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How to pan for gold without a pan

Updated November 21, 2016

Gold pans are relatively cheap, whether they are metal or plastic, and are well worth the investment if you plan on panning for gold frequently. But what if you are out in the field without a pan, and suddenly you need one? During the California gold rush, the "forty-niners" used spoons moulded from cattle horns. Improvising your own gold pan is certainly no new idea; nor is it very difficult.

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  1. Select a moderately sized tub or bowl.

  2. Fill the tub or bowl one-half to three-fourths full of ore.

  3. Add water to the container and break up any clumps of clay or dirt with your hands.

  4. Remove all rocks that are larger than 1 square inch. Wash these stones carefully so that all sand attached to them stays in the tub or bowl.

  5. Tilt the tub or bowl away from you and shake gently back and forth so that the gold can settle downward.

  6. Wash the lighter materials off of the gravel surface very slowly and carefully by allowing the lip of the container to extend below the surface of the water. Raising and lowering the tub or bowl should cause a the water to flow gently over the lip and carry light sediment back out into the river.

  7. Repeat both the shaking process and the process of washing the lightest material out of the tub or bowl. This procedure must be repeated many times, because gold will not always fall straight to the bowl's bottom.

  8. Swirl the ore gently into a crescent formation in the bottom rim of the container when only a few tablespoons of gravel remain.

  9. Remove large nuggets by hand and use tweezers for the finer pieces of gold.

  10. Tip

    It is crucial that your improvised gold pan is very clean; its size and shape are less important. The best location for panning is somewhere that you can sit down or maintain a steady balance.


    Be careful not to slip and fall into the river with your gold pan.

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Things You'll Need

  • Tub or bowl
  • Ore
  • Tweezers
  • River or other flowing water

About the Author

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