How to Pan for Gold

How to Pan For Gold!

Panning and sluicing for gold works because of the simple fact that gold is much heavier in relation to the other minerals, sand and debris that are commonly found alongside placer gold.  Your typical bank run or river bed material will be made up of quartz sand, host rock and various other minerals.


Gold has a specific gravity of 19.3While the specific gravity of quartz is 2.65

This means that if you take an identical sized piece of quartz sand and gold, the piece of gold will be 7.28 times heavier than the quartz sand.

We all know the expression; “He drives with a lead foot”! Which means that the driver has a heavy foot on the gas and drives fast. In reality the expression should be; “He drives with a gold foot”! Because gold is almost twice as heavy as lead.

In panning for gold we are trying to get gold, the heavy mineral to the bottom of the gold pan and wash/remove  the lighter material off of the top.  By repeating the process of concentrating the gold and heavies to the bottom of the pan and washing the lighter materials off, we will be able to recover the gold that was in the material because it will be the last thing left in the pan once the lighter material has been washed/panned off.

Step 1:

Take your gold pan and fill it about half way full with the river or bank material that you wish to pan and sample for gold content.  It will be easier to pan if you classify (remove oversized rocks) from your pan. You can do this by feeding your material though a screen and discarding the larger rocks.  If the material in the gold pan is of similar size it will be easier to concentrate the heavies(gold) towards the bottom of the pan because of the rules of specific gravity.

Step 2:

Find a calm little pool or part of the river that is at least 6 inches deep and fully submerge your gold pan in the water.  With the pan under water use your hand or a stick to mix the material and ensure that it is fully broken up and that every single piece of material is wet and somewhat liquid.  At this point you can break up or remove any pieces of clay, moss or larger rocks.

Step 3:

Hold the gold pan underwater with your hands at the clock positions 3 and 9. Spin the gold pan back and forth to get all of the material moving.  Once all of the material is in motion shake the pan back and forth vigorously to rattle and move the material, which will work the heavier particles(gold) to the bottom of the pan.  Repeat this process of spinning and shaking one more time and finish your shaking and settling motion with the gold pan tilted slightly forward towards the riffles in the gold pan.  By shaking and tilting your gold pan forwards the heavies and gold will be forced to settle in the front bottom edge of the gold pan.

Step 4: Washing off lighter(worthless) material

After settling the heavies to the bottom of the pan as stated in step 3, keep the pan tilted slightly forward, pull the pan out of the water and slowly pour off most of the water.  This will compact/bind the material in the pan and it will be safer to wash/pan the lighter materials off of the surface.  With the pan tilted forward, submerge the front two thirds of the pan in the water and do a smooth forward and backwards  motion to begin washing the lighter materials up and out of the pan.  Don’t be scared, the gold should be at the bottom of the pan and you can safely wash out about one quarter of the lighter material.

Step 5:

Repeat the spinning and shaking motion to re concentrate the heavies to the bottom of the pan.

Wash off the lighter materials as described in step 4 but take care to wash out only the lighter surface material. REPEAT.

Once half of the material has been washed out of the pan it is no longer necessary to spin the pan back and forth, however the shaking and settling motion/process remains very important and is what gets the gold and other heavies to the bottom of the pan..

Repeat this process as many times as necessary until you begin to see solid black sands and heavies in your pan(hematite, magnetite, lead, pyrite, iron and garnets).  Once you are left with mainly black sands in your pan, the gold  if present should be hiding beneath them.  When first starting out it should take you 3-5 minutes to get to this point.

Step 6:

There should be about 2-3 table spoons full of material left in your pan.  Place a catch pan underneath your pan so that you can re-settle and take the concentrates down further without losing any gold(the black sands you wash off will be caught in the catch pan and can be inspected later).  Shake, settle and carefully wash off the black sands looking closely to make sure no gold is going up and over the edge. Repeat this process until you have less than 1 table spoon of heavies left in your pan.

Step 7:

Put about half a cup of water into the gold pan and using the shaking motion re settle the remaining material into the bottom edge of the pan preferably away from the riffles.  Level out the pan and slowly swirl the water in a circular motion so that the top layer of the black sands heavies are washed to the other side of the pan.  Continue doing this in a slow and smooth fashion until the heaviest heavies(gold) are uncovered from beneath the black sands.  If gold is present in your sample it should now be visible.