So you want to get started in metal detecting and just need some advice and guidance to get yourself started? Well you are in the right place because just a couple of years ago, I was where you are right now and I was looking for the same help. So I have decided to put together this beginners guide because this is what I needed when I first started.

The very first thing you need to do, is to ask yourself two questions, do this before doing anything else, because these two questions are vital to your success in this amazing hobby. The first question is:-

Why do you want to start metal detecting?

You need to ask yourself this, because if you think that you are going to make a living from it, or you have read about some of the amazing things that have been found by metal detectorists then you will very probably be disappointed. Metal detecting takes time and effort, you can spend an entire eight hour day walking for miles, digging lots of holes and come away with a few buttons, a few crusty coins and a bag full of waste metal. You are working hard for almost nothing in return.

Sometimes however you will find some really nice items, but certainly not enough to make much money out of. Personally I have never yet sold anything that I have found, because they mean more to me than the £30 or maybe £80 that I might get for my very best finds, by sticking them on eBay.

Yes there are occasions where people are lucky enough to find hoards of roman coins worth £20,000 or even medieval hoards of gold worth millions, but these are very, very few and far between. I go out metal detecting at least once a week and have, so far, never found anything of huge value. Yes in some countries you could spend a day hunting for gold nuggets and find enough to have made it worthwhile, but that isn’t a possibility where I live.

So if you are doing it to make money, then you are probably going to make more money getting paid for 8 hours stacking shelves in your local supermarket.

However most people don’t start metal detecting to make money. Most people do it for other reasons. Usually it is related to having an interest in history, you might just like researching into historic areas, or be a coin collector who wants to try their hand at finding interesting additions to their collection. You might have a general interest in getting fitter and getting out of the house more. You might need an escape from the daily grind of life and work and looking to improve your mental health as well as your physical health.

Mine was a combination of all of these. I was separated from my wife, running a small business on my own. I was just sitting at a computer all day and in front of a screen at night, them going to bed and getting up the next day to do it all again. I had a girlfriend who I usually saw once a week, but other than that I didn’t do anything else. I had a huge interest in history and was heavily involved in aspects of local history, but still felt that I needed to be doing something much more active. I wasn’t a sporty kind of person, so one day I thought back to my 14 year old self on the beach and decided to take another look at this metal detecting thing again. I bought a new detector, joined a couple of Facebook groups and booked myself onto an organised dig and the rest as they say is indeed ‘history’. Physically it exhausted me, after that first dig I ached like I had never ached before, but I loved being out there. It was amazing how focusing on the ground beneath my feet and the signals from my detector made me forget about any problems or issues I was facing. Not only did my physical health improve, but so did my mental health. Now, I don’t I could do without metal detecting being part of my life.

The next vital question to ask is:-

Where are you going to go metal detecting?

When I bought my metal detector I had nowhere to go, just a vague idea that maybe take a drive out to my nearest beach, which was about 90 minutes drive away. It is best to have a definite plan here because so many people start out with good intentions, but life kind of gets in the way and the idea of spending a day detecting often gets replaced by work, or redecorating the house, or spending the day shopping, or visiting friends and family and the detector gets left in the cupboard under the stairs gathering dust. I have been there and done just that. Maybe 10 years ago I bought a cheapish metal detector, I think it might be a Bounty Hunter Tracker IV, with the intention of taking up this amazing new hobby called metal detecting. Just the other day when I was getting the Christmas decorations out I found it under the stairs still in its box, I have never, ever used it. Here it is still there after all these years. I just never found the time or inspiration to get out there and use it.

So you need to have a definite plan of where you are going to start detecting. Essentially you have a short list of choices

Your own back garden (or yard as my American friends call it) – It depends on how big your garden is but it won’t take you long to finish that off, and most back gardens are full of household rubbish and building materials so although you might find something, you might not

Your nearest beach – Here in the UK, most beaches can be detected on without needing permission, but permission is really only for the bit that gets covered when the tide comes and then goes out again. It doesn’t really include the dry bits. On some beaches its probably okay to detect right up to the sea wall, even if it stays dry, but you should never detect in an area of sand dunes as these are usually areas protected for wildlife and you can’t detect there. So from a sea wall out to the sea is fine, but only there. Personally I’m not a great fan of beach detecting. I did it as a 14 year old back in the day, but I’ve only tried it once in the last two years and didn’t enjoy it at all. It was too much like sifting through trash for something someone dropped yesterday, and if I found someone’s treasured engagement ring that they lost last week, I wouldn’t want to keep it so for me I prefer inland detecting searching for things that were lost hundreds of years ago, but that’s just me. Many people love beach detecting and don’t want the hassle of trying to get permission to detect on private land.

Local parks, woods, playgrounds – Here in the UK all land belongs to someone, even public parks and public footpaths. Some people assume that the word public means that it belongs to the public, but it doesn’t, it just means that the public are allowed to walk on it, or play on it, but the land and whatever is in the ground belongs to someone else. So anywhere other than a beach and your own land needs permission before you can detect on it. I have had many conversations with people over the years who just take a chance and pretty much detect wherever they like, but it is against the law, and taking things from land that belongs to someone else, without their permission is still classed as theft, so don’t do it.

Privately owned farmland – This is my preference, for me there is nothing better than detecting on farmland in an area of historic interest. You are out there amongst wildlife and in the fresh air just enjoying being there. Yes you need the landowners permission, but it really isn’t that difficult to get it, but more on that later.

Organised club/group digs – There are plenty of clubs out there that organise group digs on farmland. They charge you for a days digging, usually somewhere around the £20 mark and a group of you spend the day detecting and digging. You probably won’t make your dig fee back in finds but who knows and you might make some great friends too. This is how I started, but I rarely go on them now, because I have my own permissions to detect on now, but they are a great way to get into metal detecting. You can easily find your nearest group by searching Facebook groups in your area.

Okay so by now you should have a good idea of why you want to start metal detecting, and where you are going to be detecting, so what next? Well now we can move on to the equipment that you will need to start.

Choosing your first metal detector

I’m not going to recommend a specific metal detector here because everyone you ask will have an opinion, almost always based on the machine they bought and use. You only have to start a conversation about which is the best metal detector to buy and you will get all the Minelab users telling you to buy an Equinox (commonly referred to as a ‘nox) or a Manticore and all the XP owners telling you to buy a Deus 2.

For now I just want you to think about how much you want to spend. The reason is, just like any hobby, the more you spend the more success you will have (well to a point anyway). For me metal detectors fall into price points, then within those price points you choose the best one. So what are these price points? Well bear in mind I’m in the UK, so my pricing is in British pounds.

Under £200 – This is definitely entry level stuff. The problem here is that detectors at this level will find metal items underground, but will probably miss half of the small interesting stuff that a better detector will find. The end result will be that you either give up detecting and shove it in the cupboard under the stairs or you will want to quickly replace it with something better. Either way it has probably been a waste of your hard earned money.

£300 – This is an interesting price point because there are some good machines to be found here. Minelab, Nokta and Quest all produce decent machines around this point, and they find way more good things than those sub £200 detectors, so this should be your minimum starting price. However these will probably draw you into the hobby, which means that you will be worried about whether you are missing out on something and always be wondering about whether you should upgrade to something better. I did just that, I bought a brand new £300 machine, loved the hobby and less than a month later, order a £650 machine.

£600-£900 – For me this is the sweet spot. You can buy a detector in this price range that will find almost anything you walk over, you are into XP and Minelab territory, with a machine that will serve you well for many years to come.

£900+ – Now you are heading into the territory of the best general purpose metal detectors currently available, but the additional returns over the previous price point are minimal. I regularly detect with someone whose metal detector cost almost twice the price of mine, but I always find more good things. The reason is you now start to factor in experience and knowledge of how to get the best out of your detector. A skilled operator using a £600 machine always finds more than someone who spent £1500 but doesn’t quite know what they are doing with it.

So, choose wisely or you could make the mistake of choosing one that just isn’t good enough and you lose interest, or choosing one that works well, and you enjoy the hobby so much that you quickly decide to upgrade. If you can go straight in at the £600-£900 point then you will very probably have chosen a detector that you can use for many years to come, that won’t need upgrading very soon, and one that finds you some amazing coins and artifacts.

One final word of advice when it comes to choosing a metal detector, stay clear of unknown brands found on Amazon. Buy from a reputable dealer because if they don’t stock it, then it is probably because it isn’t good enough for them to stock.

At the moment the three leading brands are XP, Minelab and Nokta Makro, just behind them are Quest and Garrett.

What other equipment will you need to go metal detecting?

Spade – You will need a decent spade, bear in mind that you will be carrying it around all day, so weight might be an issue for you, but don’t go too small and lightweight either. If the handle is too short it might give you back ache, if its not sturdy enough it will almost certainly snap at some point, so you are looking for a balance between weight and sturdiness. Also consider the digging head size, too small and you will be digging forever to get a clod of soil and turf out.

Pinpointer – A pinpointer is a mini probe like hand held detector. It is used to find the item once you have worked out whether it is in the clod, or still in the ground. Just like with your main detector stay away from unknown brands. Many people swear by the Garrett ‘carrot’, so called because its orange colour makes it look like a carrott. Personally I prefer ones from XP, Nokta or Quest.

Digging Tool – A bit like a trowel, but usually with a root cutting edge and quite sharp. These are usually worn in a holster on your belt. I use a Nokta one, but others are available.

Finds Container – This is a small container, either round like a pot filled with sponge with slits in to hold coins, or flat, that open like a little case and lined with foam to hold your finds in.

Headphones – Hopefully your detector came with headphones, if not you might need to buy some. The world, even in the countryside is too noisy to detect without them. Wind, rain and traffic make a lot of noise and if you are detecting without headphones you will probably miss those quieter quite important signals, and make sure they are wireless too, otherwise you will be constantly getting tangled up in them.

Scrap Holder – Something to deposit the random bits of lead, ring pulls, iron scraps, copper scraps etc. into. Sole people use a bag over their should or tied at the waist. I just wear trousers with loads of big pockets to keep everything in.

Boots – Waterproof boots or Wellington’s, remember, no steel toe caps or you will be forever detecting your boots!

Clothing – Trousers, jacket, hat etc. Basically whatever works for you and the weather

Gloves – I always wear gloves, not only do they protect you from scratches and thorns, they also keep your hands warm, and relatively clean.

What next?

Well you now have all your gear and you know where you are going to be detecting, so get yourself out there on to whatever land you have decided to detect on, and start detecting.

Switch your machine on, choose your program, connect up your headphones and start detecting.

You need to go slowly, swinging your detector from side to side as you go. Keep the coil as flat to, and as close to the soil as you can and don’t lift it up at the end of each sweep.

Depending on your detector, you will have a number of settings to tinker with, and they are all slightly different but basically you want the machines sensitivity as high as is possible without it constantly squawking at you.

Your detector will find all kinds of metal, but generally it is trying to give you an idea of what it is. The loudest highest tones are not likely to be great finds, the low grunty ones are probably rusty iron. You are looking for the softer, brighter, nicer sounding tones and if your detector has a numerical VDI readout, then you want steady numbers, not ones that bounce up and down.

You need to take time to learn and to understand what your detector is telling you. Metal detecting is like using a musical instrument, when you first start it just sounds terrible sometimes beeping, grunting, screeching and chattering, but as you get used to it, you will get so much better. Stick with it and some amazing finds will come your way.

When you find a signal that sounds interesting (not too low and grunty, not to high and shrieky), you need to decide if you are going to dig it out to see what it is. The numbers on the display vary between brands, for example a 20 on a Minelab Equinox 800 might be quite good, a 20 on an XP ORX is probably not worth digging, so get to know the numbers on your machine of choice.

Next you need to work out where it is before you dig it. Some machines have pinpoint functions to help with this, but I don’t use them. I just swing my detector from side to side, from a couple of angles and spot the centre of the signal using my eyes and ears. It is important to be fairly accurate because you would not want to smash your spade through an 800 year old silver coin or a medieval gold ring.

Then use your spade to dig vertically down, cutting a circle around the item. In dry weather leave a connecting flap so that you don’t completely cut out a core of turf and then lever it out and flip it over. In wet weather it is less important and you can just completely cut a circle and turn the clod over.

Next use your detector to work out whether the item is in the plug of soil that you have just extracted, or whether it is still in the ground.

Then use your pinpointer to probe the clod or the ground below to establish the position of your find. If you can use your pinpointer or fingers to find the item, it is better than using your sharp digging tool, but if the ground is just too hard then carefully use your digging tool to loosen the soil around it.

Remember you might have found an interesting, or even valuable artifact and you don’t want to sctatch or gouge it with your sharp digging tool.

Once you have located it, gently remove it for closer inspection. Some people carry a water spray to clean off any mud. Once you can see it, make a decision as to whether it is going into your scrap bag, or into your finds container for closer examination once you get home, then put it away and detect some more.

Swing, Beep, Dig Repeat..

Have fun, and let me know what you find…