get by with a good hand-held digger.
In clay heavy soils or newer locales, such as California, where most of the coins are less then a few inches deep, a simple weeder or even a flat-head screwdriver is all you need. In undeveloped areas or hard-packed soil I sometimes use a curved weeder where the arch serves as a fulcrum; you press the point into the soil then simply press down on the handle, and the coin pops right out.
Metal Detecting is Hard on Your Knees
People have different styles of digging. Some squat down, some bend over, and some sit on the ground. If you are the type that kneels on your knees to dig then knee pads will both save your pants and make kneeling a lot more comfortable.
The problem is that most knee pads get poor ratings, due to them slipping down your leg or having the padding wear out quickly. Some that pass the comfort and slip tests are the K-P Industries Knee Pro and the REXBETI heavy duty knee pads. These are all over $20. If you want knee pads simply for occasional use, then lower cost models might work just as well for you.
Balance the Load Metal Detecting
The shoulder harness displaces most of the weight of the detector from your arm to your shoulders. This is good for when you are detecting for more than a couple hours, relieving the strain on your arms.
I find it a mixed blessing: It does take the weight off your arms, but being a fixed point of support, the coil head moves in an arc-shaped curve. That is, at the extremes of the swing the coil may be 3 inches above the ground and at the lowest point almost touching the ground. With a bungie chord connection you can push or pull the detector to keep the coil level, but that just adds more exertion to the swing.
Detector manufacturers and third-party can supply you will all sorts of harnesses. The best ones let you quickly adjust the height of the detector as you move along hills and slopes. You can also make your own pretty easily by buying a padded shoulder strap and rig it up with a sturdy bungie-cord. Some commercial versions, the Limbsaver Comfort-Tech 24502 sling and the Hanperal Black Comfort Strap.
Protect Your Metal Detecting Gear with Rain Cover
Most detector control boxes are “water resistant” but not necessarily waterproof. This means that a light sprinkling of rain will not ruin the detector, but a heavy downpour could be dangerous. Often the headphone jack, the charging connection, the coil plug, or the battery case will allow water to get in.
Several detector manufacturers offer their own custom rain covers. You might also buy a package of the stretchy plastic covers used on salad bowls to keep your food fresh.
Only a few detectors, specialized for water detecting, are truly waterproof. Coils are usually waterproof.
Eye Loupe and Magnifier for Metal Detecting
One of the first orders of business after you find a coin is to check the date. This is often hard to see with years of caked dirt and oxidation on the coin, so a good magnifier is quite handy. Likewise, if you find a ring, you want to see if there is a mark for silver or gold inside the band.
There are all kinds of magnifiers that are handy or fit on a key chain that you can use. I use an eye loupe with a 10X power. Any magnification from about 5X to 20X will work. Since you’re working around dirt, most folks prefer the kind of magnifier that hinges into a protective cover.
Metal Detecting Tool Belts and Holsters
I used to strap a small plastic bag under my pants belt and collect the junk items in the bag, and I put the coins in my back pocket. Coins, however, are pretty heavy, so more than once they tore a hole in the pocket. I learned this the hard way. I found an old dime, put it in my pocket, turned around an found another dime with the same date. Whoops! It was the same coin fallen through the hole in my pocket!
My do-it-yourself tool belt uses a regular utility belt, a holster for the digging tool, and a tool pocket for the pin-pointer, magnifier, brush, and tiny spray bottle.
So now, like the smarter hunters, I switched to using a tool belt with pockets for my various tools. Some tool belts have built in pockets. You can use one to stash valuables and another to collect the junk and trash.
Many people patch together their own home-made belt. Mine holds the digging tool, my magnifier, and the pin-pointer. Notice I have lots of clips and strings attached so tools don’t get lost.
Some coin hunters prefer to use a vest with many pockets instead of a tool belt. These you can find among photographer supplies or fishing supplies.
Most tool belts have funnel-shaped containers with a hole in the bottom to receive a wrench or screwdriver. Many detectorists use these pouches to hold a coin purse or container of some kind for their coins.
Since most coins are dirty, there is a growing trend to use a small jar, like a long, narrow olive jar, and fill it with soapy water, with a slot cut into the cap, so that by the time you get home the coins are already partially cleaned. In any case, depending on how much add-on gear you carry with you, a good tool belt is mighty handy.
Leather tool belts are generally the strongest, but you can find good ones made of cloth, canvas, and plastic that will do the trick. Examples, like the shrxy Metal Detecting Finds Bag (link to Amazon to read great reviews and check prices).
Gear for After Metal Detecting
Identification Books for Coins and Relics
The value of a coin depends on its denomination, the number of such coins minted, and its condition. The condition is evaluated using a grading scale.
The point is that you don’t want to damage the coins you find by rough handling or harsh cleaning. I always check the date first, in the field, and if there’s even a chance that the coin is collectible, I put it in a soft purse for special handling later.
For most coins, you can clean them simply with soap and water followed by a soak for a few hours in a solution of vinegar with a little salt added. This soak should last about 2 hours. If you have to scrub away dirt or grime, use a soft bristle brush or one of those sponges with a plastic scouring pad on one side.
Jewelry is treated the same way. For valuable finds take them to a jeweler for ultrasonic cleaning. Use the same kind of care for vintage finds, such as metal buttons, pens, and personal items. Besides a coin value book, you may want to get a catalog for vintage finds, antiques, and garage sale finds.
I found that using an ultrasonic cleaner is the perfect tool for cleaning coins and jewelry. It doesn’t damage your finds, so they retain the highest value. Magnasonic (pictured above has a great unit with thousands of reviews on Amazon. Check it out with this link to Amazon – Magnasonic Professional Ultrasonic Jewelry and Coin Cleaner
The vast majority of your finds will not fetch much more than face value, and these you can clean yourself with the soak described above. For large quantities of coins, many hobbyists buy a rock tumbler.
If you decide to go that route, again use just vinegar and salt (2 tablespoons of salt for a pint of vinegar) with 1 part coins to 2 parts aquarium gravel. Do not use scouring powder, such as Babbo or Bon Ami. These release a gas which can cause the tumbler to pop. After tumbling, rinse the coins thoroughly and, if necessary, wash again with a little dish-washing soap.
Metal Detectorist Need Coin Holders and Display Cases
Most of my cash finds I just dump in a jar and take to the coin machine at the grocery store. I get a gift certificate, usually for a popular consumer site, so I don’t have to pay the outrageous fees.
For rare coins and odd finds I buy cardboard coin holders and store them in binders. The coin holders fit nicely into plastic pages made for photographic slides. I have a separate binder for flat finds, such as jewelry, pins, and tokens. For thicker treasures I use clear plastic organizers. These you can find in the hardware store and are usually used for storing nuts and bolts.
Metal Detecting For Gold – You May Need a Scale
You don’t really need a scale, but sometimes hobbyists like to sell their jewelry and pins on auction sites and the buyers want to know the weights of the trinkets you are selling, especially if they are silver or gold. You can use this calculation to set a minimum starting price for your sales.
Digital scales are pretty inexpensive. I bought one in the days I was dreaming of weighing gold nuggets. (Clue: It never happened.)
Testing Gold Finds Metal Detecting
Valuable jewelry generally has markings that tell you the metal used, such as “925” for silver, or “14K” for gold. For unmarked jewelry you may want to use a chemical test for silver and gold. These are relatively inexpensive from multiple sources. See Amazon Gold and Silver Test Kit
Metal Detecting Gear It Seems Like You Can’t Have Enough
This has been an overview of the gear and equipment that might help you in metal detecting. I suspect as you get deeper into the sport there will be new tools and inventions that you’ll want to add to your Gotta Have list. Like wireless headphones.
Here’s hoping the review of gear is helpful to you. There will be separate detecting gear papers for gold detecting and water detecting.
Vince Migliore is a writer and researcher. He has written numerous magazine articles on metal detecting and three books. His latest book is “The Art and Science of Metal Detecting,” available in paperback at Amazon.
Metal detecting in rivers and streams is a whole new ballgame compared to dirt fishing on land. In my experience, you find a completely different set of treasures. There are fewer coins, but much more jewelry and dropped objects, like knives, fishing gear, and nautical hardware.
If you’re really lucky, you might even find the discarded engagement ring from an angry fiancée! Actually, when people swim or wade in the water, rings come loose and slip off, and jewelry gets dislodged more easily.
By the way, we need a metal detecting term for water activities. You can’t call it dirt-fishing or coin shooting. Any ideas?
Why Metal Detect in Rivers or Streams – Goals
In most cases, you don’t really need to strictly define your goals. You can just go down to the river and find a good spot, and wade in. (Pun intended.) A good place to start is at a sandy beach, or where boats, rafts and kayaks are launched or land, Figure 1.
Figure 1. Boat landings and bathing areas are a good place to start detecting.
On the other hand, if you have specific things you want to find, there may be different ways to approach the challenge. Some suggestions follow.
Metal Detecting in Rivers for Coins and Jewelry:
Search under bridges and overpasses.
Scan the water and sand below vista points and lovers’ leaps.
Search popular beaches.
Pro Tip: Shallow water and a sand bar beneath a pedestrian bridge is a great place to detect for coins. Read more about Metal Detecting at a Beach in this article: Metal Detecting at Myrtle Beach
Metal Detecting Streams for Historic Relics:
Find places along rivers where there were shallow water crossings.
Find intersections of shallow rivers with known pioneer trails.
Use history books and old maps to discover these places.
Metal Detecting in a River for Gold and Silver:
Look for areas along the river where there are outcroppings of gold-bearing quartz rock, or known silver deposits.
Search just below and somewhat down-stream of such rocks.
Detect in the sand dunes at bends in the river.
Search in the sand dunes that appear where the river changes from a narrow passage to a wider stream.
What Kind of Metal Detecting Equipment is Needed for Rivers and Streams
Detecting in water environments definitely takes some special equipment.
Most detector coils are waterproof, but it’s wise to check the seal for cracks or worn-away insulation. Any breaches in the seal can ruin your coil. Many special purpose detectors have a submersible control box too, but be sure to check your user manual.
Peripheral River Metal Detecting Equipment
Suggested add-ons to your toolbox:
Long-handled sand scoop.
Small spade shovel for rocky bottoms.
Prospector hammer, if you are searching for gold or silver ore.
Look into wading shoes or rubber boots. There are a whole slew of footwear products for shallow wading, from neoprene socks to quick-drying sneakers. Examples.
You may need fisherman’s waders for deeper water, Figure 3. Some folks even buy wet suits for deep or cold water detecting. This of course is a much more dedicated dive into the sport, and is not right for everyone.
Figure 3. Water higher than knee deep is going to require waders and fishing gear.
Suggested Metal Detecting Items to Have
Windbreaker jacket for breezy conditions.
Appropriate dress for climate and season.
Spare dry socks
How to be SAFE Metal Detecting in a River
Water can be dangerous. Quick moving and frigid water is particularly hazardous. See news story.
A 100-mile per hour wind can knock a man over. Water, however is 784 times more dense than air. Water carrying dirt and mud along with it is even heavier. That means that water moving at a walking pace, 2 to 3 miles per hour. is enough to throw you off balance. Don’t take risks, especially if you are detecting alone.
Don’t wade deeper than your ankles in swift flowing water or in surf with waves.
Venture out with at least one other friend.
Wear waterproof boots or waders and thermal socks in cold water.
Wear a life jacket.
Beware of slippery mud.
Pro Tip: Remember too that rivers and streams can hide fishing hooks and sharp objects.
Other Methods of Metal Detecting in Rivers
There are several variations on river detecting.
One is to use a row boat, kayak, or canoe to sit in while hanging your detector over the side. This will allow you to access small islands, midstream sand bars, and hard to reach spots along the river.
Another variation is the use of powerful magnets. This is called magnet fishing. You tie a powerful magnet to a rope and dip it in the water. Technically, this does not use metal detecting equipment, but it’s good for “fishing” magnetic objects from a boat, from a pier or from a bridge. For more on magnet fishing see Example 1, and Example 2.
Caution: Twice I’ve lost the magnets when rocks, trees, and snags entangle the rope, and you cannot retrieve the magnet.
Finally, always use this rule: Common sense, good judgment, reasonable action.
Do Some Research BEFORE Metal Detecting in a Stream
As I mentioned above (II. Goals), a little research can provide a lot of help in picking a river site.
Use a map application to study the rivers and streams near you. The best places to hunt are near sand banks which are formed by fast moving water.
Look for rivers in narrow canyons that fan out onto a wider, flatter landscape. This is where all the fast moving debris picked up by the swift water will be deposited in the shallows or in a sand bank.
I’m a strong believer in the “treasure is where you find it” mantra. That said, without any mental conflict, I also believe it pays off to know some of the science of river flow.
Figure 4 illustrates a typical mid-stream sand bar with the darker shaded areas representing the higher shear velocity of water, which can be translated into the speed of the water flow. Coins and metals, especially gold are relatively heavy. It takes a lot to move them. When they are on the move, the first slowdown in the current will deposit them into the stream bed.
Figure 4. Water velocity around a mid-stream sand bar. Image adapted from article: Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 10, Issue F4, Dec. 2005, “The fluid dynamics of river dunes.”
In this figure there are two places that are best for coin searching. These are 1) the gray areas just to the south and west of the tip of the sand bar, and 2) the gray area near the south-east end. The lighter debris will be deposited in the light areas just to the south of the island.
Figure 5 shows the same prime spots for the down-stream side of underwater sand dunes. These are the best locations to find heavy objects released by the flowing water.
Look on line, too, for news stories of bridges or piers that collapsed or were washed away and not rebuilt. Lots of people drop things off piers and bridges, sometimes by accident, sometimes to discard, sometimes just to make a splash.
Research trails used by the early settlers and see where they crossed the river in shallow areas. Look for open spaces along rivers where travelers might want to rest or camp.
Figure 5. Dynamics of underwater sand dunes. Image adapted from article: Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 10, Issue F4, Dec. 2005, “The fluid dynamics of river dunes.”
Feel the Love of River and Stream Metal Detecting
Now, if you will, allow me to take a diversion for a minute to say how thoroughly charming metal detecting can be. This is not just for the finds, but also for the many related fields of study that grow seamlessly into your hobby.
You think you are studying metal detecting and rivers, and soon you’re off into hydrodynamics, physics, weather, geology, and history, to name just a few of the many sciences and skills that can help you in your detecting.
Don’t fight this tendency. Instead learn and appreciate how everything is connected. Who knows? Maybe your next adventure will include rock collecting or hiking. It’s all good!
Find Good Rivers to Metal Detect
Do you have a river near you? Isn’t it a main attraction? People love to congregate around rivers and river beaches.
Rivers have the advantage of carrying a lot of water, and therefore a lot man-made objects along the way. Just be careful of the hazards of fast moving water. (See III. C. Safety concerns, above.)
You CAN hunt in mud, too, but it’s a lot messier and slippery than the sandy parts of the river. It might be better to stick to the clean banks and dunes.
The best places to hunt:
The deep hollows carved out of the riverbed at the upstream end of a sandbank.
The trailing, downstream end of the sandbank. This is where the most recent deposits will be found.
The sudden drop-off of underwater riverbed dunes. This is where turbulent water will release its cargo.
The first shallows that appear downstream from a narrow passage or canyon.
At sharp turns in the river.
At beaches, swimming holes, and parks along the river.
Search for areas where bedrock is exposed under the water. Look in the cracks.
Recent studies of river flow suggest the best places to hunt for depth and for deposition of coins and debris. For more on river dynamics, see this study.
Figure 4 shows the deepest gullies to search around sand dunes, and Figure 5 shows the best areas to search in submerged dunes for recent deposits. Again, see the above study for more detail than you could ever use. (Wink!)
Best times to hunt:
Shortly after a large storm or surge in river flow.
During dry spells where more of the riverbed is exposed.
At times when water is cut off or diverted for construction or emergencies.
Sand bars are formed by the deposit of dirt from fast-moving waters at places where the flow slows down, Figure 6. The deepest part of the dune will have the oldest deposits. If there is a small dune made up of sand that you can dig into, this should provide some odd treasures. Be sure you are not breaking any local laws by digging in the river.
Figure 6. A good place to start your quest is where a narrow, fast moving section of the river ends in a broad, shallow fan, where the water deposits all its cargo onto the riverbed.
Again, the best places to search are the deep gullies near the upstream end of the sand dune and the sharp drop-off at the down-stream end of underwater dunes. There are also debris collecting areas on the downstream side of large boulders.
What Kinds of Streams are BEST for Metal Detecting?
I find that smaller streams are a great choice for metal detecting. My experience is the little streams are more common, less dangerous, and just as generous in giving up little treasures. Always choose places where people interact with the river.
The best places and times to hunt are about the same as for rivers. Streams generally have more areas of ankle deep water, which is easier to navigate and dig.
A. Starting tips (for both rivers and streams)
Prepare yourself with knowledge of the area, from historic research and maps.
Bring a small bag or container for your finds.
Carry a cell phone.
Leave in your car spare gloves, shoes, socks, and pants.
Have an effective bug spray,
Compass or GPS, and local map.
Finally, do the world a favor. When you come across some junk, dump it in your garbage bag. I see this same error over and over again. A detectorist finds a pull tab and throws it right back into the environment. Probably another thousand dirt fishers will come along and repeat the same error.
In the same vein of service, you’ll find lots of children and curious adults asking about your hobby. Be a good ambassador for the sport and take a minute to explain how it works and how much fun it is.
There are several good articles designed to help you prepare for water detecting. Example 1. Example 2.
B. Follow-up Tips
When you get out of the water, here are some suggestions to make you ventures more successful.
If you’ve been in salty or dirty water, rinse off all your equipment. This prevents rust and sticky zippers, not to mention extending the life of your gear.
Keep a log of what you’ve found and where.
Make note of things you’ve learned for your next trip out.
Dump your garbage bag in the trash.
Should You Metal Detect in a River or Stream?
Streams and rivers provide an interesting variation on land-based detecting. It’s relatively easy, especially for small streams and creeks. The finds that you discover are often qualitatively different. There are generally more relics to be found – my personal experience – but plenty of coins and jewelry too.
You may have to add to your collection of tools, such as water sneakers and sand scoops, but these are useful in other aspects of your life too.
Remember the cautions discussed – Be Safe! Fast water can be dangerous, your safety is way more important than any treasure.
Good videos on river detecting:
River crossings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwS6S4I1g9g.
Deep and cold water tips: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvG67PVdODc.
Vince Migliore is a writer and researcher. He has written numerous magazine articles on metal detecting and three books. His latest book is “The Art and Science of Metal Detecting,” available in paperback at Amazon.