Regardless of whether you are a new prospector or a pro, the gold pan is still the most indispensable companion you can have. It is one of the first tools used in locating gold and is one of the last used, even in commercial mining to check the value of ore being processed. The Gold Pan is used wherever gold occurs in approximately 75% of all the countries in the world.

As far as we know, the "Batea" (A conical-shaped gold pan represented in the photograph on the right) was the first pan to be used. It was developed by the Mayan Indian civilization. The Batea is some 15 or 24 inches in diameter, and 6 to 8 inches deep. The early ones were carved from wood and were used to pan gold, diamonds, emeralds, rubies and gemstones. Anything heavier than common sand and gravel could be panned with this device. The Batea is an unwieldy and very heavy device requiring a great deal of experience before it can be used efficiently. For this reason it never gained much popularity outside of South and Central America.

In the early days of prospecting in this country, the pan was commonly called the "gold dish." Many prospectors have carved his own from a large block of wood. It didn't take many sophisticated tools to make a wooden pan–just a jackknife to do the rough carving, which could then be "sanded" smooth with gravel from a stream bed.

Cow horns were also used to make gold pans. Carefully slit lengthwise, and then steamed until it was soft enough to be worked, the horn was opened out and shaped into a shallow dish suitable for panning. In the old days the "gold dish" was the only means available to the small miner and prospector for the separation of gold.

Until just recently, the most popular pan to evolve was the steel pan. It is manufactured by a metal "spinning" process. This was a far cry from the crude hand-forged pans that the local blacksmith used to make.

Gold from Jamestown, California displayed by Ralph Shock, owner of Gold Prospecting Expeditions in Jamestown, California


Probably the most efficient pan for the novice today is one molded from tough, space age plastic. It is far superior to the steel pan for several reasons. Firstly, it is rust and corrosive proof. Secondly, it can be textured with a fine "tooth" surface to hold the gold better. Third, it is about one quarter the weight of a steel pan, and fourth the color can be made a permanent black so that even the tiniest flakes of gold can easily be seen.

Any of the above reasons are sufficient to endorse the plastic pan. But there is still another advantage. Being made by an injection mold process, riffles can be easily formed into a plastic pan. These riffles trap the gold much as the riffles in a sluice box, thus speeding up the panning process considerably. Old timers often refer to these as "cheater riffles" because they allow the novice to pan with nearly the same degree of efficiency it took the old timers years to develop.

The common sizes of pans today are the 8 to 12 inch pan, used primarily for sampling, or clean up. The 14 inch pan is the most popular, multi size use. The 16 to 18 inch pan is used by the more experienced panners. The larger pan load requires greater stamina and technique.

An accomplished professional panner can only process about one cubic yard of material in an 8 hour day. But with the development of the hand sluice, the dredge, and the rocker, even the novice today can process about 3/4 of a cubic yard per hour.

Even with the more sophisticated equipment, the pan is still necessary to clean up the sluice box. With the pan the concentrate is worked to a point where the large gold can be removed, leaving only a black or very heavy sand. This sand should always be kept for later separation by jigging or some kind of a tabling process capable of salvaging gold sized at 100 mesh or above which would be very difficult to recover by panning. Save those black sand concentrates! They can be worth anywhere from one to ten dollars a pound, making it a very valuable commodity, indeed.

Gold displayed in a Keene SP 14 Gold pan after a profitable days work dredging on the North Fork of the Yuba River in California.
All Keene Plastic Gold Pans carry a
“lifetime guaranty”

Recreational "mining" is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the U.S.A. today, and here the gold pan is the prime tool! There are many large resorts throughout the world where the activities center mainly around gold panning. There are probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 million gold pans sold annually in this country alone.

Trying your luck at panning could lead to one of the most fascinating, enjoyable hobbies you have ever known. The gamble of taking a pan full of material and finding precious metal in any quantity, whether only a flake or laden with nuggets, is a sensation that is unexplainable.


How to Pan for Gold

Before you actually start to process your first pan full of material, look around for the best location to start your panning. Select a spot where the water is a minimum of six inches deep, flowing just fast enough to keep muddy water from impairing your vision of your pan and a place where you can sit down comfortably.

Step A.
Washing Off Larger Rocks And Moss.

1. Fill pan 3/4 full of gravel, then submerge it deep enough so it is just under the surface of the water. Give the pan several vigorous shakes back and forth and from side to side, but not too vigorous as to wash material out of the pan.

2. Change from the shaking motion to a gentle circular movement, so the material starts revolving in a circle. This process will cause most of the dirt and clay to dissolve and wash out of the pan. If roots and moss surface, work them over your pan with your fingers to dissolve any lumps. Pick out the larger rocks after making sure that they are washed clean.

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Repeat processes 1 and 2 of step A to get the smaller rock to the surface and to cause the heavier concentrates to settle.

Step B.
Washing Off Lighter Sand and Gravel

1. Hold the pan just under the water and tilt it slightly away from you. Begin to swirl the water from side to side, with a slight forward tossing motion. Take care, but with sufficient force to move the surface and the lighter gravel out over the edge of the pan.
2. Leveling the pan from time to time and shaking it back and forth will cause the light material to come to the surface and the gold to settle to the bottom.
Repeat process 1 and 2 of step B until there is only about two cups of heavier material left in your pan. This material is usually called "black sand," or "concentrate."

Step C.
Washing Off Black Sand and Concentrates

At this point it is better for the beginner to raise the pan completely out of the water, leaving about an inch of water in it. Tilt the pan slightly towards you and swirl the water slowly in a circular motion to check the pan for nuggets and pieces that are easily picked out by hand.
Then submerge the pan again in water and repeat process 1 and 2 of step B for final concentration. This is the most critical part of panning. Make sure this final process is accomplished with as much diligence as possible so you do not to wash out the gold.

If you have a plastic pan, the use of a magnet can be employed to quickly aid in the separation of gold from the black magnetic sand concentrate.

Apply the magnet to the bottom side of the pan and move it in a small circular motion with the pan slightly tilted. This will swiftly isolate the gold from the black sand.


Panning Hints

When using a steel pan, make sure to remove all the oil from the pan before you use it. The most common way is to "burn" it over the coals of a campfire using extreme caution. The pan is heated to a dull red glow, then dunked in water. This not only removes the oil but also gives the pan a dark blue hue, which makes the gold easier to see. If any oil is left in the pan, it will cause the fine gold to float, making separation impossible.

Another secret to speed up the final steps is to keep a small squeeze bottle of detergent close at hand. A couple of drops in the pan during the last separation will break the surface tension of the water and speed up the operation considerably.

In conclusion, don't let anyone tell you that this country's rivers and streams no longer contain gold. Every year winter storms bring more to the surface, continually renewing nature's supply. It's all there for the taking, and the gold pan is still the best way to find it!

An item that is considered a necessary part of a panners equipment is a panning sieve. The sieve sets over the pan and can screen or classify the larger cobbles, making the panning process much easier. The sieves are available in sizes from 1/4 of an inch (4 mesh) to a 100 mesh size screen. The gold pan sieves are most popular with the medium size pan and are available in most prospecting stores that sell gold recovery equipment.