Panning is the use of a gold pan to "pan" gold from gravels. Panning is the basic skill of the recreational prospector. With few exceptions, all recreational prospecting activities are reduced to panning in the end.
Rule of Thumb number 1: There is no right way to pan.
Panning is not difficult. There is no magic formula, nor is there a "right" way to do it. Everyone seems to have his or her own technique.
There are, however, a few wrong ways. But, it is not possible to here, in written form, to accurately describe how, and how not, to pan. There are several books on the subject that give excellent written, graphic, and photographic instructions on panning.
The Gold Prospectors Association of America (GPAA) has excellent DVDs on panning techniques with several experienced prospectors showing their tips for good panning.
The type of pan used can help those that are inexperienced in panning. A pan with built in "gold traps" can make keeping the gold in the pan almost foolproof (...almost). In the MERCANTILE, we offer several videos on apnning and other gold-gettin techniques.
It really doesn't matter what the pan is made of. Metal pans are traditional prospecting tools and are still available, but do rust and generally don't have good gold traps.
Plastic pans can have gold traps or riffles molded into the pan, trapping gold, so more vigorous panning is possible.
Plastic pans come in a variety of colors. Red, orange, blue, green, dark green, black, and other colors are available. Color is a personal thing, but gold seems to show up best in the dark green pans. Some people, though, like black or blue pans. Other colors are more of a novelty than useful.
Plastic pans also come in different shapes. Traditional round pans are the most common, but square pans and V-pans are available.
Pans come in many different sizes. The "average" pan is 14 inches in diameter, and when filled with gravels, is about as heavy as the average person can handle. There are larger pans available, and several smaller sizes. Small pans are useful for "cleaning up" black sands, and are also good for small children. All of these pans will have either a wide bottom or small bottom. Some people like the wide bottom pans as they can "feather" the black sands easier with it, but some like the small bottom pans for the same reason. It's really a matter of personal taste and you will find what's right for you when you get a little experience.
Rule of Thumb number 2: The better classification you do, the better the gold recovery.
Classification is the removal of larger rocks from the gravels BEFORE panning. This is accomplished by either removing the rocks by hand, using a Classifier Screen, or both.
Classifier screen are available in various mesh sizes from about 1/2 and larger to 100 and smaller. Consider a "mesh" as the number of holes per inch. These screen may be totally plastic, or a metal screen with a plastic frame. Most will fit right in the pan so it makes classification easier. If you going to do some serious panning, get one or two classifying screen that "nest" together in the pan.
Once you've panned down to the gold mixed with a little black sand, an easy way to save the gold is with a "snuffer bottle." This little soft plastic bottle can be squeezed and suck up the small gold flakes in the pan. It can also be opened to put larger flakes and "pickers" in it.
Rule of Thumb number 3: Always carry your gold in a plastic bottle.
Don't risk losing your hard earned gold by putting it in a glass bottle. While in the field use a plastic bottle. Put it in glass vials in camp for showing off.
Well, there you have it. Hopefully, this has stimulated your interest enough to find out a little more about panning, and the hobby of recreational prospecting.
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