How to Pan for Gold

Gold Prospecting Equipment you will need:

  • Black or Green Plastic Gold Pan
  • Shovel
  • Geologist’s pick
  • Magnet
  • Tweezers
  • Snuffer bottle
  • Small squeeze bottle of dish soap
  • Classifier in size 1/4 inch (4 mesh)
  • Small glass vial with lid
  • Rubber wading boots

Note: The oil from your hands can float your gold off. Don’t put your thumbs in the pan while panning. Use your tweezers to remove gold flakes!

Look around for the best location to pan. A rule of thumb: pick a place that is known to have gold. This will save you a lot of prospecting time. Do your research, look at some of the links on this site that take you to the information.

Select a spot where the water is a minimum of six inches deep, flowing just fast enough to keep muddy water from impairing your vision of your pan and a place where you can sit down comfortably. We use a gardening cushion which saves the knees and one’s bottom a lot of wear and tear!

Place the classifier over the gold pan and shovel gravels into it washing off and discarding the large stones.

Step A: Washing off larger rocks and moss

1. Fill the pan 3/4 full of gravel, then submerge it deep enough so it is just under the surface of the water. Give the pan several vigorous shakes back and forth and from side to side, but not too vigorous as to wash material out of the pan. The idea is to make a slurry out of all of the material in the pan. Once loosened from the dirt/ore matrix the gold, having a specific gravity 19 times more dense than water, will easily settle to the bottom of the pan.

*Important Tip* Be sure to break up any lumps of clay or root balls where fine gold and gold dust often collects.

2. Change from the shaking motion to a gentle circular movement so the material starts revolving in a circle. This process will cause most of the dirt and clay to dissolve and wash out of the pan. Pick out the larger rocks after making sure that they are washed clean.

Repeat 1. and 2. of Step A to get the smaller rock to the surface and to cause the heavier concentrates to settle.

Step B: Washing off lighter sand and gravel

1. Hold the pan just under the water and tilt it slightly away from you. Begin to swirl the water from side to side, with a slight forward tossing motion. Take care, but with sufficient force to move the surface and the lighter gravel out over the edge of the pan.

2. Leveling the pan and shaking it or stratifying the material in the pan from time to time and shaking it back and forth will cause the light material to come to the surface and the gold and black sands to settle to the bottom.

Repeat process 1. and 2. of Step B until there is only about one cup (or less) of heavier material left in your pan. This material is usually called black sand or concentrate.

Step C: Washing off black sand and concentrates

*Important Tip* At this stage I always use a second pan or tub to pan into so I don’t accidently loose any of the fine gold.

At this point, raise the pan completely out of the water, leaving about an inch of water in the pan.

Tilt the pan slightly towards you and swirl the water slowly in a circular motion to check the pan for nuggets and pieces that are easily picked out by hand.

Remember: try to only touch the gravel that you are removing so the oil from your hands doesn’t float the gold dust out of the pan.

Then submerge the pan again in water and repeat process 1. and 2. of Step B for final concentration. This is the most critical part of panning. Make sure this final process is accomplished with as much diligence as possible so you do not wash out the gold.

If you have a plastic pan, the use of a magnet can quickly aid in the separation of gold from the black magnetic sand concentrate. Apply the magnet to the bottom side of the pan and move it in a small circular motion with the pan slightly tilted. This will work well to isolate the gold from the black sand.

Pick the gold flakes out with your tweezers and put them in your small glass vial.

*Important Tip* To speed up the final steps, squeeze a couple of drops of the dish soap into the pan. This breaks the surface tension and keeps the gold from being easily washed out of the pan.

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