Kellyco Metal Detectors logo
Kellyco Metal Detectors logo

All articles

Metal Detecting TerminologyUpdated a year ago

Learning the language of detecting comes easy as you interact with other detectorist.  So you have decided to join the thrilling hobby of metal detecting and you come across a person in a park who tells you that all he found was Zinclon and canslaw. To you, it sounds like a different language as the conversation progresses.  See our list below to start speaking the lingo.


All Metal- Detecting without discrimination turned on, allowing all metal objects to result in signals. 


Audio Gain / Gain – A setting on many detectors that increases or decreases the volume for deeper targets.  


Barber — The Barber dime (named for its designer, Charles E. Barber, who was Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint from 1879 to 1917. The design was shared with the quarter and half dollar of the same period.)


Black dirt — Organically-rich dirt common in very old sites, especially in the Eastern US. 


Black sand — Iron particles that are so small they look like sand. This is desirable at gold-hunting sites, but not at old coin-hunting sites.


Bling — Fancy jewelry, which may or may not be precious metal.  


Bottlecap magnet – A machine that indicates bottle caps as a good signal such as coins.  


Bust coin / draped bust — A very old US coin minted from the late 1700s through early 1800s. Quite rare to be found by detectors.


Cache — Coins or jewelry deliberately buried together. Often buried in a jar, box or can. Pronounced “cash” (not “cashay”)  A cache may also define a “cluster” of coins or precious objects found near each other, even if not in the same hole.


Cache-hunting — Specifically searching for old caches – requires a different approach to a site than regular metal detecting, since caches were buried in places where specific criteria were met – such as near animals that would make noise or discourage looters or near landmarks that could be easily found.


Camp lead – Melted lead often indicative of a campfire during the US civil war.


Canslaw — Shreds of aluminum cans left after being hit by a lawnmower.  These give a wide variety of signals due to their size variation and can make for a difficult hunting environment.


Cellar hole – the remains of a very old home site which had a basement or storage cellar.  Most detecting finds for cellar holes are in surrounding ground, not in the actual cellar.   


Chatter – the sound a detector makes when it’s badly tuned, or sometimes when running with high sensitivity for maximum depth – a sort of static.   

Choppy  – The sound a detector makes when it finds an object that is almost discriminated out.  Often used to describe an iffy signal.  “That coin had a real choppy signal, but I dug it anyway because the site is so old.”


Clad — New coins which have been made with mostly non-precious metals. In the USA, these are typically silver-colored coins after 1964. These coins are usually the sign of modern activity.


Clad magnet – After a hunt  where only new coins were found, you may refer to yourself as a “clad magnet.”


Coil — The round thing at the end of a metal detector.


Coinshooters — A detectorist  who searchers mainly for coins.


Coinspill — Finding a small group of coins that were in the same hole. Also know as a pocket spill.


Copper — Mainly referring to a large cent but it could be a colonial copper coin as well. “I had an amazing hunt. I found 3 coppers.”


Crusty — Used to describe a target that is in bad shape.  


Digger — The tool that is  used to dig your targets. Also used to describe a person who detects. 


Dirt fishing — Metal detecting in the dirt.


Door-knocking — Walking from property to property, knocking on doors and asking permission to metal detect the property.


Drop – A dropped bullet often associated with the US civil war.


EMI – Electromagnetic interference. A good example of this is powerlines.


Fattie — A thick indian head penny or flying-eagle cent minted between 1859 and 1864. 


Fill dirt — Dirt that’s been brought in from another location. This makes it harder to find the deeper and older objects.


Find — Something you found worth keeping. 


Grand slam – Finding four of the same coins from different eras in the same hunt.  Example: Shield Nickel, V Nickel, Buffalo NIckel and a War Nickel. 


Gridding- Detecting and area and walking back and forth while swinging low and slow, to cover the area thoroughly.


Ground balance / GB— Adjusting the detector for mineralization in the soil at the current location to be hunted. This must be done every time you change areas. 


Grunt– The sound most detectors make when they’re detecting iron signals.


Heartstopper – An impressive object when first seen in the hole.  Mostly used to describe something that looks great that turns out to be junk (such as an amusement park token or junk gold-colored ring).


High tone — A high pitched tomel made by many detectors when high conductivity targets (such as silver) are found. 


HH — “Happy Hunting” – often used in emails and forum posts to sign the end of the note.


Hockey puck – a very small metal detecting coil, often used to metal detect sites with a lot of junk. Example: Garrett 4.5” sniper coil.


Honey hole – A good spot that is often kept secret that produces really good finds. 


Hot rock — A rock that gives a signal and makes detecting difficult.


Hunted out / hunted to death — A metal detecting site that has been heavily metal detected over time. No spot is ever hunted out!


Iffy signal  — A signal that is difficult to interpret, but hints of a good target. “That’s an iffy signal , but I’ll dig it anyway.”


Indian — A US indian head cent (1859-1909)


key / semi-key  / key date – A coin of low mintage numbers that has higher value.


Low tone — An audible signal that typically represents low conductivity targets like gold or pulltabs.


Magnet fishing – Using a high powered magnet on a line to pull ferrous objects from the bottom of a river or lake.  

Masked / masking — When a piece of iron is near a good target and changes the way the detector responds.   


Memorials — A US one cent piece with the Lincoln memorial on the back. (1959 to present)


Merc — The US Mercury Dime (1916-1945) – 90% silver


Morgan — The Morgan Silver Dollar. (1878-1921) – 90% silver


Newbie — Someone new at the hobby


Nicked – To hit and damage the coin/object with your digging tool.  


Night Hawk – someone who sneaks on property and detects illegally at night.


Nine-two-five — .925 Silver – Sterling Silver


Null– When the threshold on the detector disappears. This usually happens on large pieces of iron.


On-edge –– A coin that is buried in the ground up and down. This can make detecting the coin harder. 


Overload – When there is a large piece of metal under the detector. This overloads the system on the detector.


Permissions – A place to hunt where you have obtained permission from the land owner to detect. 


Pinpointer — A small, hand-held metal detector that you place in the hole (plug) to find the target you are searching for. 


Pinpointing — The process of narrowing down the location of the target in the ground. Most metal detectors have a pinpointing mode. 


Plug — A hole carefully dug in the ground so that dirt and grass are not harmed.


Probe — A small tool, often made of brass (or tipped with brass) to locate coins before digging by touch.  Some detectorist use screwdrivers that they file the tip on. 


Pulltab magnet  – A machine that can’t discriminate out pull-tabs very well.  

Pulse induction / Pulse machine / PI — A detector that detects all metals using different technology that is often useful in highly mineralized soils or salt water. 


Rang up – A phrase used to describe a target type indicated by the audio/visual signals of a detector. 


Reeded edge / Silver edge — MAny silver coins have a grooved edge. A reeded edge is often the first clue of the type of coin found in the ground. 


Relic hunters — A detectorist who searches for old items and not silver and gold rings.  Most hunting sites include fields or woods.


Repeatable — When the signal can be repeated in several directions of coil sweeps. Repeatable signals increases the chances of a good target.


Return – When the detectorist is able to give an item they found back to the original owner. A good example is a class ring.


Rosie — A 90% silver Rosevelt dime (1946-1964)


Round ball – a musket ball from a muzzle loading gun.


Seated — A US coin minted between 1837 and 1891 in half dime, dime, quarter and half.


Screamer – A super high signal that is loud in the headphones.  This usually results in a large silver coin. 


Seeded hunt — A hunt where the finds have been scattered or planted for groups of detectorist to find.


Skunked — Detecting and finding nothing good for the day. 


Smoothie – A coin that is so worn down, it is hard to see the details. 


Square nail — A very old nail, often hand forged. This is an indication that the detectorist i hunting an old home site. 


Strip hunting – Metal detecting the grassy areas between the sidewalk and street. 


Swinging / Sweeping — Moving the detector coil side-to-side while detecting.


Target ID / VDI — A meter or display that shows you what your target might be.


Tear-outs – When sidewalks or parking lots are removed for repair or construction.  This is usually a good time to metal detect.


Test garden -An area that is set up, usually in someone’s backyard where items are buried so that the detectorist can hear and see what targets ring up as. This is great for beginners or for any detectorist to use when they get a new machine. 


Threshold — The desirable, gentle hum made by a detector when no target is detected. When there is a break in the treshold, the hm disappears and lets detectors know a discrimination item is there. 


Three ringer – A three groove Minié ball bullet, often from the civil war era.


Trash pit – An area where everyday trash was put in the past.  Often used to describe the regimental trash area of a civil war site.


Toasted  — A coin that is badly corroded because of a long period of time in the ground. 


Tone ID — Different sounds identifying different target’s sounds on many modern detectors. High tones usually indicate high-conductivity targets such as silver or copper, while low-tones are for low-conductivity targets such as gold.


Tot-lot — Playground areas in parks that may be filled with mulch. 


Trifecta – When three same-denomination coins of different periods are found. An example would be a flying eagle, an Indian head and a wheat penny.


Virgin site – A location that has not been metal detected.


VLF — Common detector type which distinguishes between different types of metal, such as iron. VLF operates at different frequencies for different purposes.


Walker — US Walking Liberty Half Dollar (1916-1947)


Wheatie — US wheat back cent (1909-1958)


Wrap up – Laying out the finds for the day for a photo or at the end of a detecting video.


Zincoln — A zinc-formulated Lincoln Cent. Often in poor condition. Not a desirable target.


Was this article helpful?