Gold panning works upon the most basic of physics principles, gravity. Well, to be accurate there are a few other things involved, such as fluid dynamics.
How does gold panning work? In its simplest form gravity pulls gold to the lowest point in water soaked soil. Gold is denser than anything else commonly found, so gravity wants to pull it down. Soil, when permeated with water, behaves much like water in that the gravel and grains of sand will move slightly, allowing gold and other dense materials to sink to the bottom.
This natural filtering action makes gold panning work.
- Place a coarse screen into the bottom of your gold pan and add a scoop of material into the screen. Fill the pan with water and sieve the material. Discard large rocks after quickly checking for any gold flakes. You will never lose gold if you always have lots of water in your pan and wash everything in that water.
- Once your pan has a suitable amount of material in it, you can start to wash the soil. If you are a beginner, do not fill your pan more than 1/3 full, as it will get too heavy and is much harder to work. Wash the dirt away by agitating the soil with your fingers, draining off the dirty water, and refilling the pan with fresh water. Ensure that the only thing coming out of your pan is dirty water.
- Once the loose soil has been washed off, you can start to work your material. Begin by removing all large stones. After you remove a few stones, give the pan a slight shake, agitate with your fingers and pour off only the dirty water. This step is extremely important as it is causing the gold to come free from the soil and settle to the bottom of your pan.
- After the larger stones have been removed, it is time to start the real panning. Everyone develops their own technique, but the principles are the same. Start by filling your pan with clean water and then shake your pan in an oval pattern. This allows the material to separate even more as will be evidenced by gravel moving to the top of the waterlogged soil.
- As the water begins to get dirty, you want to carefully rinse the material. Tilt the pan so that the side is almost level with the water. In a calm part of the stream dip your pan in and pull it back towards you. You may wish to give the pan a slight side to side shake while doing so. You will notice that the light gravel on the very top will flow out of the pan with the water, leaving the more dense materials. As you gain experience you will be able to do this faster.
- Again wash the soil and agitate it with your fingers, adding and pouring off water as needed. When more material has moved to the surface shake it off as in step 5. Repeat this process until only a little material remains.
- Here comes the exciting part — panning the tailings. If you are in a good area, you will see a line of black sand forming around the edge of the soil in your pan. This is good. With great care, continue to pan this material until there is very little soil left. You will have to tip the pan more and more to make the soil move out. I found that the best way is to tip the pan and raise it out of the water. As the water comes out of the pan it brings the soil too.
- Once you are down to basically black sand, it is time to look for your gold. Fill the pan with clean water and slowly slosh the water in a circular pattern. The black sand will start to move, but the gold will not. Nothing is more exciting than watching the black sand slowly move away to reveal the gold beneath.
Gold panning is easy and fun. Once you have started to find some gold, you will discover a style that works well for you. As long as you keep the following things in mind, you will never go wrong.
- Always have lots of water in your pan. I can not stress this enough. Always have lots of water in your pan.
- Be patient and go slowly while learning. My first pans took 15 to 30 minutes to work. Do not try to speed up until you start to find gold. Once you start finding gold, you know your techniques are sound and you can try new and faster things.
- When you find gold, put it in your vial while holding it over your gold pan. I didn’t and dropped the first piece of gold that I ever found. I was extremely lucky and did find it in the grass.