What Are The Most Common Things Found When Metal Detecting In The UK

Unfortunately the most commonly found things when metal detecting in the UK are of course the rubbish finds that have no value other than as scrap.

Of course that makes complete sense because when we are out detecting we are finding things that have been lost by someone, or things that were discarded as waste anyway. Every so often, however, we find something of interest or value, but they are always going to be in the minority, but that is what makes metal detecting so interesting and exciting – we just don’t know when or even if we are going to find something amazing. Each signal could be something fantastic, but most often is just a small piece of discarded waste metal or something of little value or interest.

So what are the most common things found when metal detecting in the UK?

Random unidentifiable scraps of metal

Our metal detectors are designed to find small metal items such as coins and rings, but they are, of course going to find anything metallic of a similar size. Large lumps of metal are easily identifiable by the physical size and width of the signal. The question is – Do you dig those obvious large targets? Could it be a lost sword blade or bronze age axe head? Or will you spend 20 minutes digging out a piece of copper pipe or a ‘BOAT’? By the way in metal detecting terms a ‘BOAT’ mean ‘a bit off a tractor’. Only you can decide, you are the one standing in the field making the decision whether to dig or not.

It is even harder if the signal is quite small, because it could be a silver hammered coin, or a piece of tin foil, tightly folded up before being casually thrown to one side by a farm hand who has just opened a new stick of chewing gum, both can in some circumstances sound the same.

More often than not your digging will reveal a small random piece of copper that was just a waste offcut that has found its way into the field.

Random pieces of lead

For many centuries lead was used to make everything from trading tokens, weights, bullets, water pipes, pretty much anything and everything really, often these items were made right there in that field where you are standing and during the process random blobs of molten lead fell to the ground during the process, for you to find many years later. Lead items would be made in a mould with the molten lead being poured into the mould and then once it had set it was taken out of the mould and the waste pieces, usually called a sprue were trimmed off and kept to be melted down again, but of course these pieces were often lost in the mud and grass.

Bullet casings

That farmland has seen many hunters over the years, maybe hunting rabbits, or maybe just doing target practice and training. Bullet casings are often ejected from the gun after it has fired to be trodden into the ground for you to find some years later. I have detected in fields where I have found as many as 40 bullet casings. It can be annoying, but sometimes you just have to dig them ‘too make sure’, because, as they say, “if in doubt..dig it out..”


We all find lots of buttons when we are detecting. Most are very plain or crusty and show very little detail. Maybe a farm worker snagged his jacket on a hedge, or maybe old clothes had been used to fertilise the land, but whatever the reason, rarely does a days detecting go without finding a selection of buttons.

Of course there are some nice ones with crests and initials, these could be military in origin, or worn on uniforms of staff working for a particular wealthy estate owner, but most are plain, damaged and fairly unidentifiable. Tombac buttons can be quite nice, with an almost silver like appearance, sometimes with an engraved pattern on them.

Anti Aircraft Shell Fragments

During the second world war anti aircraft positions were set up all over the country to help protect our cities and industries. As enemy aircraft came in to attack they fired a barrage of anti aircraft shells into the air, the exploded on a timer fuse filled the sky with flying debris which hopefully damaged the enemy aircraft causing them to crash or to abort their mission, these small fragments of shattered shell casings then fell to the ground to be found by us 80 years later.

Moo Tubes

These are a real pain, because they give a great signal. All though most detectorists know them as ‘moo tubes’ because they are found scattered across the fields of dairy farms, they can also be found on sheep farms too. They are actually small empty tubes of ointment that were used to treat things like mastitis in cattle. They were probably used in cow sheds rather than in the fields themselves but when the sheds were mucked out these small tubes were gather up with the straw and manure and eventually ended up being spread onto the fields to help enrich and fertilise them

Musket Balls

Any type of round lead shot tends to be referred to as musket balls, although they might not be from an actual musket, they are from guns from the 1600’s onwards. You can still buy working replica muskets and flintlock pistols and rifles today, so they might not be as old as you first thought. I was on a farm a couple of months ago and found about half a dozen large ones in a hillside. A little later I was chatting the the lady landowner on that hillside and told her about the musket balls, she told me that they were fired at Christmas 1989 when her sons friend came over with his replica gun and stood by the wall opposite and fired them into the hillside.

Sometimes round lead items are mistaken for musket balls when they are catapult shot or fishing weights.


Yes we all want to find coins and there are plenty to be found in local farmland, unfortunately copper based coins don’t always survive well in farmland that has had decades of chemicals and animal urine released into them and often come out just as crusty round discs with no details left. These are often referred to as ‘toasted’ or ‘roached’. Silver and Gold coins survive much better, but of course are less common than copper ones. Metal detectorists love to find silver and gold coins especially older hammered ones, and they are out there too find.