How to Pan for Gold
Gold panning is the most basic method used to separate gold from potential gold-bearing material. A gold pan does a very good job at separating the gold when the correct method is used, but you are limited by the amount of material that can be processed in a given period of time. Sluices, dredges, highbankers, etc. can process a tremendous amount of material down to a relatively small amount of high grade concentrates. These concentrates can contain, among other things, a mixture of small rocks and gravel, light blonde sand, heavy black sand, small garnets and other gemstones, lead, mercury, and hopefully a little gold. A gold pan is often used to process these concentrates. So whether you are using a gold pan as your primary processing tool or use it only to recover gold from your concentrates, the basic steps of panning are the same.
It's important to understand that gold is much more dense than the other material in your pan. This density allows us to utilize gravity to help recover our gold. The sand, rocks, and gravel have a density of about 2.5, black sands are around 5, and the density of gold is around 19 depending on purity. Since gold is so heavy relative to its mass, it tends to migrate to the bottom of the pan when the material is agitated. Once the gold is safely resting on the bottom of the pan, it’s just a matter of working most of the lighter material out of the pan and then using a swirling motion to wash the black sands away from the gold, at which point all but the smallest pieces of gold can be removed with tweezers or sucked up with a snuffer bottle. Of course some fine gold that can't be retrieved by panning will remain, so make sure to keep your black sands for further processing. We will cover some methods of removing this fine gold in another article, but you can recover the majority of the gold by following the panning instructions below.
Before we begin, you will need a few basic tools for optimal results when panning for gold. Of course a Gold Pan is required, a Classifier is optional but highly recommended, and a pair of tweezers and/or a snuffer bottle for retrieving your hard earned gold from the pan. The items can be purchased separately or packaged together in a Gold Pan Kit. A little jet dry or dishwashing liquid will help to keep any gold flakes from floating; this is particularly helpful with dry concentrates.
Basic Panning Procedures:
You will need a fairly large tub of clear water unless you are at a river or stream. These tubs can be found at most hardware stores. For optimum results the tub should be at least twice as wide and three times as long as your pan, and as deep as the pan turned on its side. If panning in a river or stream, you need to find a calm relatively slow moving spot.
Classifying your material is an important step and speeds up the panning process and makes it much easier for gold to settle to the bottom of your pan. Most classifiers are designed to fit on top of a 3 1/2 or 5 gallon bucket as well as directly on top of some gold pans. When working in a stream or river it is helpful to first classify to 1/2 inch by shoveling raw material into a bucket with a 1/2 inch classifier on top. After you have a good amount of material in your bucket, it's optional but recommended, to classify further down to 1/4 inch or smaller when scooping material from the bucket to your gold pan. This may sound like extra work, but classification is key to good gold recovery. Be sure to check for that rare large nugget when dumping your classifier. Tip: Most people agree that you should take your concentrates home and take your time panning them in a controlled environment, unless your camping and like to pan at night. Spend your limited amount of time at the creek gathering material to pan later.
The material that remains after classifying is called concentrates. Fill your pan about 1/2 full with concentrates and submerge your gold pan so that the top of the pan is just below the water line. Shake the pan side to side and round and round as vigorously as possible without losing material over the sides. This action is often referred to as stratifying the material or stratification. The rougher you are without losing material the better. Pick out any large rocks that have come to the surface and continue stratifying until you're comfortable that the gold has had a chance to work its way through the other material and is resting on the bottom of your pan. The water in your pan should be pretty clear after stratifying before moving on.
Hold your gold pan on the opposite side of the riffles and tilt it at about a 45 degree angle. Again shake the pan with a side to side motion so that the gold migrates to the bottom corner just below the riffles. If working in a stream or river, it is recommended that you pan into a submerged pan or tub so that the concentrates can be re-panned.
Start moving your pan front and back which should slowly begin washing the top layer of material out of your gold pan. Try not to wash to much material out of the bottom corner of the pan where your gold is at. Re-stratify often to keep the gold safely in the corner of the pan below the riffles. Experiment adjusting the angle while washing but never go parallel with the water or you risk dumping gold out of your pan. Some people rock the pan in a side to side action using the wrist, or a combination of side to side and front to back. It's important to remember that material should be removed by the wave action of the water, not dumped out.
Once most of the rocks and blonde sand have been washed out you should be left with a fairly small amount of black sand, other heavies, and hopefully some gold. Pick out any rocks, pebbles or gems that remain with a pair of tweezers. Adjust the water level in the pan so that the material is just barely submerged. Re-stratify one last time and work everything into the corner of the pan by tilting and shaking the pan back and forth. Hold the pan nearly flat, tilted slightly toward you, and carefully swirl the water which should begin washing the black sands in one direction. If swirled properly, any gold should stay in place and begin to peek through the black sand. If the gold begins to move with the black sand, you can tap the pan against your hand to move the gold back into the corner. Once you've separated as much black sand from the gold as possible, suck the gold up with a snuffer bottle. If you're lucky enough to have any pieces of gold that are too large to be sucked up by the snuffer bottle, pick them out with a pair of tweezers.
Gold Panning takes practice, but you can become proficient at it. There are many variations to panning, and you will eventually find what works best for you. Keep your black sands. Additional gold can be recovered by other methods, of which we will discuss in detail in other tutorials. We wish you the best of luck in your prospecting adventures, and hope you find lots of gold in the bottom of your pan.
Gold Panning " How To " Video