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Thread: How To Pan For Gold

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    socorro new mexico

    Default How To Pan For Gold

    STEP 1: Once you have located some gravel that you want to sample, place it in your gold pan--filling it about 3/4 of the way to the top. After you've been at it awhile, you an fill your pan to the top without losing any gold. While placing material in your pan, pick out the larger-sized rocks, so that you can get more of the smaller material, and gold, into the pan.

    STEP 2: Choose a spot to do your panning. It's best to pick a location where the water is at least six inches deep and preferably moving steadily--just enough to sweep away the mud and silty water as it is washed from your pan. This way, you can see what you are doing better. You don't want the water moving so swiftly that it will upset your panning actions. A mild current will do, if available!

    STEP 3: Carry the pan over to your determined spot and submerge it underwater.

    STEP 4: Use your fingers to knead the contents of the pan in order to break it up fully and cause all of the material to become saturated with water. This is the time to work apart all the clay, dirt, roots, moss and such with your fingers to ensure that all the materials are fully broken up and in a liquid state of suspension in the pan.

    STEP 5: After the entire contents of the pan have been thoroughly broken up, take the pan in your hands (with cheater riffles on the far side of the pan) and shake it, using a vigorous left and right motion just under the surface of the water. This action will help to break up the contents of the pan  even more and will also start to work the heavier materials downwards in the pan while the lighter materials will start to surface.

    STEP 6: As the shaking action causes rocks to rise up to the surface, sweep them out of the pan using your fingers or the side of your hand. Just sweep off the top layer of rocks which have worked their way up to the pan's surface.

    Rotating your arm in a circular motion underwater will help to bring more rocks to the surface where they can be swept off in the same way.

    STEP 7: Continue to do steps five and six, shaking the pan and sweeping out the rocks and pebbles, until most of the medium-sized material is out of your pan.

    STEP 8: Tilt the forward edge of your pan downward slightly to bring the forward bottom edge of the pan to a lower position. With the pan tilted forward, shake it back and forth using the same left and right motion. Be careful not to tilt the pan forward so much that any material is spilled over the forward edge while shaking.

    STEP 9: Carefully, by using a forward and backward movement, or a slight circular motion, just below the surface of the water, allow the water to sweep the top layer of worthless, lighter materials out of the pan. Only allow the water to sweep out a little at a time, while watching closely for the heavier materials to be uncovered as the lighter materials are swept out. It takes some judgment in this step to determine just how much material to sweep off before having to shake again so that no gold is lost. It will just take a little practice in panning gold before you will begin to see the difference between the lighter materials and the heavier materials in your pan, and get a feel for knowing exactly how much material can be safely swept out before re-shaking is necessary. When you are first starting, it is best to re-shake as often as you feel that it is needed to prevent losing any gold. When in doubt, shake! There are a few factors which can be pointed out to help you with this. Heavier materials are usually darker in color than the lighter materials. You will notice while shaking the pan that it is the lighter colored materials that are vibrating on the surface.  You will also notice that as the lighter materials are swept out of the pan, the darker colored materials are uncovered.

    Materials tend to get darker (and heavier) as you work your way down toward the bottom of the pan, where the darkest and heaviest materials will be found, they being the purple and black sands, which are minerals of the iron family. The exception to this is gold, which is heaviest of all. Gold usually is of a bright and shiny metallic color and shows out well in contrast to the other heavier materials at the bottom of the gold pan.

    As you work your way down through your pan, sometimes gold particles will show themselves as you get down to the heavier materials. When you see gold, you know it is time to re-shake your pan.

    STEP 10: Once the top layer of lighter material is washed out of your pan, re-shake to bring more lighter materials to the top. By "lighter materials," I mean in comparison to the other materials. If you continue to shake the lighter materials to the top and sweep them off, eventually you will be left with the heaviest material of all, which is the gold. It doesn't take much shaking to bring a new layer of lighter stuff to the surface. Maybe 8 or 10 seconds worth of shaking will do it, maybe less. it all depends on the consistency of the material and how much gold is present.

    STEP 11: Every few cycles of sweeping and re-shaking, tilt your pan back to the level position and re-shake. This keeps any gold from being allowed to work its way up the forward edge of your pan.

    STEP 12: Continue the above steps of sweeping and re-shaking until you are down to the heaviest materials in your pan. These usually consist of old pieces of lead and other metal, coins, BB's, old bullets, buckshot, nails, garnets, small purple and black iron rocks, and the heavy black sand concentrates--which consist of mainly or in part of the following: magnetite (magnetic black sands), hematite (non-magnetic black sands), titanium, zircon, rhodolite, monazite, tungsten materials, and sometimes pyrites (fool's gold), plus any other items which might be present in that location which have a high specific gravity--like gold, silver and platinum.

    Once down to the heaviest black sands in your pan, you can get a quick look at the concentrates to see how much gold is present by allowing about a half-cup of water into the pan, tilting the pan forward as before, and shaking from left to right to place the concentrates in the forward bottom section of your pan. Then level the pan off and swirl the water around in slow circles. This action will gradually uncover the concentrates, and you can get a look at any gold that is present. The amount of gold in your pan will give you an idea how rich the raw material is that you are sampling.

    A magnet can be used at this point to help remove the magnetic black sands from the gold pan. Take care when doing this. While gold is not magnetic, sometimes particles of gold will become trapped in the magnetic net of iron particles which clump together and attach to the magnet. I prefer to drop the magnetic sands into a second plastic gold pan, swish them around, an pick them up again with the magnet. Depending on how much gold this leaves behind, I might do this step several times.

    Most prospectors who have been at it for awhile will pan down through the black sands as far as they feel that they can go without losing any gold. Then they check the pan for any colors by swirling it, an pick out any of the larger-sized flakes and nuggets to place them in a gold sample bottle, which as been brought along for that purpose. Then the remaining concentrates are poured into a small coffee can and allowed to accumulate there until the end of the day, or week, or whenever enough concentrates have been collected to make it worthwhile to further process them. This is really the better method if you are interested in recovering more gold, as it allows you to get on with the job of panning and sampling without getting deeply involved with a pair of tweezers. Otherwise you can end up spending 25% of your time panning and 75% of your time picking.

    Panning Down All The Way To Gold

    Panning all the way down to gold is really not very difficult, once you get the hang of it. It's just a matter of a little practice and being a bit more careful. Most prospectors when doing so, prefer to use the smooth surface of the gold pan as opposed to using the cheater riffles.

    When panning a set of concentrates all the way down to the gold--or nearly so, it's good to have a medium-sized funnel and a large-mouthed gold sample bottle on hand. This way, once you have finished panning, its just a matter of pouring the gold from your pan into the sample bottle via the funnel.

    Socorro N.M.

  2. #2
    LauraA's Avatar
    LauraA is offline Rock Crawlin GPS Moving Map Totin Trailblazing Expert Ghost Towner
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Roosevelt, Arizona


    Thanks Kelly! That's really going to help. Now all we need it a bit of luck!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2006


    Quote Originally Posted by LauraA View Post
    Thanks Kelly! That's really going to help. Now all we need it a bit of luck!
    I tried digging up and panning in my back yard. All I got was doggie doo doo. I think you need more than luck.
    Its not a crime to be old and forgetful. I shouldn't be a crime to shoot those that take pleasure in pointing it out.

  4. #4
    GaryB's Avatar
    GaryB is offline Rock Crawlin GPS Moving Map Totin Trailblazing Expert Ghost Towner
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Caliente, NV


    I just stand in the nearest 7-Eleven parking lot and ask for gold. Wait, that's a different kind of panning

    Thanks for the write up though. I've done some panning before, but I just don't have the patience.

  5. #5
    brian10x's Avatar
    brian10x is offline Rock Crawlin GPS Moving Map Totin Trailblazing Expert Ghost Towner
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Tucson, Arizona


    Thank goodness for the search feature! I'm thinking about casual gold prospecting and your tips are exactly what I am looking for!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2005


    Hey Brian10X !
    I watched a kid at Columbia State Park,do some pannin.
    Got something rightunked the pan, with it a heaping FULL pan of gravel.
    Then,looked and looked for gold.He didn't get rid of the waste rock, and sand.
    Don't think he was taught right !
    You could tell:"There ain't no gold in the pan.".
    I did it, all the way down to black sand.Few flakes.
    A few watched me how I did it.
    Yeah, it's salted,too !

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2004



    Great write up on panning. I was taught the hard way. My friend, who has gone to meet his maker, gave me a pan, filled it with gravel, drop a tiny split shot in the midlle of it and said, When you can pan this down and still have the split shot you will know what your doing.
    Visit Colorado Ghost Towns at

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  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Kuna, Idaho


    That's how I learned, with small split shot. I like to use a metal detector also. It's best to load your pan with gravel scraped off of the bed rock. On the "Yankey Fork" they went down
    through 30 feet of gravel to find the nuggets on the bed rock.

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