John has prospected for gold in Arizona 10 years. His experience taught him to deal with the terrain, heat, and gold fever. He makes tools.
As is the case with anything, you can really go basic when you start out gold prospecting by using the minimum number of tools. For that matter, all you really need is a pan! However, there are four tools that will help the prospector save time—and with time savings ensues more work and a superior gold yield. Here are a few tool suggestions.
1. Magnetic Separators
As the panning process unfolds, there is usually a point where nothing is left but black sand. The black sand is likely magnetite—a magnetic mineral that occurs in almost all igneous and metamorphic rocks. The black sand found could be magnetic if dry. Wet black sand forms a muck that will result in pulling up gold too when a magnet is applied. Dry black sand can be used with a magnet for separating magnetite from the gold, the gold being left behind.
My Magnetic Separator
I like to use a 16-pound magnet separator with a quick release. The surface diameter is 3 1/2". With the pull, you can release the black sand.
The process involves getting the magnet close to the panned black sand but not submerging it directly—that gets muck on the separator surface, which can hold gold. You get close and then drop it in another pan of water, looking for any gold. You repeat the process until you can see no gold, and then you release the magnetite in a disposal plate. This description is insufficient for a complete understanding. See the following video for a great tutorial on separating gold from black sand.
Here's one final thought. I have heard it said from club members that you can separate gold from black sand using a tarp and letting it dry out in the Arizona sun. Apparently, you hover over it with the magnet, not touching it, and the magnetite will be lifted, leaving the gold behind. I can imagine this happening if you have good-sized flakes, but it seems as though fine gold would still go up and get trapped in the magnetite on the surface of the magnet. I have never tried this—it's all hearsay to me but might be fun for an experiment?
Do not wait; the time will never be "just right." Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.
— George Herbert
2. Gold Pinpointers
A great accessory for the metal detector enthusiast is the pinpointer. It is a secondary recovery tool. First, you use your metal detector to locate a target. Once the target is located, you turn to the pinpointer. Running the pinpointer in the revealed location will quickly isolate the target for recovery.
Why use this? It saves time and energy. Anyone who has waved a metal detector can attest to the fatigue it can cause over a longer period of time. It can also wear out a tired shoulder. Trying to get your ring situated perfectly over the target for retrieval can take time. When the pin-pointer goes off, your treasure is right there! I like it because I can take a break from my long metal detector when I get on my hands and knees to wand the ground. It is great in loose dirt and sand. The tip is reinforced, so you really don't need to worry about breaking it.
My propointer is the first Garret Propointer. The Garret Propointer II is even better. It comes with a belt carrying case. I have owned mine for many years and it has never failed me. It's running like it's brand new.
3. Gold Classifier
You can call a gold classifier a gold sieve or screen, but regardless of name, they go with a pan. You can classify directly into your pan or save the panned material for later—I often bring material home and pan it in my backyard, where I have a covered porch.
The classifier helps to separate stones and debris that you don't really want to pan when looking for placer.
One half inch mesh is about 4 holes per square inch. A 1/4 inch mesh has about 16 holes per square inch—1/8 inch contains about 64 holes per square inch, and so on. 1/100 inch is the smallest mesh that is commonly used for microscopic gold recovery and ultra fine gold dust and flakes.
I don't know who made my classifiers, although I have made several screens on my own that straddle a 5-gallon plastic bucket as illustrated in previous articles.
I could describe how to use the classifier, but the video below is so much more superb that I refer you to it.
By the way. I have heard newbies to recreational gold prospecting refer to classification as clarifying. Whether it is a legitimate verbal for classifying, I know not. But I thought I would add this to your prospecting wealth of knowledge. However, it takes nothing away from butter!
4. A Tried-and-True Trowel
Every good prospector needs a hearty trowel. In Arizona arroyos, you can sweep away two inches of sand and hit cobbles. My preference for trowels is with Dalyn Enterprises' bulb trowels. Why? Because they are made of sturdy steel—as in thick! In my area of middle Arizona down to Tucson, you can throw a trowel into the ground and wind up shaking your arm like they do in the cartoons. So, you must have struck caliche or cobbles.
Sooooo . . . it is really nice to have something that can also double for a pry bar. Don't even think about those plastic trowels you can get at the dollar store. The first thing you hit will shatter it.
In this article, we covered some of my favorite tools for prospecting. They include, but are not limited to, the magnetic separator, the pin-pointer, classifiers, and last but not least, the trusty trowel. There are more—I keep all of these in my backpack, locked in my truck, and ready for my next adventure. I strongly advise you to do likewise.
And by the way. I firmly suggest you not keep gold at your home. I don't. Safety deposit boxes are relatively cheap considering the alternative.
May all your pans be full!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 John R Wilsdon
John R Wilsdon (author) from Superior, Arizona USA on January 19, 2021:
Thanks, Pamela. Yes, it is particularly "enriching" when retired. It provides for a little adventure outdoors, exercise, and excitement. It's a bit like the lotto - the possibility of hitting the big one!
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 19, 2021:
I have watched the shows on Discovery about gold, and I can understand your interest. Anyone would like to find a significant amount of gold. I found your article interesting.