How to Use a Gold Pan

The most widely used gold concentration device is the gold pan; it was originally supplied by the Hudson Bay Company to the miners and made from copper. Although pans are available in various shapes and sizes, the standard Canadian gold pan is 12 to 18 inches in diameter at the top and 2 to 2 1/2, inches in depth, with the sides sloping at roughly 30 to 45 degrees. They can be found in prospecting stores, rock shops, some hardware stores and online for around $10 to $25.  Gold pans are formed of metal or plastic and both are used in prospecting for gold, for cleaning gold-bearing concentrates. Plastic pans are recommended for most folks, because they have some advantages over the older steel/copper, including the fact that they are lighter, don't rust, have riffles designed for easier gold recovery, and you are able to use a magnet for removal of most of the black sands.

The basic operation of a pan is actually fairly simple, but experience and skill are needed to process large amounts of material.  Panning is best learned by watching an experienced panner work, but the general principles and steps are outlined below. With a little practice, you can learn to pan gold for yourself.  When you have read this page and think you understand the panning process, try it for yourself , with practice and experience you’ll be able to pan like a pro in no time what so ever.

For maximum recovery, the material to be panned should be as uniform in size as possible  I’ve found that using a classifier screen works the best for this, screening the materials down to a ¼ inch works best, make sure to check the oversize gravels before discarding them.  Take care to wash these stones so that the sand and clay attached to them stays in your pan.  Panning is best done in a pool of still, clear water, a spot where you can get good balance or even sit on a rock. You don't want to lose your balance and slip and fall into the River along with the gold in your pan


First, fill the pan one-half to three fourths full of classified material, carefully hold the pan under water and mix and knead the material by hand, carefully breaking up lumps of clay and washing any rocks present.  Tilt the pan slightly away from you and shake with a back-and-forth motion from side to side. You have to do it hard enough that the gravel material shakes and moves around. The point of the shaking is to allow heavy materials to settle and work their way downward toward the bottom of the pan. Gold is extremely dense and heavy and so as you shake the pan it naturally wants to move downward through that sand. As you shake the pan side to side, the heavy’s will settle downward, and this leaves the lighter materials on top. The tilt of your pan should be such that even when shaking back and forth, material does not spill over the edge of the pan.


After some vigorous side to side shaking I generally scrap the top 1/3 of materials out of the pan, the gold will have settled deeper in the pan by this time. Again it is back to filling the pan with water and shaking side to side, then tipping the pan forwards, dip the pan into the water and lift straight up, the water will pull some of the lighter materials out of the pan, couple of dip then repeat the side to side shaking. Repeating these steps until you are down to a small amount of concentrated heavy mineral in the bottom of the pan. Any gold that is present may be observed by gently swirling the concentrate into a crescent in the bottom rim of the pan. Coarse nuggets are removed by hand, while finer grained gold may be carefully picked out with tweezers or a snuffer bottle and the black sands may be saved for further processing later. If you have a magnet, and a plastic pan, you can use the magnet to pull some of the black sand out of your concentrates

An experienced panner can process about one cubic yard  in 10 hours.  Panning was widely used as a primary recovery method in the early days of mining, although simple sluicing methods soon followed. Snipers and backpackers still use it in rivers today that were difficult to reach and so have not been heavily worked.  However, the process of panning is extremely limited, as only small amounts of gravel can be processed, even by the most experienced panners.


Check the residue for any flakes or grains that can be picked out by tweezers. Don't attempt to pick out all the little specks of find gold you may see, or you may never get to process your second pan!

The nuggets, grains or flakes you've recovered should be placed in a plastic container. An empty pill bottle with a screw top will serve the purpose nicely.

Then dump the remainder of your concentrates into a large bucket for later processing. Once you know that you are recovering gold, your next priority is to accumulate as much concentrate as you can in a working day. Don't waste time trying to separate fine gold from the black sands after every pan. Instead, dump your concentrates into a bucket, and process the entire lot later on. This will allow you to handle more gravel, recover and process more gold, and thereby increase you efficiency-and return.

When using a gold pan, ignore the minute specks of glittering yellow known as "flour" gold. You're only wasting time and effort. One small piece of gold no larger than a grain of rice contains more gold, by weight, than all the flour gold you can accumulate in a full day's hard panning.

However flour gold is a good indication of gold in the area. It also indicates that it has travelled a considerable distance from its original source. Therefore, when you find flour, or fine gold, move farther upstream and try again. Remember: the gold particles will continually increase in size as you approach their source.


If you are unable to find any traces of "color", then abandon that spot and try again farther upstream. But watch for other promising signs in your pan. For example, black sands, or particles that are red. green, blue, pink, transparent or metallic in color, indicate that you are in an area of mineralization. Some pyrites thought to be iron could be platinum, nickel, ruthenium. cobalt, copper, or even gold and silver.


 Some of the early prospectors used mercury in their recovery work, and lost large quantities of it in streams over the years. Mercury will amalgamate with gold, forming small greyish balls. In the Cariboo River area of B.C., platinum has been recovered along with the gold.  The Tullameen and Silkimeen Rivers are the only rivers in the Province where gold and platinum are known to have been recovered side by side. The prospectors in the Similkameen region considered the silvery-white metal worthless, however, and discarded it. 





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Lists of Equipment, Supplies and Camp Gear


That I would Recommend for Prospecting for a week or a month


Equipment needed to Prospect or Hand Mine


1.   Gold pans 2-3 testing, and finishing.

2.   Snuffer Bottles.

3.   Tweezers.

4.   1-2-5 oz display bottles for gold.

5.   Pill bottles for potential gold nuggets.

6.   Magnet for Black sands.

7.   Plastic canisters for concentrates.- 5-10 plastic tobacco or coffee cans depending on length of time in field.

8.   Plastic 20 litre oil pails, clean washed ones for packing gravels to the highbanker or stream sluice, it pays to have anywhere from 4 to 20 depending on room in vehicle.

9.   2 to 3 round mouth shovels, as handles break fairly easily.

10. 3 picks, one normal pick, one mattock, and one fire axe just for bush.

11. 1 heavy duty pry bar, 4-6 ft long, for moving boulders.

12. 1 short pry bar for bedrock.

13. 2 heavy duty hand trowels.

14. 1 whisk broom for cleaning bedrock.

15. Set of tools, wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers, pliers, Visegrips, and so forth, for fixing truck, pump and what have you, there are no garages out in the bush.

16. Hammer, handsaw, small crosscut saw, small chain saw, for building things and trees across roads and trails.

17. Rope 200ft ¼ inch, 200 ft3/4 inch you will never know when it will get you out of a pinch.

18. 1-2 come-along winches, gets you unstuck, and moving boulders and blown down trees.

19. 2 Axes for cutting firewood and shaping trees into whatever you need.

20. Stream sluice for testing, optional.

21. Highbanker sluice for prospecting and or hand mining, small 8 inch for prospecting or 12 inch for hand mining.

22. Small 50-80 gpm gasoline powered pump.

23. 100 to 400 ft of 1 ½ inch firehose for pump.

24. 2 sets of screens, 20 mesh and 80 mesh for classifying concentrates.

25. Large 10 gal tub for finishing concentrates back at camp after working all day.

26. Large backpack for packing everything into site.

27. Small knapsack for packing things back and forth every day.

28. Large Bear Spray for every day trips.

29. Defender 12 Gauge if you can get one is advisable.

30. 12 inch Bowie Knife comes in real handy just about any time

31. First Aid kits large one for camp, small knapsack one for field.

32, Rubber water proof boots, and patching kit or hip waders.

33. Wheelbarrow rubber tired heavy duty.

34. 1 set of heavy duty cross bar tire chains; these will really help in mud and such!!


This doesn’t cover you grub or clothing.


               Supplies for a Month of Hand Mining or Prospecting.


 The thing that people should take into consideration when batching out in the bush is the wildlife, so if you don’t want to be overrun by unwelcome critters I recommend taking dry goods and canned goods as your staples for your diet, for produce without secured refrigeration is just going to go bad and smell to high heaven which wildlife with their very attuned noses can smell for miles, just what you want a grizzly or black bear tearing up your camp, better yet a wolverine friendly little critter that will be your worst nightmare!!


List of recommended groceries for a month per person prospecting/placer mining.


1.  10 lbs flour mixed with Baking Powder Recipe or Biscuit Pancake and Biscuit mix.

2.  5 lbs sugar

3.  1 can pepper

4.  2 lbs salt

5.  1 can seasoned salt

6.  4 lbs coffee

7.  1-2 lbs tea

8.  2-3 lbs coffee whitener

9.  20-30 lbs processed canned meats

10. 15 lbs canned stew

11. 15 lbs canned chilli

12. 15-30 canned tomatoes

13. 10 lbs dry pasta

14. 5 lbs rice

15. 30 packages of dry soups

16. 30 canned soups

17. 3 lbs dried egg mix

18. 10 lbs dried potatoes

19. 10 lbs dried fruit

20. 5 lbs crackers

21. 10 lbs cookies

22. 2 lbs jams

23. 2 lbs peanut butter

24. 5 lbs margarine if you have some way to keep submerged and cool in a creek

25. 5-10 lbs dried jerky kept in an airtight container.


This should keep you well fed and can be supplemented with fish or small game animals easily enough, as you can see there is some variety afforded but not a lot.




                           Camping Equipment Requirements


The equipment required for rough camping varies from individual to size of group that is camping; this is what I would recommend for the individual or up to four person expeditions. This is assuming that you can drive into where you will be setting up your base camp.


1.   Industrial sized Level 1 First Aid Kit

2.   Knapsack sized First Aid Kit

3.   Communication device, be it Truck to Truck radio or GPS Locater

4.   Heavy Canvas tent to meet the requirements of the group size

5.   Cots or Air mattresses for number of persons involved

6.   Coleman type gas lanterns, can be used for light and heat

7.   Coleman type stove, the older style will work just as well on regular Gasoline or mixed

8.   Folding canvas chairs are good to have along

9.   Axes for firewood

10. Chainsaw

11. Extra tarp and ropes

12. Cooking utensils

13. Large frying pan

14. Several pots and pans

15. Grill large enough to place over fire pit

16. Garbage Bags

17. Tupperware type containers several

18. Bug Dope

19. Flashlights couple

20. Dish pans and soaps and dishtowels

21. Extra matches and Lighters

22. Toilet Paper, 1-2 rolls per person per week

23. Buckets for water

24. Bear Spray one per person

25. 1-2 rifles or defender shotguns if possible

26. Heavy Duty sleeping bags

27. Mosquito netted boonie hats highly recommended

28. Deck of cards and selection of reading materials for entertainment








I do have a copper pan that I find I like using, had it for quite a number of years, and it just feel comfortable, also use the  plastic pans as well.

Old Maps of the Cariboo Gold Fields








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