How To Use Your First Metal Detector - A Beginner's Guide

The neighbors have probably started to worry about you.  Your family is close to staying at a hotel for a couple nights to get away from your newfound madness.  Peeking through your blinds all day - checking emails for tracking updates - walking to the curb strip to look up and down the street with that troubled look on your face.  It’s not the normal behavior of an adult, but you just cannot help yourself.  

You finally hear the sound of the truck in the distance.  The air brakes almost enough to send you into a frenzy.  Perhaps a little dance runs through your legs and body.   After countless hours of researching forums and watching YouTube videos, it is finally happening.

Your very first metal detector has arrived.

The beauty of the box is almost enough to bring a tear to your eye.  Very carefully you open it, as one would not want to rip or tear this cardboard masterpiece.  The logos and information surely painted by Leonardo da Vinci himself. 

Your brain is so frazzled, that reading through the manual 3-4 times in a row finally brings you enough knowledge and courage to assemble it.  Perhaps even place the batteries in the right direction.

Then it hits you.  All of those forum posts and videos have gone out the window.  You might as well be looking at your first 10 sided Rubik’s Cube.  You need help figuring this contraption out. 

While it would be impossible for me to encompass every setting on every brand of detector out there - I can give you a generalized guide on how to get you started finding the goods.  So let’s begin!

Stock Settings:

This is probably one of the most overlooked aspects in all of metal detecting.  The stock “turn on and go” settings can many times be a great place to start.  They are often set at 60-70% power and may even have iron and foil discriminated out.  

While many users want to “crank it up” and use the full power of the detector - this can often backfire and lead to frustration.  Many detectors can chatter from EMI when set to the maximum sensitivity or gain levels.  Especially if you live in the city around large power lines and multiple WiFi and cellular signals bouncing around the area.  Less is more for the first time user.  Set it to 7 of 10 or (70 of 100) as a good starting point.


Unlike the sensitivity or gain setting, I suggest you crank this up under the dime (10c) setting for the first couple hunts.  Hearing every single signal from iron, foil, and aluminum can overwhelm your ears if you are not accustomed to it.  Setting the “disc” level higher will allow you to cherry pick some satisfying and enjoyable targets like copper pennies, dimes, and quarters.

Once you become familiar and comfortable with those sounds and ID patterns, then you can lower it and listen to the rest of the mid-range targets where trashy signals are much more common.

Discrimination works from left to right on the conductivity scale.  It starts with iron (low conductor) on the left, and then moves to the right into the mid conductors like 5c, aluminum, and pull tabs.  Most detectors will stop right under a dime (10c) which is the start of the high conductor range.

Notching (Discrimination Part 2):


In the above section, I talked about raising the discrimination setting to a higher level to avoid all the the trashy mid-range signals.  Many detectors have a 2nd way of achieving this - the NOTCH setting.  A notch is simply a way of removing a category.   When you use the discrimination (disc) option you go from left to right eliminating them 1-by-1. With the “notch” function you can bypass categories and select what stays in or out.  You can remove certain categories like pull tabs and foil, while leaving in the 5c category.  This is a great thing for coin shooters who want to leave 5c in, but remove the other categories between Iron and 10c.


If aluminum, foil, and pull tabs are bothering you in your search for nickels - just notch them out!



Gold is a mid conductor and can be found in the foil to zinc penny range.  You MUST dig the trashy mid range targets if you want to find gold rings, jewelry or coins. Silver rings, jewelry and coins are high conductors and will usually fall into the 10c and 25c range.  

Ground Balancing:

Your detector may or may not have the ability to adjust the ground balance setting.  Many beginner detectors use a factory preset ground balance that you will never need to worry about.  This is perfectly fine for a new user and it is less to worry about.   DO NOT feel like you are cheating yourself out of anything if you are new to the hobby and bought a detector without the option to adjust it.  Many detectors go 6-7-8 inches deep with a preset ground balance. 


However, if you decided to dive into an intermediate to advanced range detector, this is an important setting you do not want to overlook.  Setting it incorrectly can reduce depth and give you false signals. 


Almost all detectors with a manual ground balance have a “quick grab” option where you press a button and pump the coil from 1-6 inches off the ground.  This is the most common way of ground balancing many detectors on the market.  Hold the coil 6 inches high - press the ground balance button - pump the coil until the display or audio feedback becomes steady.


I will not cover manual adjustment as I feel no beginner should be diving into that until they become familiar with a quick grab option first. 


I think that should just about cover it for a quick beginner’s guide.  With these starting points to help you - I feel any beginner can quickly grasp the workings of their metal detector without getting frustrated and overwhelmed.