Useful Tips For Soil Skimmers
If you’re reading this it probably means you want to get out and find some treasure, but you’re not sure where to start? You’re probably thinking “what do I need for metal detecting?” Well read on – help is at hand. As an experienced detectorist I can help you make some informed decisions while avoiding unnecessary expense.
The fully equipped fieldsman will probably have accrued quite an array of tools over the years but you, as a beginner, won’t need too much. You just need a few basic items – the rest you can collect as and when.
The basic “must have” items (in addition to warm waterproof clothing, footwear, gloves and hat) are: Detector, spade and bag.
There’s no definitive answer to what’s the best detector, whether for a beginner or a veteran. There are a multitude of detectors available and more are coming on the market all the time. As a novice you will want to keep it simple, because a machine with too many bells and whistles would be complicated to use, and could put you off detecting even before you start.
One of the most commonly recommended entry level detectors – and the first “professional” model that I bought – is the Garrett Ace 250. It’s easy to use, and it does find stuff. In fact, I found my one and only (to date) gold coin with my Ace 250, and I’ve seen plenty of other top finds with the same model, including a stash of Roman hack silver – from around the 3rd
century AD – now known as the Dairsie Hoard.
I’ve often heard it said that no matter how good your detector is, you’ve got be to over it to find it. If you’re over a decent target with this machine you’ll most likely get a good solid signal, unless it’s too deep to be within range. See here for full product details and latest price.
Another entry level machine, which is a radical alternative to the normal design, is the Minelab Go-Find series. This detector is in the low price range, is light (at only a fraction over 1kg) and folds up to 21.5in/54cm. By simply sliding off the arm-rest, it can be shortened even further, to 19in/48cm, and the widest part (the rectangular search head) is only 7in/18cm wide. This makes it easy to conceal and compact enough to carry in a backpack.
It’s collapsibility makes it an ideal machine for packing in a suitcase, and its low cost means that it’s not a huge loss if it was to be damaged, stolen or confiscated.
In fact, I bought a Go-Find 40 – specifically to take abroad. In the Dominican Republic I detected a couple of beaches there with some success. In only three or four hours of searching I found about ninety coins and several pieces of gold and silver jewellery.
The coil is fully submersible, which is great for shallow water, however, be aware that the control panel is not waterproof.
Apparently, the Go-Find series can also be used via a mobile phone app for recording finds, identifying coins and sharing them on Facebook. You can also listen to music, from your phone, through Bluetooth earphones. I prefer to use plug-in earphones with my Go-Find – which are not supplied – however any standard 3.5mm jack phones will do.
This is truly a switch on and go machine, simple for anyone to use, and will easily reach coins at seven or eight inches – maybe more.
A decent quality spade is definitely required, and there are many available. I bought a cheap Draper digging spade but it soon broke when I used too much leverage. I found that where the handle fits over the hollow shaft, and is held on by a rivet, is a weak point which tears, so I wouldn’t recommend that one.
However I then bought an almost identical looking spade, made by Roughneck, which has a solid shaft. It cost around £20 and after about three years of hard use is still going strong.
There is one drawback with this spade though; it’s quite short (27in/69cm) which for taller people, or those with back problems, may not be suitable. For those who don’t want to bend and stoop so much, there’s a longer (33in/84cm) more expensive model – the Evolution Pro Cut – that many detectorists swear by. It’s made entirely of steel, with serrated edges, is practically indestructible, and should last a lifetime.
A good bag is essential, for storing your finds and collecting rubbish, such as aluminium cans and lumps of iron. Some detectors (Garrett in particular) come with a bag supplied. Otherwise, there are lots of different ones on the market to choose from depending on your preference, including backpacks, shoulder bags and belt bags. Some are basic, while others have several pockets and pouches, allowing for storage of handy items, such as spare batteries, food or drink.
Anything more than the detector, spade and bag, could be considered an extra, or a luxury, that’s not strictly needed to get you out detecting. However, some “luxury” items will make your detecting experience much easier and better.
A pinpointer is a case in point (no pun intended). When I began detecting pinpointers hadn’t been invented. If you dug a signal and the target wasn’t clearly visible, you had to grab handfuls of soil and hold them to the coil until you heard the beep to tell you the target was in your hand. It’s hard to believe now that that was the case, but that was just normal back in the day.
Most modern detectors have an integral pinpoint facility. This can help with more accurate digging, and for locating the rough target area in a spoil heap, but it’s no substitute for a hand-held pointer.
Nowadays, without the use of a pointer, you will still need to use the ‘soil to coil’ technique. With a hand-held pinpointer you can easily locate coins and even the tiniest pieces of metal that would otherwise be impossible to find. For the serious detectorist, a pinpointer is a necessary piece of kit.
One of the best pinpointers is undoubtedly the Garrett Pro-Pointer AT aka the Garrett Carrot.
This has both tone and vibrate settings, as well as several sensitivities to choose from, and is fully submersible to 10ft. I have one which has served me well for years.
Before that, I had a Makro Pinpointer, which is also waterproof, however I had problems not only with the battery connection, but also with the design of the holster that is included with the pointer. Some searchers like to keep their pointer switched on constantly when detecting, with the holster clipped to their trouser belt, however, this isn’t feasible with the Makro Pinpointer, as there’s a metal stud which causes it to bleep continuously when sheathed.
There’s little difference in price between them, so out of these two pointers I would opt for the Garrett Carrot. Cheaper pinpointers are available but I can’t vouch for their performance.
However, regardless of your budget, I wouldn’t advise you to buy a pinpointer immediately, just in case you decide, after having a go, the hobby isn’t for you. If you do go out detecting though, you could easily become hooked, as many people are, at which point you will realise that you need to get hold of a pointer – asap!
Another tool you’ll find handy is some form of trowel. Sometimes, when you’ve removed a plug of soil, further digging is needed – often into the side of the hole. You may find it awkward to excavate with your spade, without risking damage to the target or making a mess of a lawn, for instance. Or, you may need to dig through root-infested or gravelly soil. This is where a trowel becomes extremely useful.
You may have an old garden trowel lying around that you can use, otherwise one can easily be found at a garden centre for about £10. Narrow, steel bladed trowels are probably the best for our purposes, but regardless of their design they have a tendency to bend or break after a while. Personally, I snapped several trowels over the years before I found an alternative.
Special digging tools are available that have been designed with the detectorist in mind: The Garrett Edge Digger is one that I’ve found invaluable.
A bit like a cross between a trowel and a knife, it has serrated edges on a thick steel blade, that can pierce frozen ground and cut through roots or hard packed soil. For the price of one of these you could probably go through three trowels and still have to keep buying and breaking more, so the edge digger is a worthwhile investment.
The above information is simply based on my own experience and honest opinions. I hope it has been of some help to you in answering your question – what do I need for metal detecting?