Introduction on Gold Panning
Gold Panning is the process of separating the gold from dirt, clay and sand using a gold pan. Gold is much heavier than water and normal sand, so when gold travels down the river it will get trapped in pockets of slow moving water. What you are doing with your gold pan is basically imitating the stream. Your goal is to get the gold trapped in the bottom of your gold pan.
Where to pan gold
The easiest way to find places to pan for gold is to go where people have found gold before, it’s not as easy as just going out and start panning in the nearest stream. So how do you know where in the stream you can find the gold? As gold is heavier than water the gold moves downstream along the bottom and eventually ends up in the sand in slow moving areas of water around bends of the stream. Other places to look for gold bearing sand is in rock crevices and wedged in pieces of wood. A smart way to get gold bearing sand out of crevices is using a tool called a gold sucker.
To conclude on where to pan gold, as a beginner you should start going to areas where people have already found gold. You can get gold maps or books telling you where gold has been found in your specific area. As you get better at knowing what to look for you can start exploring for your own gold panning sites. Just make sure you don’t jump someone elses claim, and if it’s private land, be sure to ask for permission before you start panning.
How to Pan Gold in 8 Steps
Panning gold is something anyone can learn to do, it’s basically divided into 8 easy steps. If you’re one of those who’d rather watch a video than read the following instructions, skip down to the gold panning video and that will cover most of the basics!
Filling your gold pan
You need some gold bearing material for this step. Either you find it in the field or you buy some from a gold panning supplier. Once you have your hopefully gold bearing material, fill your gold pan 2/4 to 3/4 to the top with the sand. A good idea is to pick out rocks before you start panning, just make sure the stones you are throwing away aren’t gold nuggets! An easy and cheap way to speed up the proccess is to buy a gold classifier for a couple of bucks, the Garrett Classifier is a good beginner choice.
Finding the Ultimate Gold Panning Spot
You should find a spot along the stream where the water flows just enough to carry the silt away from your gold pan. Try finding a place where you can sit, like a rock or a log. Squatting will get tiresome if you plan on panning for a longer while.
Submerging and Crushing the Gold Bearing Material
Submerge your pan under water and work the content with your hands, breaking it up and removing any roots or moss. Gold can hide in moss, so wash the moss above your gold pan before you throw it away. Don’t worry about loosing any gold in this step, remember that gold is heavy so it will sink to the bottom while the other stuff floats away.
Shaking It Up
With the gold pan just under the surface of the water, shake it left and right. This will break up the content even further and “liquify” the sand, dirt and water mix. By shaking you also the process of moving the gold towards the bottom and the lighter materials to the top.
Tilt The Gold Pan
Tilt the forward edge of your pan downward. If your pan has riffles, as most modern gold pans have, the riffles should be pointed forward. Now, with the forward edge tilted, repeat step 4 and shake the pan left and right. This will again make the gold move towards the bottom.
Rinse & Repeat
Now it’s time to get rid of the crap that we don’t want in our pan, which means everything that’s not gold. With the gold pan just below the surface of the water, use a back and forth or up and down movement that lets the water sweep away the lighter materials on top. The water should do all of the work in removing the non-gold stuff.
Another way to get rid of the lighter materials is dipping your pan and lifting it up, while allowing the water to transport the lighter material out of the pan. Think of a wave crashing against the beach and how the water takes with it the top layer of sand, it’s the same principle we’re using here.
You should re-shake your pan once in a while as you did in step 5, to ensure that the gold stays at the bottom. Now you basically just repeat step 5 and 6 until only the heaviest materials are left in your pan, which often are black sand and gold.
Removing The Black Sand
The most common type of black sand is magnetic, which makes for easy removal if you use a plastic gold pan. When you are down to black sand and hopefully some gold, take a magnet and carefully remove the black sand. Also make sure none of the gold gets trapped in the magnetic black sand when you remove it. One way to make sure no gold is thrown away is to drop the black sand into another plastic gold pan, swirl the stuff around and once again use the magnet to remove the black sand. You don’t necessarily need to use a magnet, you could pan all your way down to the gold. But a magnet will make the process easier for you.
Picking Up The Gold
At this point you mostly have gold in your pan if you’re lucky, along with any remaining black sand. Now you can either use a snuffer bottle or a tweezer to pick up the pieces of gold from your pan. If you don’t have a snuffer bottle or a tweezer, wet your finger with saliva and finger the gold. This will make the gold stick to your finger until it touches the water in your container. This method works, but it’s slower than using a snuffer bottle or tweezer.
Effective Gold Panning
Most experienced prospectors don’t spend time picking out every small gold flake in their pan before moving on to new material, they know that it’s the amount of material you can process in a day that counts. They follow the same 8 steps as above, but at step 7 they usually pan down to as little black sand as they can, remove any larger nuggets and gold flakes and then collect the remaining black sand and gold in a small bucket until they have a sizable amount that they can process further.
This method is better because you’ll get more panning done and spend less time picking out tiny specks of gold with your tweezer/snuffer bottle..
Practice Gold Panning
You can practice gold panning in your own backyard, without even having any gold bearing material. What you need, except from a gold pan of course, is something to simulate stream bed material, like dirt mixed with sand, gravel and rocks. To simulate gold you can take some pieces of lead, for example buckshot or lead fishing weights and cut them up to represent everything from small nuggets to tiny gold flakes(Use a hammer to pound the flakes!). This simulated “gold” will act like real gold surprisingly well.
By keeping track of the pieces of lead you put in your gold pan and how many you end up finding, you can keep track of your progress.
If you want to practice panning real gold, you can actually buy bags of gold bearing dirt online. These bags contain the same type of materials you would encounter in the field and are guaranteed to contain gold. There’s no better way to practice panning than with the real thing.
Gold Panning Video
There’s lots of videos about panning gold on Youtube, but if you only watch one, watch this one below. It’s a great video on how to pan gold.
Now you know how to pan gold, congratulations! It basically comes down to shaking the gold pan and then moving the pan in a way so that the water removes the lighter material and leaves the heavy stuff on the bottom. If you don’t already own a gold pan, check out this guide on choosing which gold pan to buy where I cover 4 factors you need to consider. Happy Panning!
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