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  • Writer's pictureLori Dee

Gold Pans and Panning

One of the oldest tools in gold recovery is the gold pan. Gold pans have been used all over the world for thousands of years. That is because they work. It doesn't matter if your main mining method is with a sluicebox or dredge, chances are that your final clean-up will involve using a pan. But a gold pan is only as good as the person operating it. It is a very simple tool, but it takes time and practice to learn how to use it efficiently.

There are many different types of gold pans. Some are made of wood, metal, or plastic. Some have built-in riffles or nugget traps. Some old-timers will tell you that you need a metal pan, and lots of companies want to sell you a plastic pan with lots of features and gimmicks. Any pan is only as good as your skill in operating it. I have panned using a five-gallon bucket, a coffee cup, and a Tupperware bowl. Once you master the technique, you can use whatever type of pan you are comfortable with.

Before the invention of plastics, the old-time miners used metal pans. It is what they had, they worked well and even served other purposes like cooking food or to dig with. They were durable and lasted a long time. Before any pan can be used for gold panning it must be "seasoned". New metal pans were smooth and shiny, even coated with a light coat of oil to prevent rust. Oil makes fine gold float and we want the gold to stick to the bottom, so the pan needs to be treated.

First, it must be washed with soap and water to remove any oil, or preservatives, or residues left over from manufacturing. In the old days, the miners would burn off the residues. Next, the surface needs to be roughened up. Gravel works great for this. The rougher and more scratched the surface is, the better. Often they would take a rock or hammer and pound dents into the bottom of the pan to further disrupt the smooth surface. Sometimes they would put the pan over a fire and let the soot blacken the bottom to make gold easier to see. Finally, they would leave their pans outside to rust. Gold sticks very well to a rusty pan.

The new plastic pans are a vast improvement over the metal pans. They are lightweight and durable, have improved features like riffles and gravity traps, and are available in a variety of colors. With a plastic pan, you can test your materials with a metal detector. That will not work with a metal pan.

I bought my first gold pan back in 2011 and I still use it to this day. It is the 14-inch Garrett Prospector Model. It has a green color which helps to see the gold and the black sands better. It also has large riffles and a deep gravity trap.

I also have a small black "finishing pan" that I do not use very often. I don't care for the black color because it makes it hard to see black sand. But it is small enough to fit in my small knapsack and is lightweight. I use it for crevicing or sampling in remote locations where I can't haul much gear.

Plastic pans are just like any other pan in that they require seasoning before use. During manufacture, molds are sprayed with a "releasing agent" like oil or silicone. This needs to be removed. Warm water and dish soap work perfectly for this. Next, use some fine-grit sandpaper to roughen up all of the surfaces in the pan. Some will tell you that only the bottom needs to be done. I disagree. Every part of the pan that could come in contact with gold must be roughened up so the gold doesn't slide off and get lost. Next take some gravel, like aquarium gravel, that is small but has sharp edges, and grind it into the bottom of the pan. You don't want deep gouges, but scratches and a rough surface. Rinse it out and your pan is ready to get to work.

The size of the pan can also make a difference. Larger pans can hold more material, but that means they will be much heavier. I use the 14-inch pan, but don't fill it too full when panning. That way I don't get tired as quickly. After a few hours of shaking a heavy pan, my arms start to hurt. The large pan also works great when crevicing. If you are working away from your panning area, the large pan can be filled to take the material down to the water. That way you make fewer trips if you don't have a bucket.

Smaller pans have two uses. One is for people with smaller hands, like children. They are lighter and easier to handle. They are not designed to process a lot of material. The others are used as a finishing pan, meaning they are for cleaning the last bit of gold out of black sand. Finishing pans normally do not have large riffles or gravity traps at the bottom, and the bottom area is not very large.

Now that your pan is ready, it is time to start practicing. You can make some practice "nuggets" by taking two or three lead split-shot fishing sinkers. Use different sizes if available. You can flatten one with a hammer to simulate a gold flake, but the best training is to leave them rounded so they can roll. Pan out all of your material and when you get to the bottom of the pan, if none of them rolled out, you are doing it right!

You can use any kind of dirt to practice with, just drop your "nuggets" into the pan with the dirt. Since you don't know if there is any gold in that dirt, your practice nuggets will be the gold. As you practice, you will learn how the "nuggets" work their way to the bottom. As you pan off the lighter material, your nuggets should stay in the pan. Keep practicing until you can remove everything from the pan except your nuggets. If there was any gold in your practice dirt, you will find it right next to your practice nuggets.

Gold Panning Technique

Many different people will tell you many different ways to pan for gold. They are all similar with just minor variations. I will share with you what I think is the easiest and most effective.

Mike Pung is a master at recovering even the tiniest pieces of gold. He invented the Gold Cube and is often invited to Gold Shows to showcase his skills. Here is a video of a fine gold challenge he agreed to at such an event. The video was quite long, so they broke it up into short segments that could be used as tutorials. Everything that you need to know about gold panning and classifying he shows you, step by step. I encourage everyone to watch all 12 videos starting here:

If you only want to watch his panning technique, that is in Video #5 here:

How to Separate Gold From Black Sand Without a Magnet

I learned this method from Doc over at Gold Hog. I have been using it and I can tell you that it works! Just add this move to the end of your panning technique.


All content Copyright 2021- 2024 - Lori Dee



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