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How to Pan for Gold

By following this systematic guide on how to pan for gold, you will be bringing home your very first panned gold.

Before learning how to gold pan, read through my other guides if you're a complete beginner to gold panning:

This guide will solely provide step-by-step information on gold panning methods and techniques. Therefore, read the previous sections in this ultimate gold panning guide if you don't know what gold panning is, what supplies you'll need, or how to identify gold-bearing locations.

Always keep in mind that practice makes perfect. Keep going until you can regularly find gold. And keep learning as much as you can about how to pan for gold.

1. Getting to the Paydirt

After you've discovered a gold-bearing area, seek for a decent site on the stream that is neither too deep nor too shallow. You'll want the water to be as clean as possible so you can see what you're doing and avoid accidently washing away too much black sand, a picker, or a nugget due to poor vision.

Using your shovel gather dirt preferably scraped off bedrock and unload it into your classifier which is set on top of a 5-gallon bucket or your gold pan. Remember that gold is heavy and prefers to settle in locations with little flow and low pressure. These zones are indicated by huge shiny gravel boulders. The larger the rocks, the better.

If you don't find gold in one spot, keep looking on the sides of banks, in jagged bedrock, or in any rough spots where sand, gravel, or gold could be trapped.

If you come across a dense concentration of gold, make a note of where you found it and work that area until it is completely cleaned out. However, if you find nothing from all your efforts try a different area of the creek or a new stream altogether.

Some things to remember as you practice finding paydirt:

  • Try to get a rough idea of where bedrock is located before you start gold panning as it usually is the richest part of the stream bed.
  • Gold usually forms in streaks therefore, through test panning find the streak with the highest concentrations of gold flakes at the end of panning.
  • Finding the best paydirt is not something that should be rushed, be patient.
  • There are certain times of the year when more gold will be found in certain streams.
  • As with many things, experience is key to making good money panning for gold.

2. Use a Classifier to Sort the Paydirt Mixture

A classifier is a pan or sieve with various sized holes that allow you to separate your pay dirt. The holes are usually designed to only allow fine-grained material like sand, silt, small gravel to pass through. You can get a multitude of sizes based on the type of material you plan on working. For example, beach sands you would use a very fine sieve, while larger gravel you would use something like half an inch.

Generally, you want to separate the material as much as possible in the categories of 1) large pebbles, 2) small pebbles, 3) black sand 4) then gold. During the separation of each step you will want to have a look through the material and make sure it is all worthless material. As you don’t want to throw away a large nugget. But most gold is placer gold (small flakes of gold). Classify down your material based on the general size of gold in the region where you are working. If the region is popular for nuggets and pickers, a larger meshed classifier is used, and a fine mesh or sieve for smaller gold areas.

3. Classifying the Gold Pan

To get started, fill your pan or 5-gallon bucket with water and submerge the classifier on top of that pan or bucket and begin by wetting your pay dirt and sloshing it back and forth in an oscillating motion. You can do this dry, but it will have better results if it is done immersed in water. If clay or clumped material is present, get your hands in the pan and break it up.

1. Fill your pan or 5-gallon bucket with water and submerge the classifier on top of that pan or bucket, which should be about half full of material.

2. Begin to vigorously shake it side to side, allowing the heavier material (black sand and gold to settle to the bottom and the lighter materials to be washed away or rise to the top. This method of working the material is referred to as stratification or stratifying

3. If clay or clumped material is present, get your hands in the pan and break it up with pick or a stick before continuing.

4. In the pan, continue with your oscillating motion to break up clumps, but be sure to keep the water level less than two thirds up the bucket.

5. Continue this oscillation for at least 1 minutes or until you are satisfied that all clumps have broken up.

6. When done, remove the classifier and slowly pour the classified material into the gold pan if you used a 5-gallon bucket.

Classifying Gravels for Gold Panning:

4. Panning the Material with Your Gold Pan

Lift the gold pan out of the water slightly and angle it towards the riffles or edges that should be facing away from you. Allow the water to do the job of washing away lighter sands and gravel by gently rocking the pan back and forth. This will cause the stratification process to be disrupted, requiring you to repeat the process.

Re-stratify by shaking back and forth when submerged in water to cause the heavies to sink to the bottom.

Continue to stratify and repeat this step to ensure that your gold remains at the bottom and that you do not lose any. When you start seeing darker material, it is a positive sign that you need to re-stratify the material because that darker material is made up of hematite and magnetite, also known as black sand, which is heavy like gold.

The substance will begin to darken; avoid the temptation to wash it out because it is likely to contain gold.

5. Stratify and Use the Tapping Technique

Take the mostly black material and stratify it again, this time using a tapping technique in which you strike the pan with your hand and pass the momentum to the heavy gold, forcing it into a corner. The contents of the pan should be submerged, but not completely.

Raise your pan out of the water keeping the pan in a semi-liquid state and begin stratifying using a tapping method of hitting the pan on one side transferring the momentum to the heaviest materials within the pan. Then gently back pan by tilting the pan towards you and away from you pulling the black sand away from the gold.

Continue stratifying by tapping and tilting and pulling the black sand material away using the back-panning process. Go on like this until you have a gold line or specks of gold. You'll then collect your hard-earned gold with your snuffer bottle.

The Tapping Method:

6. Place your gold in a gold vial from your snuffer bottle.

There are other methods of moving gold from a snuffer bottle to a vial, but the one I use involves emptying the contents onto a stove pan and boiling the water off, then delicately sliding the gold into a vial with a piece of paper.

TIP: Use Jet Dry to break water tension so you don’t lose any gold due to the surface tension.

Gold Panning Tips

  • Respect the Water: A lot of fun can be had with water, but water is no joke and your safety should always come first. Make sure you are in areas where it is okay to be panning or even walking around; if not, you can quickly find yourself in some hot water.
  • Listen to Your Body: Get up from the pan often, as your body will tell you when you need a break. You will be able to tell when you reach a level of exhaustion that could hurt your health (or the health of future gold pans).
  • Be Willing to Admit Failure: With gold panning, there are many mistakes that can be made. After a few rounds when you find nothing, it is time to try again. This step helps to keep your enthusiasm up and to not be disappointed by a few duds.
  • Stay Focused: Gold pans are easy to use, but it does take some time to get into the feel of the water and where it flows best. After you find a flow that works for you, stay focused on that area, and do not get distracted by everything else around you.
  • Go with a Friend: Panning for gold is fun and helps each person get out there and experience nature's beauty. However, if you are going to try this hobby, going with a friend is highly recommended.
  • Start Small: Gold panning is a great activity for the whole family, young and old alike. Start with a small pan to gauge your interest and it will not matter if you are not successful right away.
  • Choose Your Location Wisely: Choose where you will go based on the water source's proximity and potential for success as well as what type of minerals you are hoping for in your findings.
  • Make Sure You Are Legal: Some areas prohibit panning and digging, so if you want to try your hand at this activity, make sure you can do so before doing anything else.
  • Go slow. It can take up to an hour or longer to pan just one panful of material. We recommend that you try to avoid getting caught up in the excitement of gold panning and rushing the process. Take your time and be careful not to drop large rocks on your toes.
  • Get Out and Enjoy: Gold panning is not just about the work and learning but about taking advantage of nature's beauty. If you are stuck indoors, this is the perfect opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine, fresh air and all that nature has to offer!
  • Have Fun: The more enjoyable this hobby is for the people involved, the better it will be! Gold panning can become very addictive and can keep you busy in nature for days.

Buying & Selling Your Gold

Purity of gold: Expressed in karats or fineness (parts per thousand).

100% Gold = 1000 Fineness = 24 Karats

91.6% Gold = 916 Fineness = 22 Karats

75% Gold = 750 Fineness = 18 Karats

50% Gold = 500 Fineness = 16 Karats

The purity of gold is expressed in karats, or parts per thousand. To simplify, gold is classified as 100% pure when it has 1000 parts per thousand.

Places to sell your panned gold

- Local gold buyers

- Online gold buyers

- Local pawn shops

- Craigslist

- Ebay

- Facebook marketplace

- We Buy Gold

- Cash for gold

- Sell to a jewelry store

- Other online marketplaces

Gold Price Factors

- Purity

- Shine

- Size

- Weigh

- Ingot or coin form (bullion)

- Condition

- Type of gold jewelry

- Weight or fineness

- Date of manufacture

- Local gold market

- Monetary policy

- Availability

Gold Buying Tip: When buying gold, the more information that you can get on a particular piece, the easier it will be for you to make an educated decision about your purchase. Some of this information may seem trivial but it will affect how much money you are able to make off your investment.

Gold can be found in its natural state, but it is usually found combined with other elements, such as silver, lead, copper, or nickel. Depending on the proportion of these other elements present in the gold compound, varying amounts of pure gold are produced. Gold and platinum are very resistant to chemical change and can therefore be found in raw state which makes them more rare than other metals.

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