What Extra Metal Detecting Gear Do You Need?
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.
- Rugged, all-weather shoes.
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.
Learn even more about coils in this article. – How Does a Metal Detecting Coil Work? It’s surprising how much science goes into a metal detecting coil.
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.
I devoted a complete article on metal detecting headphones. Find out the pros and cons, qualities, prices and where to get metal detecting headphones in this article. – Selecting Headphones for Metal Detecting (How and Why)
Probes for Metal Detecting
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.
Having the right digging tools is essential to metal detecting. It’s so important I wrote a full article about digging tools. Best Digging Tools for Metal Detecting
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.
See https://www.wikihow.com/Get-a-Coin-Graded. Even the patina, or rather the lack of one, can decrease its value.
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.
Metal Detecting Cleaning Supplies and Tumblers
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.