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Metal Detecting Tips & Tricks for Beginners

Metal Detecting Finds 1 700x900

Want to get the most out of your metal detecting adventures? I decided to put together this master list of metal detecting tips and tricks to help you get the best possible experience while treasure hunting.

If you are new to learning how to metal detect, this list of my best tips and tricks will no doubt help you get started on the right path!

Everything I Wish I Knew About Metal Detectors as a Beginner and More

This list is mostly created from my own experience out in the field {or on the beach!} – and things learned the hard way. While I knew my first few times I would likely not find anything, I wanted to really learn fast how to get good at metal detecting!

Even with good solid practice and TONS of research, I’m still learning new things every day. One of the reasons I know I will always love this hobby is because there will always be new interesting things to learn and discover! Especially the more I meet other great people who enjoy the hobby as much as I do!

So yes, it DOES get a lot easier – but it can also be pretty discouraging when you are new and still trying to learn the basics of how your machine works. It can also be frustrating to spend a few hours out somewhere only to come back with a couple of bottle caps or a rusty piece of scrap metal.

It’s important to remember those types of hunts are completely normal when you are a beginner. Don’t get discouraged if your first time out you don’t strike it rich. Fortunately, you are going to have better and better hunts with more practice.

In this list below, you are sure to learn something new or something helpful!

And, even if you are a seasoned pro familiar with the basics already, I know I always find it helpful to be reminded of things. Sure, I might “know” something, but that doesn’t always mean I remember to actually put that tip into practice!

Here are My Best Metal Detecting Tips for Beginners

1. Join a Local Club or Group

One of my favorite things to do is to meet and talk with other people who enjoy metal detecting. This is definitely one of the best ways to learn everything you can about how to have more success when you are out treasure hunting. In fact, many of these tips I would have never discovered had I not spent some time talking with other detectorists!

There are other perks of course too! You might be eligible for special club discounts for gear, or your club might have events and gatherings for things like seeded hunts and more.

One of the biggest perks of being a member of a few local organizations where I live is you are granted permission to hunt in parks and other places that normally would be off-limits for metal detecting.


2. Get the Best Metal Detector That is Within Your Budget

When I first started metal detecting, it was tempting to just get a super cheap one that was more like a toy than an actual detector. I wasn’t sure how seriously I wanted to be about starting, especially since I had never even done it before.

I decided to start with what some would consider a high entry-level/mid-level Minelab machine – the Minelab X-terra 505. For me, it’s a perfect beginner metal detector because it has a lot of more features that would help me learn more advanced techniques, such as being able to adjust ground balance and threshold settings.

If you are looking for some other different metal detecting recommendations, check out our post on Metal Detector Brands and Manufacturers where we go over the different brands and recommendations for entry-level, mid-range, and pro grade options for each.

Not sure which metal detector is right for you? We also have a very helpful guide on how to choose a metal detector.


3. Read the Owner’s Manual Often

When I bought my metal detector, the dealer rep who sold it to me told me he reviews the user manual for his machine before every hunt – even though he’s already read it a few hundred times. While that may be a little more than necessary, I do think it’s a good idea to read and re-read the manual more that once.

I’ve found every time I read through the manual I’m learning something new about the machine. I think a lot of it is simply because I’m learning more about how to metal detect so all the terminology actually is starting to make sense now!


4. Practice that Sweep!

When you are a metal detector beginner, one tip that helps a lot is learning the correct way to swing the coil over the ground – also known as sweeping.

For most machines, this means learning how to keep the coil close to the ground and maintain the same distance from the ground so that the coil is always parallel – otherwise things like depth or other signals from the machine could be misleading.

I think the term Sweep is a very good word for it – because it’s better to think of your metal detector as a vacuum – you wouldn’t lift it up high in the air with each swing like you would if you were swinging a golf club.

The best part? You can practice this all the time right in your own backyard. And if you’re like me with a lumpy, bumpy, rocky terrain type of yard that’s even better for developing that perfect consistent sweep over the ground.


5. Review Metal Detecting Safety

I’m a mom, so yeah, sorry, you are definitely going to get a reminder on safety here! Staying safe is important, especially if you are detecting in remote areas where you could encounter all sorts of unpredictable things like wildlife and extreme weather.

Our post on Metal Detecting Safety 101 is sure to help you make sure you’re prepared for whatever you might encounter while you are out on your treasure hunting adventures.


6. Build a Practice Garden

This is another great tip I learned as a beginner that I really do think made a huge difference on my ability to distinguish different types of signals and judge what and when to dig for.

A practice garden is when you take a plot of soil and seed it with things you know are there and can identify. A few people I’ve met also call this a “coin garden” or “spoon garden” – depending on who you talk to.

For example, you might put in something like a sterling silver spoon, a silverplate spoon, a gold ring, coins of all types – old wheat pennies, half dollars, quarters, etc. Just be sure you don’t bury any coins that are in good condition or have collector value!

You can mark the items with wooden popsicle sticks or plastic stakes if you wish – you can also move the items around to learn what you machine sounds like at different depths – for example, 1″ below the surface, 2″ below the surface, 4″ below the surface, etc.

This will also give you some good practice on setting up your machine to know how to discriminate perfectly for certain targets.


7. Learn the Lingo

Metal detectorists sure do use some funny words and phrases! I will hopefully be adding a glossary of metal detecting words and phrases and what they mean soon.

It’s also very good to learn the basic terminology for metal detecting terms. For example, you definitely should understand what the parts of your metal detector are called. See our post on How a Metal Detector Works to learn the basic anatomy of a metal detector.


8. Learn the Metal Detecting Code of Ethics

When it comes to metal detecting, it’s important to act responsibly and ethically at all times. This means always asking for permission, never doing anything that might be viewed as shady or illegal, such as hunting near a cemetery at night, and of course never destroying a public park or someone’s yard with gigantic holes everywhere.

View the Metal Detecting Code of Ethics Here.

Not only is it important to follow the code of ethics just to be a good person, it also helps us keep the hobby of metal detecting viewed in a positive light. When people understand more about the hobby, and detectorists do not damage property or break laws, the more likely we will be able to enjoy the activity for many more generations to come.


9. Go Slow

It’s tempting to want to quickly scan a large area all at once. However, if you do that you are definitely likely going to miss a lot!

The average time for a sweep should be about 3 seconds per sweep – and then your next sweep should also slightly overlap the last.

Sometimes you may even want to go back over places you’ve hunted previously – often times you will find things you may have missed!

Slow and steady will pay off a lot more than trying to cover a large area all at once.


10. Get a Proper Shovel & Learn to Dig Plugs

There is definitely a fine art involved in learning how to properly dig up targets you find with your metal detector! You never, ever, ever want to leave big giant holes in a yard or leave a place you are detecting looking like a war happened there.

Learning how to dig the perfect plug takes some practice, but once you are able to do it successfully you will be able to metal detect in many places without damaging the lawn.

It’s also important to have a proper shovel for digging. There are a lot of great digging tools and metal detecting shovels, like the Lesche Sod Cutter Digging Tool, as well as the Lesche T-Handle Shovel.

Of course, if you’ll be detecting on shores, coastlines, or even in creeks and rivers, you may wish to also get a good sand scoop like the RTG Aluminum Sand Scoop. These are great for sifting through sand and silt when searching for treasures at the beach.

Want to learn more about digging tools? See our post on Metal Detecting Shovels to learn more.


11. Be Gentle When Digging

It’s exciting when you finally find something, and it’s all too easy when you do start digging to accidentally destroy a target that you might find.

Many of the older relics you may stumble upon are very fragile – and so you want to keep that in mind! Go gentle!

I sometimes will carry along with me a spoon and a wooden tongue-depressor sized popsicle stick for very careful loosening of dirt around a target when I find one. This is especially true when I’ve carefully researched the area ahead of time and know that fragile relics and artifacts could be a possibility while digging.


12. Bring a Frisbee

frisbee metal detecting tip

What does a frisbee have to do with metal detecting? This was another neat tip I learned from the person who taught me all about metal detecting.

When you are digging up dirt, it can be VERY hard to get that dirt all back into the hole – even if you do very carefully dig a nice and neat plug.

One of the tricks of the trade is to bring a frisbee to use to collect dirt as you dig – this way the dirt doesn’t get tracked all through the grass. If you’ve ever tried to get all the dirt on the ground back into a hole, you know this is not an easy task.

Using a frisbee makes it easy to make sure every last speck of dirt goes back where it came from.


13. In Most Cases, Dig Everything!

A lot of experienced metal detectors would argue that digging up everything can be a huge waste of time. And it is true, if you dig every ferrous signal you get you are likely going to end up with a terrible amount of rusty scrap metal.

However, there are times where the machine will have a very similar response to things that could be great finds or they might indeed just be total junk.

For this reason, you may want to give a second thought to something that appears to be junk but is registering somewhere in the 12-18 frequency range – that very likely might be a piece of jewelry!

Again, this is where practice in your own seeded garden and learning to use your ears instead of your eyes will make a big difference!

Doing your research on a site will also give you a good idea on what types of materials might be under the surface. Knowing about the history of a place can give you a good idea of whether items may be worth digging even if the signal is iffy.


14. Get a Pinpointer Metal Detector as Soon as You Can

One of the most valuable accessories for any metal detectorist is a pin pointer tool. It’s very easy to use and will help you know when you are digging if you are anywhere close to the target.

While some metal detectors have built-in pinpointing functionality {at least I know mine does!} – the size and shape of the coil can make it tricky, especially as you get into anything that is down 2-3 inches or further in the ground.

I love and recommend the Garret Pinpoint Detector, also lovingly known as the Garret Carrot by detectorists everywhere. It’s a great way to easily find something once you start digging. If you buy any accessory for metal detecting, it should definitely be a pinpointer tool of some sorts!


15. Use Smaller Coil in Trashy Areas

detecting tips for trashy areas

If you ever metal detect at a picnic pavilion or picnic area on the beach, you will sadly find a lot of trash. Things like pop can tabs, aluminum foil, and bottle caps are EVERYWHERE in those places. Of course, this also means there is a good likelihood of finding coins or lost jewelry.

The biggest advantage to a small coil is that it only covers a small area of ground. This way, it is more like a pin pointer, and you don’t have to worry so much about the coil accidentally sensing something that you know is trash.


16. Use Your Ears More Than Your Eyes

With the latest and greatest technology in the newer metal detectors, it’s terribly tempting to just go by whatever you see on the screen reading.

However, these readings are NOT always accurate – especially when dealing with things like gold jewelry. Due to the way a metal detector LCD display interprets the frequencies of different non-metallic metals, it is highly likely your machine might tell you that gold ring is just a junk target like an aluminum pop can tab.

Which leads us to our next metal detecting tip…


17. Get a Decent Set of Headphones

You don’t want to be wearing headphones that hurt your ears, nor do you want headphones that sound terribly annoying. Many metal detecting companies have headphones as an accessory, but often times you may decide you prefer to use your own.

I personally do not like ear buds at all, but my kids seem to like them for whatever reason. I personally usually wear those really big dorky kind of old school headphones  – because the sound quality is better AND they are way more comfortable for wearing.

I have also found it is helpful to wear the headphones on only one ear – this way you still have an ear that will hear anything from your surroundings, such as other people or thunder while out detecting.


18. Learn How to Ground Balance

Ground balance is a way to adjust the settings of your machine depending on your location. Most places you go will naturally have some trace amounts of mineral content in the ground. Ground balancing is a way to account for that so your machine does not register that as something to dig up.

For example, if you’re at the beach on the shores of the ocean, there will be salt water present. This salt can cause your machine to not give you accurate signals – which is often why many beach detectorists use a specifically designed beach detecting metal detector.

Some dirt, especially red clay can also have a high amount of iron. This can also cause the metal detector to not give as accurate as a reading on what is in the ground.

I usually test and adjust for ground balance every single time I go out. While this will vary from detector to detector, most mid range models or better will have some way to adjust these settings manually.


19. Study Up on Common Conductivity Display Numbers

Many metal detectors will show a conductivity number on the display of your screen. While these numbers will greatly vary depending on where you might be hunting and the ground conductivity conditions for each location individually, often times these numbers can give you some sort of clue as to what type of target you find.

For example, on my X-terra, I know if I hit anything 6 or lower it is most definitely ferrous and can generally be ignored. However, I also know if I see something anywhere between 12-18 it very cold possibly be jewelry, so I usually dig that up – even if it does end up just being an aluminum pop tab. Coins typically will have a higher conductivity display number, such as in the mid-30s to mid-40s range, depending what type of coin it is.

Each machine is a little bit different on this. Some models do not display these numbers, so it is not always necessary to know these – but if you machine does have a display with the conductivity numbers, you might as well learn to use it to your advantage!


20. Keep a Logbook/Journal

metal detecting ideas

Is keeping a logbook and journal necessary? Well, sure you could metal detect without keeping track of when, where or what you find – but at the same time, you’d be surprised how helpful these kinds of records can be!

I am easily distracted, have 3 kids, and forget stuff ALL THE TIME. Keeping track of my metal detecting activities is a great way to remember when I went detecting, where I went detecting, what types of targets I found, and more.

As someone who loves all things paper and journaling as equally as much as I love metal detecting, I have a notebook dedicated to everything metal detecting. I also created a log sheet for myself, that I’ve also made available on our website for you to download and use. This makes it super simple to keep track of everything!

Get your free metal detecting printable log sheet here.


21. Research History & Local Legends

If you want to find interesting artifacts or discover old coins, it’s important to do a little bit of research before you head out to go metal detecting. Knowing the history of an area can help you discover places that may be forgotten.

There are many places to go metal detecting, and it’s especially interesting to learn about the history of old homesites or where people may have once spent a lot of time where you can find all sorts of metal detecting discoveries.

It’s a HUGE massive undertaking, but we’re actually in the process of creating a database of all kinds of historical information here at Resalvaged. It will take some time – but we are working on it! 🙂


22. Have a Way to Carry Your Finds

If you find something interesting, you’ll want to make sure you have a good way to carry and transport it. Having a side pouch can be very helpful while you are out in the field or at the beach.

There are also many metal detecting belts that have multiple compartments – one for trash, one for good stuff. This way you easily clean up different sites where you are hunting.


23. Learn How to Properly Clean Your Metal Detecting Finds

When you find something that has been buried under the dirt for decades or even a century, you likely will want to clean it. However, it’s important you clean it properly.

For example, most coin collectors will agree it is better to have a coin covered in dirt and grime than to clean or polish it, since this could cause the value to decrease. Artifacts and relics from old home sites may be corroded or even be very fragile. In these cases, it is very important to carefully brush off any rust or dirt without damaging the item.


Metal detecting is definitely a lot of fun, and I hope these beginner tips for metal detecting will help make the experience all the more fun and enjoyable for you!

Do you have any metal detecting tips you would like to share? Anything you wished you would have done differently or known when you first started? Share your experiences and wisdom in the comments section below!

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