How To Use a Metal Detector


Metal detecting is often interesting and potentially very rewarding activity. The ground of different areas hides many secrets, and discoveries of various treasures are possible. These happen daily, and people who metal detect often find many interesting items.

However, it is necessary to know some important things to avoid trouble. Not all countries have the same laws regarding this matter, but you have to know if you have a legal right to detect metal in some places.

Using a metal detector is a relatively simple process, but you should follow a few key steps to get the best results. Here are the steps to follow when using a metal detector:

  1. Assemble the metal detector according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This typically involves attaching the search coil to the control box and connecting any additional components, such as headphones or a display screen.
  2. Adjust the settings on the metal detector according to your preferences and the conditions you will be searching in. This may include adjusting the sensitivity, ground balance, and discrimination settings.
  3. Hold the metal detector with both hands, with the search coil parallel to the ground. Slowly sweep the search coil back and forth across the ground, making sure to overlap your sweeps slightly to ensure that you are covering the entire area.
  4. Listen for an audio signal or watch for a visual indication on the display screen that a metal object has been detected. When you receive a signal, stop and carefully mark the location of the signal with a flag or marker.
  5. Dig up the metal object using a tool such as a trowel or a pick. Be careful not to damage the object or the surrounding area when digging.
  6. Identify and evaluate the metal object that you have found. Use the information provided by the metal detector, such as the depth and the type of metal detected, to help you determine the value and significance of the object.

Overall, using a metal detector is a simple process involving assembling the metal detector, adjusting the settings, sweeping the search coil over the ground, and identifying and evaluating any metal objects found.

Metal detecting is not hard, and you can start as a beginner by learning in small yards and local areas until you master techniques and methods. You can transfer to more complex metal-detecting tasks when you complete that step. In the article below, you can find important details every beginner should know, so that’s a good reason to continue reading.

Basics of Getting Started

When assembling the metal detector, most have you attach the search coil to the bottom of the lower shaft, ensuring you wrap the cable attaching the top of the metal detector to the coil. Wrapping the cable will help prevent false readings. Some metal detectors will have you connect the armrest, connect all the shaft pieces, and then add the search coil. Just make sure you follow the specific directions for your model.

Once it is all connected, you need to add in your batteries, normally just some double As, and then turn it on. Most detectors have basic mode settings where you can detect either all types of metal or you can fine-turn and only search for gold or silver.

Normally if you get a higher-end type of detector like a Garrett GTI 2500 you will have some more advanced settings to adjust as well, ground balancing, setting noise, thresholds, setting discriminations, and sensitivity.

Ideally, if you have a local metal detecting group you can visit or join, there will be people there who would be more than willing to take you out, walk you through getting started, and show you the techniques of getting started. I have a list of clubs in each state, and I try to keep it as up-to-date as possible.

If you do not have that option, there are a few safe places to start and practice. Start with your backyard; if that is not an option, try a nearby park. Most towns will not have an issue with people metal detecting in their local parks, but some will require you to have a permit which you can normally get from your local town for around $10 or so.

One other option is BLM lands. With BLM land, you can freely detect without any issues at all. You can get online and look up BLM lands close to you, or I use OnX Hunt Map App. Hunters mainly use it to find public or private land to hunt on, and it provides contact info for the landowner, but it also shows you BLM lands.

Once you are out and ready to start, you will want to ground balance your metal detector unless it has an automatic ground balance feature. Ground balancing is normally done by holding the ground balance button on your detector and then quickly pumping your detector up and down close to the ground until the signal noise fades away.

Ground Balancing the Garrett AT PRO

Different Metal Detector Models

As you may know, there are different metal detectors on the market, so you must select the most appropriate one for your needs. Not all have the same capabilities and specifications, so that the results might vary depending on the circumstances. When you already have a metal detector, it is also necessary to know its strengths and weaknesses. That’s how you can maximize efficiency while achieving the best results.

For example, some metal detectors are waterproof (Like the Garrett AT Pro), so you can use these on river banks and beaches where the situation requires entering the water. You cannot, of course, go too deep because, however, you can metal detect some areas that are covered with shallow water.

Still, you would not be able to perform such an activity with a metal detector that does not have water protection, and that’s one of the reasons why you have to understand your device properly.

Some other specifications are also very important and can save you a lot of time and energy during the process. For example, the heaviness of metal detectors is not the same all the time, and some of these items weigh more, others less. Using a lightweight model is good because the exploration can sometimes take hours, and you would reduce the strain that a heavy device can cause on your hands and body.

Not all of these devices have the same shape. Some are, for example, developed for kids (Like the Garrett Ace 200), and they have limited capabilities appropriate to the activities of this group of users. Others are made for beginners to intermediates, such as the Garrett AT Pro. Those metal detectors are pretty good but still not the strongest types on the market.

However, they are generally very easy to use, so that you can master the skills pretty fast with the help of one of such devices. And there are, of course, metal detectors developed for experienced diggers. Those devices usually provide a list of excellent features.

Quality devices usually provide several important things when it comes to settings. They give you a chance to make an appropriate selection during exploration. For example, you may investigate an area with a lot of trash so you can adjust the settings to avoid items made of materials such as iron. Although, if you want to find cool items like this 50lb chunk of metal from the treads of an old Caterpillar D8H Crawler Tractor / Dozer (1958-1974), we found and dug up, you will need to have the iron setting turned on.

Quality metal detectors also allow you to adjust the appropriate detection mode. It can also help you avoid useless items while discovering only important ones, including jewelry, coins, and other potentially valuable artifacts made of metal. For example, if you are at a beach, you may only want to turn on just the gold setting to find only rings, or you may want silver turned on to find coins and other types of jewelry.

You should also be able to set up the appropriate sensitivity of your device by the type of ground where you perform the explorations. For example, higher sensitivity can help you to find out more. However, it is even better to lower the sensitivity if the ground contains inappropriate iron.

Again if you are on a beach, turning the sensitivity way up will help you find things much deeper in the sand. If you have a good sand scoop digging through the sand is very easy.

There are handheld plastic scoops, and there are full-length metal scoops that work similarly to shovels. They both have larger holes to let the sand fall out quickly while keeping your treasures inside the scoop.

All you need to do is shake them, and then the sand will fall right out, and if you are close to the water, you can dip the scoop into the water, and the sand will fall out even quicker. Since sand is fairly easy to dig through, you can dig deeper than you normally would if you were in a park.

Normally in a park, you are not allowed to dig holes all over; you are normally only allowed to use the probe method.

You can test these with and without your metal detector to learn more about the ground and area. It is usually not a hard thing to achieve for some more experienced investigators. They know from past events what they can expect by fast testing a location.

In some locations, the ground can be extremely hard, and you will have difficulty digging for what you are looking for, especially if you only have a small hand shovel.

You should also test your device before every search. That’s how you will know everything is working properly and not make a blind exploration. You can, for example, bury several metal items at different places in the ground and let your metal detector find them. That’s not going to be a problem if your device is working properly, so you can be sure everything is alright with the device.

Batteries, batteries, batteries. Always make sure you have plenty of extras. Metal detectors normally do not just burn through batteries quickly, but if you have just driven hours to get to your location and you are out in the middle of nowhere on BLM land with no towns or stores close by, your detector dies. It would be best if you had batteries that can put a huge damper on your trip.

Additional Equipment

A metal detector is the most important part of the equipment. However, other additional items are quite necessary for this kind of activity. They can help you increase the efficiency of the explorations while protecting your body and health.

For example, the ground can contain many unexpected potentially harmful items. Some of these might even harm you during digging, so it is recommended to use some protective equipment.

Durable and strong gloves are probably the most important when it comes to that matter. Dex Fit gloves are excellent for this; they come in many sizes and colors and are reasonably priced. They can keep your hands safe while exploring the ground. There is nothing like using your hands to brush away dirt only to find out that the metal you have been digging for has a sharp edge, and you just sliced your finger open.

Protective knee pads are also necessary; any style or brand will do that. However, the Bodyprox protective knee pads slip on easily without any straps to deal with. Even if you are younger and think, “oh, I can get down on my knees just fine.”

Getting up and down close to 100 times if you are out detecting for the afternoon will certainly do a number on your knees, especially if you didn’t notice that rock in the grass that is now pressed hard into your knee, and you bend down to start digging. They can keep your knees safe during digging, so you will not have to worry too much about the potentially problematic surface of the ground.

Headphones are also useful during exploration; normally, when you buy a metal detector, they come with headphones. If you buy a set, there are many different brands. Ideally, it is best to buy the brand of headphones that match your metal detector. Sometimes, the sounds from surrounding areas, such as highways, can prevent you from hearing metal detector signals.

You would then lose a chance to discover valuable artifacts and items. Headphones are also very useful in places such as parks and beaches. They not only drown out the noise of kids playing or the sounds of the ocean, but it is also just polite to keep all the constant beeping from disturbing everyone around you.

You may or may not care since you are out in a public area, but it is polite and respectful to have headphones on when you are around many other people. That’s why you should have a pair of quality ones.

Kids are another thing to remember when you are at a beach or a park. More times than not, you will have a kid or kids come over and watch you and want to know what you are doing. Especially if you tell them you are looking for treasure in the ground. I have also had plenty of kids ask if they can have the coins I pull out of the ground.

When you discover an item in the ground, it might be quite deep, so it is also important to have tools to dig it out safely and efficiently. A little shovel or trowel can help you perform this activity while keeping the ground of surrounding areas in good shape. Do not forget to fill the hole when you pull out the item because that’s by the code of conduct of professional diggers.

You should also have an appropriate bag to collect all your discoveries. This equipment should be of the proper size, according to your search type. Sometimes, it is possible to find many items at the same location, so you will need to store these quickly. It also doesn’t hurt to have a separate bag just for the trash you find.

If you dig it out of the ground and it is trash, keep it with you and throw it away. Do not put it back on the ground or toss it to the side. Yes, you will likely be digging a lot of trash out of the ground, and it can get annoying, but don’t leave it behind.

Having an appropriate bag or cover for your detector is also suitable. This equipment might prevent possible damages that may reduce the device’s efficiency. Normally when you buy a metal detector, it will come with a bag like this, but not always; make sure you check when buying one.

Metal detectors are vulnerable to hits and scratches. Unfortunately, these happen more often on terrain, and a good bag can protect your device from accidents.

Quality equipment generally has a higher price. However, it saves money in the long run. If you, for example, purchase a cheap and low-quality shovel or bag, it might break out immediately after stumbling onto a harder obstacle. On the other hand, good quality equipment can endure far more, so you will not lose money by buying a useless product.

Select The Appropriate Location For Metal Detecting

Choosing the right location for metal detection is also one of the crucial steps in the entire procedure. There are various areas where you can find different interesting things and hidden treasures in the ground; however, you are not permitted to use the metal detector everywhere. That’s why it is necessary to check the locations where you can perform this kind of exploration without any obstacles.

You can usually go to state and local parks, beaches, woodland, meadows, and so on without issues in the United States.  Many towns and cities will require you to pay for a permit (normally about $10) before you can dig in these locations.

As mentioned, digging for artifacts from official historic sites and national parks is not allowed. Still, it does not mean that you cannot find very valuable discoveries at some alternative destinations.

The history of humankind has been full of important events. However, many of these are poorly documented, and people know very few things, if anything, about them. It is quite easy to find a historical site because some objects usually survived the passing of time, so they still exist.

However, there have also been many historically important locations still waiting to be discovered by someone. Finding these is usually not easy because they typically do not exist on the surfaces. However, the ground often hides the mysteries of these locations, and various items are still buried in those places.

If you are wise enough, it is not impossible to find some of those locations, and many detectorists have already done something similar in the past. For example, many battles during the Civil War in America took place all over the country.

Many soldiers died, and they lost personal property at the same moment. Those generally include money, jewelry, and different types of weaponry. Some of their bodies stayed in unmarked graves, and no one today knows they were buried there.

Some investigators succeed in finding such mass burial places, thanks to their metal detectors. However, they first explored the history of the area and the Civil War. They used all available documents to get precise coordinates and successfully finished the mission.

It is not an easy task, but it is possible. You should, however, always report such discoveries to the authorities because it is your legal obligation. The sights of that type have significant historical value, so that’s a must to do.

If you need something easier, you should consider going to a beach, for example. Many people often lose valuable items, such as jewelry and coins, in those locations, and you could discover these with the metal detector. I am very surprised at the amount of jewelry worn to the beach, especially expensive wedding rings.

372574 KellycoTest 728x90 021519, Treasure Valley Metal Detecting Club

Start Detecting

Metal detecting is not hard to get started with. However, you have to follow some steps to avoid mistakes during searching. For example, the head of the device (called the coil) has to have an appropriate position just above the ground.

It would be best if you did not hold it too high because you might lose a chance to make interesting discoveries. It has to be as close to the surface as possible, but you still need enough space to move around freely.

While walking through the area, you should keep a straight line. As you walk, you can slowly move the detector from side to side, keeping it close to the ground. Many detectorists say, “slow and low, slow and low.”

When you hear a beep, it is time to stop searching and start digging. The detector might give you precise coordinates so you know how deep you must dig. You can use your little shovel for this purpose. Your metal detector will also help pinpoint the exact location, so you do not need to dig a large hole.

When you pull an item out, you can store it in your bag and fill the hole back in. If you are digging and have a hard time finding the item, you can stand back up and use your detector, or the better option is a good pinpointer that you can use inside the hole to locate your item better.

Chapter 7 – What Are The Metal Detecting Laws?

Go here to read our Beginners Guide To Metal Detecting.

Jason Smith

I am a Marine who now works as a Web Developer. I have five US States left to visit. I like whiskey, wine, and coffee, soaking in hot springs or in my hot tub.

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