Adventurers travel into the wilderness, take photographs, explore and possibly even research the history of an area and the people who lived there. And then, when you least expect it, a new interest is born. Greg van der Reis discusses his new love of metal detecting.
Eighteen months ago, while reading an Australian 4×4 magazine, I came across an article about metal detecting. This brought back memories of my childhood in the 1980s, including Practical Electronics and reading about metal detectors.
I eventually found a circuit diagram and built one. But the problem with the self-built detector was sensitivity. All I could locate was a plough at 100mm!
The Australian magazine referred to some products and I went to Google, where I found various detectors costing anything from R1000 for a basic detector to a professional gold detector costing R60 000. I needed… had to have.. wanted one of those!
So what do I need?
In my case, the want usually exceeds the need, and I had no idea where to start. My garage is full of “things” that were bought on bad advice, so this time I needed guidance from someone who actually knew the ins and outs of metal detecting, and what the products can do. After some searching, I found Wolfgang Roux. He has been using metal detectors for years and agreed to a chat.
I visited Wolfgang at his home in Durbanville. He produced a Minelab catalogue and we paged through it, with Wolfgang posing questions such as, “Do you want to use the machine on the beach?”, “What are you hoping to find?” and “Do you want ease of use?”
I found out that working on wet beach sand creates problems because the salt in the water ionises the sand and cheap detectors don’t work properly as a result.
I went home and worked through the catalogue. Yes, I wanted to use the machine on the beach, and I wanted ease of use. “What are you hoping to find?” took a bit more thought.
My reason for wanting a metal detector was actually to use it on 4×4 trips, to explore abandoned dwellings, search beaches for historic artefacts and comb through old battlefields. But what type of machine would be best?
After researching the salt water effect on the induction coil, I settled for a multi frequency detector and purchased a Minelab Safari. With the batteries charged, I went down to the beach to test its response and sensitivity.
Exciting first find
After setting the detector to “All metal”, I soon found something – cold drink can pull tabs, bottle tops and tin foil! I changed the setting to “Jewellery” and soon there was a beep. I started digging 300mm, 400mm and later, at more than 600mm, I found my first coin. It was a tickey (three-penny bit) dating from 1947 – quite a find.
My next trip was to the Northern Cape where the plan was to search through old prospector dwellings. I explored a number of old dwellings, finding coins, bullets and lots of debris. The debris is a nuisance more than anything, but by changing settings and following the numerical indication on the display you can be reasonably sure whether you are going to find discarded pull tabs or coins.
Researching the proposed site is imperative and also part of the experience. Spending a few hours on the internet or in a library adds to the satisfaction when you find your first “treasure”.
Once you have removed heaps of sand you must swing your detector over the area again. You might find that the beep indicates that the metal is in the pile of sand you have just removed. On your knees, start working through the pile of sand, trying to “feel” the object. This takes time, and you can easily miss the object.
There are hundreds of videos on metal detecting on Youtube. I noticed some enthusiasts using a gadget that looked like – dare I say it? – a vibrator or perhaps, for the more innocent, a wand. As you pass the “pointer” over the sand the gadget beeps and it vibrates when you get close to the metal object. So I bought a Minelab Pro Pointer and found it an absolute dream to use.
Time and experience are essential in this hobby and, as with the lottery, “if you don’t buy a ticket you cannot win”.
One needs to get used to the specific detector, and what is indicated by each beep or reading. After a few months of searching on the beach I took my wedding ring and various coins and experimented with each one, to see what readings each item gave. Then I set the detector to “coins and relics” and only dug for items with readings on 40 plus. (These readings are different for each type of machine.)
My efforts started paying off when three trips to the beach produced 24 coins dating from 1942 to 2012. Items such as keys and padlocks have the same composition as coins and I often wonder who walks on the beach with padlocks?
If you live inland there are plenty of sites – battlefields, old dwellings, parks and even picnic sites. Your finds will be determined by your research, so spend time studying old photographs of the area and find out where old houses once stood, where battles took place and where communities once lived.
After 18 months of pursuing my hobby, both at the coast and inland, I have found coins, bracelets, an amulet, modern bullets, old musket balls, copper sheets, lots of lead and large nails from shipwrecks, sinkers, a fob watch key and plenty of debris.
What are the legalities of metal detecting? Ask permission to go onto private land and come to an agreement on who any finds belong to before you start digging. Approach the local museum. If you offer your finds as exhibits they are usually enthusiastic about helping you gain access to the land.
When detecting you will find lots of rubbish, so remove it. I have a “finds” bag and put all the metal debris in the bag and throw it away later. This ensures that you won’t find it again, and you are also doing your “green” bit by preventing injuries to others by bits of rusty metal. On a similar note, fill the holes you have dug so that nobody falls into one and twists an ankle.
Typical search areas would include beaches, old battle sites, old farms, ruins of buildings, church yards, parks and showgrounds.
If you decide to give it a go, remember that “you get what you pay for”, so buying cheap will leave you disappointed. Although I am by no means an expert, I would be happy to help anyone interested in getting involved in metal detecting. E-mail me, and I will refer you to someone who can assist.
It’s important to note that this hobby can become an obsession or addiction, and there is no cure because “tomorrow you may find the mother load”.
More information: Greg van der Reis, 4×4 Offroad Adventure Club, e-mail: [email protected]