Procedure

Panning gold is basically simple, once you realize that you are doing the same thing that the river does when it causes gold to concentrate and deposit in various locations.

The process basically consists of placing the material that you want to process into your pan, and, shaking it in a left to right motion underwater in order to cause the gold, which is heavy, to work its way down toward the bottom of your pan. At the same time, the lighter materials, which are worthless, are worked up to the surface where they can be swept off. The process of shaking and sweeping is done until only the heaviest of materials are left--namely the gold, silver, and platinum, if present.

Once you are out in the field, you will notice that no two people pan gold exactly alike. After you have been at it awhile, you will develop your own little twists and shakes to accomplish the proper result.

Here is a basic gold panning procedure to start off with, that works well and is easy to learn: 

STEP 1: Once you have located some gravel that you want to sample, place it in your gold pan--filling it about 3/4 of the way to the top. After you've been at it awhile, you an fill your pan to the top without losing any gold. While placing material in your pan, pick out the larger-sized rocks, so that you can get more of the smaller material, and gold, into the pan.

STEP 2: Choose a spot to do your panning. It's best to pick a location where the water is at least six inches deep and preferably moving steadily--just enough to sweep away the mud and silty water as it is washed from your pan. This way, you can see what you are doing better. You don't want the water moving so swiftly that it will upset your panning actions. A mild current will do, if available!

It's always best to find a spot where there's a rock or log or stream bank or something that you can sit down on while panning. You can pan effectively while squatting, kneeling or bending over, but it does get tiresome. If you are planning to process more than just one or two pans, sitting down will make the job much more pleasant.

STEP 3: Carry the pan over to your determined spot and submerge it underwater.

STEP 4: Use your fingers to knead the contents of the pan in order to break it up fully and cause all of the material to become saturated with water. This is the time to work apart all the clay, dirt, roots, moss and such with your fingers to ensure that all the materials are fully broken up and in a liquid state of suspension in the pan.

The pan is underwater while doing this. Mud and silt will be seen to float up and out. Do not concern yourself about losing any gold when this happens. Remember: gold is heavy and will tend to sink deeper in your pan while these lighter materials are floating out.

STEP 5: After the entire contents of the pan have been thoroughly broken up, take the pan in your hands (with cheater riffles on the far side of the pan) and shake it, using a vigorous left and right motion just under the surface of the water. This action will help to break up the contents of the pan even more and will also start to work the heavier materials downwards in the pan while the lighter materials will start to surface.

Be careful not to get so vigorous in your shaking that you slosh material out of the pan during this step. Depending on the consistency of the material that you are working, it may be necessary to alternate doing steps four and five over again a few times to get all of the pan's contents into a liquid state of suspension. It is this same liquid state of suspension that allows the heavier materials to sink in the pan while the lighter materials emerge to the surface.

STEP 6: As the shaking action causes rocks to rise up to the surface, sweep them out of the pan using your fingers or the side of your hand. Just sweep off the top layer of rocks which have worked their way up to the pan's surface.

Don't worry about losing gold while doing this, because the same action which has brought the rocks to the surface will have worked the gold deeper down toward the bottom of the pan.

Rotating your arm in a circular motion underwater will help to bring more rocks to the surface where they can be swept off in the same way.

When picking the larger rocks out of the pan, make sure that they are clean of clay and other particles before you toss them out. Clay sometimes contains pieces of gold and also has a tendency to grab onto the gold in your pan.

STEP 7: Continue to do steps five and six, shaking the pan and sweeping out the rocks and pebbles, until most of the medium-sized material is out of your pan.

STEP 8: Tilt the forward edge of your pan downward slightly to bring the forward bottom edge of the pan to a lower position. With the pan tilted forward, shake it back and forth using the same left and right motion. Be careful not to tilt the pan forward so much that any material is spilled over the forward edge while shaking.

This tilted shaking action causes the gold to start working its way down to the pan's forward bottom edge, and continues to work the lighter materials to the surface where they will be swept off.

STEP 9: Carefully, by using a forward and backward movement, or a slight circular motion, just below the surface of the water, allow the water to sweep the top layer of worthless, lighter materials out of the pan. Only allow the water to sweep out a little at a time, while watching closely for the heavier materials to be uncovered as the lighter materials are swept out. It takes some judgment in this step to determine just how much material to sweep off before having to shake again so that no gold is lost. It will just take a little practice in panning gold before you
will begin to see the difference between the lighter materials and the heavier materials in your pan, and get a feel for knowing exactly how much material can be safely swept out before re-shaking is necessary. When you are first starting, it is best to re-shake as often as you feel that it is needed to prevent losing any gold. When in doubt, shake! There are a few factors which can be pointed out to help you with this. Heavier materials are usually darker in color than the lighter materials. You will notice while shaking the pan that it is the lighter colored materials that are vibrating on the surface. You will also notice that as the lighter materials are swept out of the
pan, the darker colored materials are uncovered.

Materials tend to get darker (and heavier) as you work your way down toward the bottom of the pan, where the darkest and heaviest materials will be found, they being the purple and black sands, which are minerals of the iron family. The exception to this is gold, which is heaviest of all. Gold usually is of a bright and shiny metallic color and shows out well in contrast to the other heavier materials at the bottom of the gold pan.

One other factor to keep in mind is that the lighter materials sweep out of your pan more easily than do the heavier materials. As the heavier materials are uncovered, they are increasingly more resistant to being swept out of the pan, and will give you an indication of when it is time to re-shake.

As you work your way down through your pan, sometimes gold particles will show themselves as you get down to the heavier materials. When you see gold, you know it is time to re-shake your pan.

There is another popular method of sweeping the lighter materials out of the top of your pan which you might prefer to use. It is done by dipping your pan under the water and lifting it up, while allowing the water to run off the forward edge of the pan, taking the top layer of material along with it.

STEP 10: Once the top layer of lighter material is washed out of your pan, re-shake to bring more lighter materials to the top. By "lighter materials," I mean in comparison to the other materials. If you continue to shake the lighter materials to the top and sweep them off, eventually you will be left with the heaviest material of all, which is the gold. It doesn't take much shaking to bring a new layer of lighter stuff to the surface. Maybe 8 or 10 seconds worth of shaking will do it, maybe less. it all depends on the consistency of the material and how much gold is present.

Continue to pluck out the larger-sized rocks and pebbles as they show themselves during the process.

STEP 11: Every few cycles of sweeping and re-shaking, tilt your pan back to the level position and re-shake. This keeps any gold from being allowed to work its way up the forward edge of your pan.

STEP 12: Continue the above steps of sweeping and re-shaking until you are down to the heaviest materials in your pan. These usually consist of old pieces of lead and other metal, coins, BB's, old bullets, buckshot, nails, garnets, small purple and black iron rocks, and the heavy black sand concentrates--which consist of mainly or in part of the following: magnetite (magnetic black sands), hematite (non-magnetic black sands), titanium, zircon, rhodolite, monazite, tungsten materials, and sometimes pyrites (fool's gold), plus any other items which might be present in that location which have a high specific gravity--like gold, silver and platinum.

Once down to the heaviest black sands in your pan, you can get a quick look at the concentrates to see how much gold is present by allowing about a half-cup of water into the pan, tilting the pan forward as before, and shaking from left to right to place the concentrates in the forward bottom section of your pan. Then level the pan off and swirl the water around in slow circles. This action will gradually uncover the concentrates, and you can get a look at any gold that is present. The amount of gold in your pan will give you an idea how rich the raw material is that you are sampling.

A magnet can be used at this point to help remove the magnetic black sands from the gold pan. Take care when doing this. While gold is not magnetic, sometimes particles of gold will become trapped in the magnetic net of iron particles which clump together and attach to the magnet. I prefer to drop the magnetic sands into a second plastic gold pan, swish them around, an pick them up again with the magnet. Depending on how much gold this leaves behind, I might do this step several times.

Many beginners like to stop panning at this point and pick out all the pieces of gold (colors) with tweezers. This is one way of recovering the gold from your pan, but it is a very slow method.

Most prospectors who have been at it for awhile will pan down through the black sands as far as they feel that they can go without losing any gold. Then they check the pan for any colors by swirling it, an pick out any of the larger-sized flakes and nuggets to place them in a gold sample bottle, which as been brought along for that purpose. Then the remaining concentrates are poured into a small coffee can and allowed to accumulate there until the end of the day, or week, or whenever enough concentrates have been collected to make it worthwhile to further process them. This is really the better method if you are interested in recovering more gold, as it allows
you to get on with the job of panning and sampling without getting deeply involved with a pair of tweezers. Otherwise you can end up spending 25% of your time panning and 75% of your time picking.