Panning for gold is a simple process, but one that takes a little practice to master. It relies on the principle of specific gravity - the density of a substance relative to the density of water. The higher the specific gravity of a substance, the greater its propensity to sink to the bottom of a container of water. As gold has a very high specific gravity, this principle can be used to separate it from the material within which it is found.
• A gold pan - a shallow bowl with sloping sides purpose-made for the task. These bowls were traditionally metal, about 30cms across. Today, lighter, plastic versions have become popular.
• A water source - generally this will be the river you’ve decided to prospect.
• Gold-bearing (hopefully!) riverbed material.
• Find a stretch of river that is at least 25cms deep and where the water runs fast enough to wash debris from you pan.
• Fill your pan ¾ full of river gravel and hold it just below the surface of the water. Your aim is to wash away the mud, clay, gravel, sand etc. but retain whatever gold is mixed with this material.
• Shake the pan from side to side - this will raise any large rocks to the surface where they may be picked out with your fingers and thrown away (make sure they aren’t nuggets of gold!).
• After shaking, progress to gentle circular movement so that the material in your pan moves in a circular motion. As the material moves it is lifted from the base of the pan and is carried away by the flowing water. The gold, being far heavier, works its way to the bottom of the pan.
• Once the material in your pan has been reduced to lighter gravel and sand, tip the pan away from you slightly and continue your circular swirling to move this finer material out over the edge of the pan.
• A slight forward tossing motion may be added at this stage, but take care - you don’t want to wash away gold along with the debris.
• When you have only a couple of handfuls of material left in your pan, lift it out of the river. Keeping about 2cms of water in the pan, continue washing until you have removed all remaining debris. Now, if you’re lucky, the only thing left in your pan will be…gold!
Note: towards the end of the washing process you may notice that your pan contains material that looks like black sand. This is generally made up of magnetite - a metallic mineral which, like gold, has a high specific gravity. This can be very difficult to separate from fine gold, but as it very often accompanies gold it is a good indication that you’re panning in the right place.