Metal Detector Questions From a Beginner

By Dan Hughes, author of The Metal Detecting Manual

NOTE:  This is an older article, but much of the philosophy presented here does not change.

A newbie to the hobby was weighing the pros and cons of starting with a low-priced or a high-priced machine, and he asked me the following questions.  I recommended starting with a low-priced machine, because a high percentage of buyers lose interest in the hobby unless they have spectacular luck from the beginning.  (This generally happens to people who expect too much the first time out, when they still aren't very familiar with their machine or the proper hunting techniques.  Or they go on a hot, mosquito-infested day and they are soon miserable, or the ground is dry and hard to dig, or they picked a place that didn't promise too much in the first place). 

If you stick with the hobby, you can move up to a more expensive machine and use your first one as a back-up or a "loaner" when you invite a buddy to go detecting with you.  The element of competition seems to make you work a little harder and find more!

And if you don't stick with the hobby, you aren't out a lot of money and you still have a detector the kids can play with or your neighbor can borrow to find his property markers when he wants to put up a fence.

So with that introduction, here is the Q&A:

> I have considered your suggestion about buying a "back-up" detector first, to see if this is something that I will enjoy. With that possibility in mind, I would like to inquire about how much these respective machines cost, 

The CZ-5 retails for $850, and the 1212X retails for $200.

> and will the 1212X withstand saltwater detecting?? 

The 1212X is not recommended for salt water. Unfortunately, none of the lower-priced detectors have a salt water setting. 

> What does the CZ5 do that the 1212X does not?

Works in salt water. 
Goes deeper. 
Has a "spider web" coil with a hole in the middle so you can see the exact blade of grass or grain of sand where you are going to dig. 
Has a meter that tells you what you've found before you dig. 
Has another meter that tells you how deep the object is. 
Finds nickels when you are using discrimination. 
Has a pinpointer feature. 
Has a control case you can wear on your belt, making the stem much lighter and easier to swing. 
Has a longer cable so you can float the control box on an inner tube while detecting in water.
Does not lose depth as discrimination is increased.

> Why did you choose the CZ5 as your detector of choice over all the myriad others you have seen?

Fisher introduced the CZ-6 at the same time White's introduced the XLT. These were pretty much considered the two best all-around metal detectors on the market at the time. I read a few club "road test" reports that agreed that the Fisher had better depth in most conditions than the XLT, and that the Fisher had new discrimination circuitry that did not lose depth as discrimination was increased. 

I bought one, and I loved it except for two things--it had no speaker (you had to use headphones), and it had a unique headphone jack that required you to use an adapter if you weren't using Fisher headphones.

A year later, Fisher introduced the CZ-5, which had a speaker, had a regular headphone jack--and cost $100 less than the CZ-6. I sold my CZ-6 and bought a CZ-5, which remains my favorite detector. 

I will admit that I haven't kept up with the newer and more expensive machines that have come out in the past couple of years. I'm happy with my CZ-5, and the prices of the newer machines seem to be out of the ballpark unless I were a full-time treasure hunter.

One of the greatest features of the CZ-5 is that it uses knobs instead of buttons and pushpads.

Look, I have a car radio that has pushpads. With my old car radio, there was a knob that gave you more bass if you turned it to the left and more treble if you turned it to the right. With my new radio, if I want to adjust treble/bass I have to get the manual because I can't seem to remember that first you push this button and hold it in for three seconds, then you push this other button twice, then this third button three times and then you can get more bass by holding in another button as you watch the numbers on the display. 

That's how most of the newer expensive detectors work. You have to get out the manual every time you want to change something. With the CZ-5, if you want to increase discrimination you turn a knob. No pushpad patterns to memorize! I think the CZ-5 is the only advanced machine made that uses knobs instead of pushpads. Guess I'm old-fashioned--I can turn a knob much faster than I can push a series of buttons and watch words and numbers flash by on a display screen.

The White's XLT requires you to scroll through a menu of choices to find a specific variable, like discrimination, volume, and ground adjustment, and this can be both confusing and time-consuming. I generally have a few coins in my pocket before my buddy with an XLT has his machine set up to hunt.


> What features available on detectors are truly useful, and which are gimmicks?

Stupidest gimmick I ever saw was on a Garrett. A woman's voice told you what you'd found: "Quarter. Penny." Remember those grocery store machines that said each price as items were scanned? Drove you nuts after a while. So did this voice.

Best features are discrimination and the ability to find nickels when you are discriminating out pulltabs. But remember, when you tune out pulltabs, you are also tuning out gold rings.

> Is it possible to use a detector actually in the water, maybe waist deep, or are they restricted to the dry or at least relatively dry sand?

You can use a detector as deep as you want as long as you keep the control box dry. The coil and cable are waterproof. But remember that it's hard to dig targets that are in waist-deep water, unless you have a special scoop with a broom handle and learn to use it with your foot.

> My detector seems to find steel objects even with the discriminator, what am i doing wrong?

You can reduce your iron-digging by using this method: 

1. When you get a beep, use the pinpointer to center your loop directly over the target. (Sometimes the location of the initial beep is different from the pinpointing "buzz". Do the next steps over the buzz).
2. Release the pinpointer and swing the loop horizontally (left to right to left to right) over the target.
3. Swing the loop vertically (top to bottom to top to bottom) over the target.
4. If you get a broken signal, a double signal, or no signal, in ANY of the four directions, the target is probably trash. If the signal is steady in all four directions, the target is usually a coin. 

You have to learn to recognize trash and not dig it. The higher you set your sensitivity, the more trash you have to ignore. Just listen for the stable signals that do not change no matter what angle you swing the loop over the target. It is very hard to skip over beeps and not dig them, but you have to steel yourself (ouch!) and ignore the trash. You can get rid of a lot of the trash signals by turning down the sensitivity, but you might lose some deeper coins. Still, this is usually the best way to go in areas that have a lot of junk iron. (I don't often encounter that problem, except in yards where a house burned down years ago, or a garage was torn down--areas where there are a lot of old nails in the ground).

I detect with my sensitivity as high as possible, and I ignore tons of beeps and dig only the ones that are stable from all directions. Or at least try to--I often yield to temptation and dig signals that beep in just one direction, and invariably they turn out to be junk. I ask myself, why did I bother digging that one? And the answer is always, I don't want to miss anything! 

Once in a great while a beep one way but not the other will be a coin on edge. But this is pretty rare, and if you are hunting in a junk-filled area you are probably better off skipping those signals and looking for the stable ones.

> These questions seem a reasonable start. As I learn more about this, my questions will (I hope) become more coherent.

Nothing at all wrong with your questions! But please remember this: What I say is just one opinion, and as I tell my students, my way works fine for me, and it will work for you too, but it is not the only way that will work. Others do it differently and have the same success I do. There are Ford men and there are Chevy men, and they are both adamant that their way is best. But how many Ford men have ever owned a Chevy? 

Whenever I hear a treasure hunter say "Garrett detectors are the best," I ask them what other detectors they have owned, and they tell me, well, they've owned only Garretts because Garretts are the best. If someone offers an opinion, they should have at least used each brand they are comparing.

I've owned--and used--Fisher, White's, Garrett, Tesoro, Compass (a great detector manufacturer that had better scientific skills than business skills and went bankrupt), Wilson, and a couple of others that are long gone, so at least I can stand behind my opinions with some solid hands-on knowledge.

By the way, if "discrimination" is confusing to you, here's the story in a nutshell: Silver and copper conduct electricity better than aluminum. Your detector can tell if a target is a good conductor or a poor conductor. You can set your detector to beep on silver and copper but not beep on aluminum. Hence you don't get beeps on aluminum pulltabs; you just get beeps on coins. The higher you set your discrimination, the better a conductor the target must be to make your detector beep. Most people set their machines to eliminate aluminum pulltabs. The down side of this is that gold jewelry has virtually the same conductivity as pulltabs, so if you eliminate pulltabs you also eliminate gold rings.

When you hunt beaches and water, you should turn the discrimination off and hunt all metals because the gold ring-to-pulltab ratio is much higher on beaches than in parks. And sand is a lot easier to dig than hard-packed ground.

Hope I haven't bored you. Your turn!

--Dan

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Copyright 2009 Dan Hughes