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Hints & Tips

We don’t want to teach anyone “how to suck eggs”; but we all started somewhere, and hopefully this short section will help a few as they join this fascinating hobby of ours.

Thinking of taking up the hobby

Come to a few club meets and rallies, watch what we are all doing and pick our brains. We are all genuinely interested in this hobby, and once you get us talking, you just try and shut us up ! You will learn a lot more, much quicker from club members and you will get fantastic support for your new hobby.

There is little doubt that finding “TREASURE” is on everyone’s mind, it’s what makes the hobby exciting and interesting. Unfortunately you will rarely even cover the cost of your batteries, never mind your time, but you will start to appreciate the value of each item lost by our ancestors from the past. To improve your find rate of the “good stuff” it is important to learn from those that go before.

Buying a detector
It takes months to get used to a top model expensive machine and you are likely to find it too sensitive with too many programmes and controls to get used to. You can buy a basic machine for £50 that works well, but looks like a kids toy. For £300 you get a very good machine, doesn’t really matter which make it is. Surprisingly for £1000 you get a machine that is only a few percent better, but is generally much more flexible with lots of options.

Even the cheaper machines have discrimination, so you are not digging up rusty nails and screws, but if you start setting them up to discriminate against tin foil, you will miss lots of hammered coins that are only slightly thicker. The best advice is to dig up every repeatable signal until you learn what your machine is trying to tell you.

Places to detect

With the exception of a few beaches, all land belongs to someone and you will legally need permission from the owner before you can detect. Start with your own garden, it is good practise to see how much damage you do to your own lawn before you start digging up someone else’s. Then ask relatives, neighbours, friends and work colleagues if you can try their gardens or land. When you are more confident it is easier to knock on the farmers door.

I would always suggest you find the farmers name out, or even better get an introduction. Take your best finds along, and ideally take the return sheets from the Portable Antiquity Scheme (PAS) to show you are presenting finds to the archaeologists. Even better if you have managed to get finds published in the magazines !

Farmers are busy in the day so try and go when it is raining, lunch time or early evening. NEVER stop a farmer when he is ploughing or working his land.

Be polite, introduce yourself and tell him where you live (locally). Just ask him if he would allow you to detect in his fields. He will most likely say that someone already detects on his land, so ask if they still come and when was the last time he saw them. Show your other finds and explain that you hand everything in to the local archaeologist, and get the best finds published in a popular magazine. Farmers are generally interested in what comes off the land, so explain that you will drop in with recent finds and anything found will be shared 50:50.

Keep the farmer informed, even if they say no; send him a letter and you will be amazed how many change their minds and allow you to detect once they realise you are a legitimate hunter of history and not out for a quick buck.

Environmental Responsibilities

Never mind how good you and your machine is, approximately 80% of what you dig up will be junk. Old tin cans, ring pulls, silver foil, horse shoes, etc..

Put this in your junk bag, you don’t want to be digging it up again next year and if it is left on the surface it will injure stock and anger the farmer. When he realises you are removing the junk he will be even more impressed; even better if you are returning plough parts and farming implements.

When you get home, sort out the junk carefully and you will be amazed how often you find that scrap of lead is actually a pilgrims ampulla, or that bronze strip is actually decorated.

Cleaning finds

If there is any chance that the item may be old, DO NOT CLEAN IT !

Very hard to do when you’ve spent hours out in all weathers finding it, so use common sense and clean as little as possible.

If the metal is likely to not be damaged by cleaning, then put it in distilled water and occasionally use a toothbrush to remove the dirt. Cocktail sticks are also useful to dig out the soft dirt.

Next most damaging, use tap water and ‘fairy liquid’ style soap to help remove dirt.

Once the find has been seen by a Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) and has been declared not reportable, or already been processed through the PAS, then you can try harsher methods of cleaning if you deem it necessary.

Keep in mind that old coins harshly cleaned, will most likely loose any value they initially had. That patina (the coating) has taken years to develop and we want to keep it. Buffing wheels, Ammonia, tumbling methods and electrolysis will more than likely destroy your find so only do it to things that do not matter, modern coins and junk.

Detecting in the rain

Maybe not your best option, but sometimes you have to do it and surprisingly we often get better and deeper signals because the wet ground is more conductive.

Meter covers are available for all modern machines, and plastic bags will work at a pinch. Most machines have waterproof coils, and even the headphones are amazingly water resistant, ideally wear a hood over your head and headphones and a baseball cap will keep the rain out of your eyes.

There are hundreds of other tips, so I suggest we continue this topic on the forum and let anyone add to it.

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