Gold Panning

Gold Panning

Gold Prospecting - Gold panning

An old time Gold Prospector panning his gold

Gold panning is the art & science of refining material collected from a river or other source with the intention of leaving just the heaviest materials behind – materials with a low specific gravity (are light) should be excluded from the gold pan if the procedure is carried out correctly.

 How Gold Panning Works

Gold panning works on one basic principle – that more dense objects sink and lighter objects will float on top of those heavier objects. This process can be clearly illustrated using the image below –

gold panning & density

gold panning & density

As you can see from the image to the left the most dense items sink to the bottom (bolt), while as you move higher up the liquids and items get increasingly lighter or less dense (lamp oil and ping pong ball). This basic principle of physics is essentially how a gold pan works.

When water is added to the mixture of river gravels you have taken from a riverbed you are using the water to create a system within the gold pan similar to the image on the left. When the material is in the gold pan, the panner (you), shakes the pan in an attempt to make liquefaction occur, this will allow all materials in the pan to “float” within the water for a brief matter of milliseconds. This will result in lighter materials making their way to the top of the pan and more dense materials being left at the bottom, continuing this process will create layers within the gold pan similar to the image above of the liquids.

Generally speaking the most dense things found in your pan (if you are in a gold bearing area) could be Platinum, Gold, Lead and Black Sands containing Hematite and Magnetite.

Hematite and Magnetite are the worst enemies of many Gold Prospectors as they can get to very near the same specific gravity as gold, and as such can be a nightmare to get rid of. Many prospectors carry a small Neodynium Magnet around with them to get rid of these materials – thankfully they are mildly magnetic.

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