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Roger Weller, geology instructor

Gold Panning
by Robert Michael Posey IV
Physical Geology
Fall 2009

Gold Panning


File:Gold Pan.jpg

Picture from


Gold panning, it used to be the most common form of gold prospecting. Not too many people seem to do it anymore. Itís not like there are people outside knee deep in the Sacramento River with gold pans in hand anymore. It seems crazy to try to pan commercially now. After all Californiaís rivers are tapped out of gold and the Alaska Rivers are sucked dry of gold. So gold panning must be obsolete right? Maybe itís not as obsolete as you might think. However, gold panning is in fact still in use today.


Commercial uses


          Gold panning still has some commercial value. Usually it is for taking samples or finding gold in rivers before the expenses of bringing in larger equipment is paid by mining companies. This allows mining companies to have a better idea of what a particular river or stream has in gold. That way a mining company can accurately judge if bringing in the heavier equipment would be worth the cost.

Gold panning is also used in regions where bringing in heavy equipment is too expensive or dangerous. Many regions in Alaska where mountain roads are constantly iced over making it near impossible to move in heavy equipment are locations where gold panning is often in use. Also, unindustrialized nation sometimes use gold panning commercially. These nations often cannot afford the manufacture of heaver and more powerful gold mining equipment or lack the infrastructure to transport this equipment.




Gold panning has a large amount of historical value as well. Many outdoor education camps teach gold panning skills as a way of showing how prospectors found gold. These camps often use real gold to teach the skills to students, often letting students keep what gold they find. Gold panning was often used in the past and was quite profitable. Records show that some times as much as 92 ounces of gold could be recovered in one gold pan. That translates to about 50,000 American dollars at todayís gold exchange rates.




Private use

Gold panning is still used often by private citizens today.  These people may be just out for the fun or they may be looking for gold as a way to supplement their income. Although stories of fifty hundred thousand pay outs are quite rare a single ounce of gold still often pulls an astounding 1,000 dollars.


How To Gold pan


Gold panning is quite simple to do. The first step is to acquire a gold panning kit. The prices of the kits can run from 20 dollars to 150 dollars. I would recommend a kit that includes vials, a classification grate as well as both a pan and a smaller finishing pan. The classification grate allows you to take out anything but silts which are more likely to hold gold flakes.  Below is a picture as well as a web address to a good gold panning kit.

Picture belongs to Gold Prospects Supply Company. Permission pending




The next step is to choose your sample. You can take this from a dry part of the stream as well as a wet part. The third step is to pick a spot with water to do your actual panning. This is recommended to be an area with at least six inches of water with a mild current. Makes sure the current is not to strong as to sweep away any gold you might have collected. Next you should gently break apart the collected material so it becomes saturated. Now you are ready to begin the actual panning.





Now begin to gently shake the pan back and forth to the left and right being careful so not to slush any material out of the pan. As you do this the lighter materials will make their way to the top and the heaver materials (like gold) will work their way down to the bottom. Once the top has collected larger rocks gently sweep them out of your pan. Then proceed to repeat the last few steps until most of the medium sized materials have been swept clear of your pan.






Now comes the next stage, tilt your pan to an angle so that the material left in the bottom barely come to the edge being careful not to let any trickle over the edge. Then move it in careful circular motions this will allow the lighter material to float up and out leaving behind darker heaver materials. When you see a large amount of darker material starts to appear or you see gold it is time to shake your pan again. By doing this it will free up the lighter materials trapped under the heaver particles.





Soon it may be time to switch over to your finishing pan. By using this smaller pan it is easier to pan all the way down to just gold. Although not necessary it will be easier to sell or store the gold if you pan everything else out of the pan. This is possible because gold is the heaviest mineral likely to end up in your pan. Once all you have left in your pan is gold then you can carefully pour (or use a sniffer bottle to catch small almost dust like flakes) the contents into a vial and there is your gold.


Some links for more information

 - A great more detailed instructions on gold panning
 Ė for all your gold shopping needs
 Ė Itís a long link but it has a great list of comparable gold panning kits.
 - for tracking the price of gold
 - History high way for those interested in the historical importance of gold panning.