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Panning for Gold

Hand-coloured print of Goldwashing in Lunenburg, 1861.

Placer gold can be mined by panning. River sediments are gathered in the pan with water and swished around. Gold is heavier than sediment and sinks to the bottom of the pan.

Want to see gold panning in action?

Check out the following series of videos with Nova Scotia prospector Fred Walsh. Or, you can watch the full video on YouTube at: http://youtu.be/3LsW8QdVkzM.

Panning for Gold, part 1. Where to Start?

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TRANSCRIPT

A good spot right there.

Hi, I'm Fred Walsh and I'm with the Nova Scotia Prospectors Association here in Nova Scotia and today we're just going to do a little demonstration on gold and where to find it.

The beauty about panning is gold is 19 times heavier than water, which means it always sinks to the bottom.

So, we're at a streambed here, and where to look? It's a good question. The streams coming down and as you can see it's meandering all over the place there. One side of it, you can see, is beautifully clean and well-scoured and that's just the way the water works.

On the opposite side over here of this stream, we see some sediment gathering. It deposits. It scours on the leeward side there and brings it all in and pushes it against the bank. That's where you look for the gold.

Now, gold, being 19 times heavier than water, there is no sense in taking the shovel and sticking it in on top of the sediment there unless it was just deposited 5 minutes ago, but it's not likely. It's always going to be on the bottom.

Now, the beauty about streams and that sort of thing, most of them go down to the bedrock, and that's where you want to go, you want to go deep. You want to get at the sediment below. You've got to get in there and get down and get in deep.

So, I'm going to go and, first thing I do, as you can see I've got screens and my pan, and without trying to get too wet and take a good picture of me getting drowned...

Panning for Gold, part 2. How to Pan for Gold

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TRANSCRIPT

So, basically, I'm going to start in here and we've got some granite boulder, but that's nothing. We're always looking for quartz, always looking for quartz in this area.

We're going to get down and we're going to scrape into the edge. And this is just a preliminary -and this is a beautiful stream for doing this - and we're going to shake, and as you can see, lots of little boulders and if you look, I've got my pan underneath.

I'll pick out the big stuff. And you look through that every now and then just to see if there's a piece of quartz in there, might have a gold nugget or something on it, you never know. And you check through that, not finding anything of course. And go to the second screen and as you can see, the real fine stuff ends up in the pan. This is the sort of stuff we're looking for.

And again, this is a very fine screen, so if there's little nuggets in there, we'll just hold that off. And what I find, if I've got what we call "flour" gold in here, then I'm going to start - because of the fineness of this screen - I'll look through that, I'll pan through that a little later.

Panning for Gold, part 3. Goldwashing

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TRANSCRIPT

We're down to what they call the "concentrate" or the "finds".

And, always keeping your pan under the water and at a good angle. So that you see, see how it's dribbling over the edge? Believe it or not, that's the lighter stuff that's going out over the edge

If you put this in too deeply, like you put it up too deeply and stuff's going over too fast, you're going to lose everything.

What I suggest to first-time panners are those little BB shots. You put 3 of them in there, those little steel BB shots. If you've still got them when you're finished panning, then you did it right and there's no gold there if you can't find any. But if they're gone, then you don't have any gold either

What is "flour" gold?
Basically, you can mistake it for flour. Very tiny, tiny particles of gold.

Panning for Gold, part 4. Where’s the Gold?

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TRANSCRIPT

So all of these creases can capture gold. And if you look in the creases, you may see little flakes. Now, if you're not sure if they're gold or whatever, one of the easiest ways to check it - and almost everybody's got a pocket knife - and you find one of those little particles, like that one right there, and you push your knife against it.

If it crumbles, like that crumbled, it's not gold.
It's probably a pyrite or might be a mica in this case.

Little pieces of mica can actually look like gold.
So you just take the pocket knife and press it against it, and if it crumbles and crunches, it's not gold. Gold always impresses; you can't break gold, the knife sinks into gold.

We get down to what they call the concentrate and you see the specks that go up here in the corner, that's where the gold would be.

Ah, they're mica. Yeah, breaks with a fingernail.
But as you can see, there's a pile of mica here!

If I haven't found any flour gold, then usually I'm not going to find any nugget gold, so I'm not too worried about this and we can put that back in the stream.

So, anyway, that's basically the down and dirty of panning for gold. But as you notice also, even though I dug up the stream - with a shovel and a pan and this sort of equipment - there's no damage done to the stream. As a matter of fact, a rainstorm would do 10 times more damage and fill it with more sediment than you could ever dream about and that I would ever do with the pan and my little gear I've got here.

And this is basically, all you need to start.