A glossary of metal detecting terms

“We were freestyling last week and gridding an old 1850s house. Found an indian was surrounded by canslaw.  It rang up as dime, but I was nulling all over and unmasked.  I managed to pinpoint at 5″, cut the plug and found roundness after flipping.  The indian was toasty but it had friends, so I rechecked the hole and found a memorial and a semi-key Barber dime in the coinball! ” – these are actual phrases used by detectorists.

.We in the hobby have our own language.  I’ve collected up (and will continually update) this list of metal detecting lingo.   I’d love it if the relic hunters would chime in with what’s missing ([email protected]) and I’ll add it in.   I’ve gathered terms from several forums out there – and those forums are linked in my blogroll.    I  am not trying to include every phrase that’s ever been used.  Rather, I’m listing phrases that are used regularly.  And this list is definitely USA-biased.

all-metal — Detecting without discrimination turned on, allowing all metallic objects to result in signals. Also a phrase for the hard core detectorist “I’m going all-metal today.” All metal modes are frequently used in virgin sites where most targets are interesting. All metal means that you will be digging a lot of junk targets.

Archie, Arkie – An Archaeologist.

Audio Gain / Gain – A setting on many detectors that increases or decreases the volume  for deeper targets.  “I had my gain at 15.”

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 quarter and half dollar of the same period.)

BFO — Beat Frequency Oscillation, an older detector which uses the induction balance principle. Often used in very cheap metal detectors and rarely used in coinshooting anymore.  Often associated with “old school” detectorists who don’t want to give up their machine.

black dirt — Organically-rich dirt common in very old sites, especially in the Eastern US. Desirable hunting grounds.

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.  “Here’s my bling for the day.”

bottlecap magnet – A machine that indicates bottle caps as a good signal such as coins.  “That detector is a bottlecap magnet, I got sick of it.”

bucketlister – A very special, once in a lifetime find.

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 – sometimes lined with stones, sometimes just a depression.   Objects have often been found behind stones or between them.  Most detecting finds for cellar holes are in surrounding ground, not in the actual cellar.   Hunting near a cellar hole requires great care due to instability of the ground and poorly marked wells.

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.   You’ll often see more advanced detectorists running with a lot of “chatter” to find deeper targets.

choppy  – The sound a detector makes when it finds an object that is almost discriminated out.  Often used to describe a questionable signal (see also: 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 formulated with mostly non-precious metals – in the USA, this are typically silver-colored coins after 1964. This designation also carries over to copper pennies by association, but after 1958. These coins are usually the sign of modern activity. If they are absent from a hunt, but older coins are present, it’s a highly desirable location.

clad magnet – after particularly difficult hunts 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.

coinball — A chunk of dirt with a coin inside. Often the last moment of anticipation before discovering the coin’s type and age. Sometimes, the edge of the coin is visible.

coinshooters — A metal detector enthusiast who look mainly for coins.

coinspill — a more generic form of pocketspill – wherever coins were lost in groups.

copper — referring to a US large cent or colonial equivalent.  “Nice to find an old copper.”

crusty — Used to describe a target that is in bad shape.  “That large cent was a bit crusty.”

digger — the tool used to dig your targets. Also used to describe a person who detects. “Hello, diggers!”

dials and smiles – Someone who loves tweaking their metal detector – which is often an old or obscure machine without any form of computerization.

dirt fishing — Metal detecting in the dirt (versus beach/sand/underwater.)

discrimination — A variable setting to selectively filter certain metals from being signaled with a metal detector. A high discrimination setting will filter out trash, but also reduces depth. Discrimination is not perfect and may filter out good targets, as well.

draped bust / draped coin – American coinage design from 1795 to 1808.  Highly desirable and rare.

drop – a dropped bullet often associated with the US civil war.

EMI – Electromagnetic interference  “The EMI ruined my day.”

fattie — A thick indian head penny or flying-eagle cent minted between 1859 and 1864.  The coin is noticeably thicker than newer indian head pennies.

fill / fill dirt — dirt that’s been brought in, effectively increasing the depth of old objects/coins. Not a good thing for coin hunting.

find — something you found worth keeping. “That’s a good find.”

flag and bag — Finding and putting objects in Archaeology bags, and leaving a small flag where found.  Usually done as a part of an Archaeological survey.

freestyling / door-knocking — Driving or walking from property to property asking permission to metal detect without a rigorous plan.

friends — additional good targets in a single hole. “It has friends” upon discovery of another signal in the same hole.

gawker — Someone who is intent on watching you metal detect.

GL — good luck – often used in emails and forum posts.  Frequently used with “HH” (happy hunting.)

grand slam – finding four of the same coins from different eras in the same hunt.   With dimes, for example, finding a Seated, Barber, Mercury and Roosevelt variety on the same hunt.  Very uncommon.

greenie – a copper coin with a lovely green patina.

gridding / gridded — detecting using a pattern as you walk along, most common is “straight” or “circular”  Sometimes it means doing a rough check of a location before careful detecting.  “I gridded the area first and decided to start by the old tree.”

growl  / grunt– the sound many detectors make when they’re detecting iron signals (when iron is not discriminated out.)

ground balance / GB— Adjusting the detector to the mineralization in the soil at the current location to be hunted.

halo – an area immediately around some targets where the metal has leeched over many years. “That target had a large halo.”

heartbreaker – A high quality coin or artifact that is found, but something bad is wrong with it (such as a digger scratch, or damage from a plow.)

heartstopper – An impressive object when first viewed in the hole.  Often 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 sort of squeal made by many multi-tone detectors when high conductivity targets (such as silver) are found. Typically desirable. “That’s a nice high tone!”

HH — “happy hunting” – often used in emails and forum posts to sign the end of the note.  “GL/HH”

hockey puck – a very small metal detecting coil, often used to metal detect sites with a lot of junk.

honey hole – A spot that produces good finds hunt after hunt.  Often kept secret.

hot rock — A rock that gives a off a metallic signal and makes detecting difficult.

hunted out / hunted to death — A metal detecting site that has been heavily metal detected over time.

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

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

Joke Tags  – A small personalized metal plates with an engraving of the metal detector’s name, left behind in holes for other detectorists to find.   A practical joke.  Often these are made up using crawdad/lobster cage ID tags.

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 creek or lake.  A common “side-hobby” of detectorists.

masked / masking — When a piece of iron is nearby a desirable target and alters the way the detector responds.   May also describe a mode on a metal detector which temporarily removes all/part of descriminating.

MDing — Metal Detecting

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

Motion –   A mode of operating for most metal detectors – requires the coil to be in motion to detecting accurately.  “I was in motion discriminating mode.”

Newbie — Someone new at the hobby

Nicked – To hit and damage the coin/object with your digging tool.  See also “heartbreaker.”

nighthawk – someone who detects illegally at night.

nine-two-five — .925 Silver – an indication of a high quality silver (Sterling)

non-motion – Programs and modes on a metal detector that do not require the coil to be in motion to work.  “I switched to non-motion all metal mode to pinpoint.”

nulling / nulling out – When the metal detector threshold disappears – usually because of a large quantity of iron.

on-edge –– A coin that is buried in the ground oriented up and down, rather than flat (parallel) to the ground surface. This can make detecting the coin more difficult.

one-way signal – a detecting signal that works when you sweep one direction, but not the other.  Often an indicator of a junk target, but not always.

overlap – a walking pattern where your coin overlaps the last pass slightly for good coverage.

overload – when there is too much metal under the coil for the machine to be useful.  “I overloaded on that paint can lid.”

peep — A high pitched sound at high depth. “That high tone was just a peep.”

permissions – a place to hunt where you have permission to be.  “I went to one of my old permissions today.”

pinpointer — A small, hand-held metal detector used inside of the open hole/plug to help locate the target.

pinpointing — The process of reducing the target to a small area in which to dig, either with the main detecting coil or a hand-held probe. Most metal detectors have a “pinpointing mode” which allows users to audibly construct an “X” on the surface of the ground.

plowline – the area that’s left relatively undisturbed in agricultural fields deeper than plows can reach. “This was below the plowline.”

plug — A hole carefully dug in the ground so that dirt and grass are not harmed. Diggin a good “plug” is the mark of an experience and ethical metal detectorist as it reduces the impact on properties being hunted.

pocketspill / coinspill — A bunch of coins lost from ones’ pocket or purse. Often found in places where people sat in the grass.

probe / poker — A small tool, often made of brass (or tipped with brass) to locate coins before digging by touch.  Resembles an ice-pick and is used by pushing it into the ground prior to starting to dig. Brass, a soft metal,  is used to avoid marring coins. Experienced probe users can feel the difference between coins and rocks. Probes are often used when a very small hole is desired (such as when using detectors on manicured lawns.)

pounded – a detecting spot that has been heavily detected  “That spot is pounded”

pulltab magnet  – A machine that can’t discriminate out pull-tabs very well.   See also “bottlecap magnet.”

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.  “I need to come back with my pulse machine”

rang up – A phrase used to describe a target type indicated by the audio/visual signals of a detector.  “That Indian rang up as a dime.”

reeded edge / silver edge — The groved edge of many silver coins. The opposite of a smooth edge. A reeded edge is often the first clue of the type of coin found in the ground.

relic hunters — A detector enthusiast who searches for common objects and not just precious metals. Often searches occur in fields or woods, and often targets reflect early conflicts such as the Civil War in the US.

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

return – The process of getting lost jewelry back to the owner.  “This was my 5th return this year”

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

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

roundness – A coin or button in the hole.

rubar — Rusted beyond all recognition.

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

screamer – A super high quality signal that is loud in the headphones.  “That quarter was a screamer.”  Often results in a high quality find, such as a large silver coin or artifact.

seeded hunt — A hunt where the the finds have been scattered or planted

skunked — Hunting and finding nothing of value.  “I got skunked.”

smoothie – a coin that’s highly worn, often difficult to see details.

square nail — A very old nail, often hand forged. An indicator of old construction (more on square nails.)

squeak / squeaker – A signal that sounds like a squeak.  Often coins on edge.   Also, sometimes refers to a 1964 silver US coin (last year of 90% Silver.)   See also: peep.

stingy site – Sometimes used to describe a metal detecting site where very little is found.  “That’s a stingy site.”

strip hunting – metal detecting on the street side of sidewalks.

Swinging / Sweeping — Moving the detector coil side-to-side during a hunt.

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 / coin garden — a rigorously designed area (often in one’s back yard) with buried objects such as coins at known depths meant to be used in testing or practicing with a metal detector.

TH’ing — Treasure hunting

threshold — The desirable, gentle hum made by a detector when no target is detected. A threshold often vanishes when discrimination is “triggered” which gives additional information to the metal detector user.

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.

thunk – a sound many multi-tone detectors make when a good target is being masked by a piece of iron.  Sounds like someone “slamming the door” on a good signal.  Sometimes it represents a very deep coin.

toasty / toasted  — A coin that is badly corroded because of a long period of time in the ground. “That indian head penny is toasty”

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.

Tones machine – a metal detector that requires you to learn the sounds rather than looking at the display to successfully classify what you’ve found before digging.

tot-lot — Areas of parks designated for very young children. Often the location for newer lost jewelry. Frequently filled with wood bark or rubber pellets to prevent injury, lost items are frequently just below the surface.

tot-lot-tour — Ariving from park to park to quickly detect the children’s area for valuables. Especially popular on Monday mornings.

transect – a linear “lane” of detecting in a broader grid, often associated with Archaeology.  “We began to lay out detecting transects for this site.”

trifecta – when three same-denomination coins of different eras/types are found.  e.g. A Barber, Mercury and Roosevelt dime all found in the same hunt is a “trifecta of dimes.”

two-tone-ferrous or TTF — A mode of detecting on the Minelab E-Trac detector which is used when there is heavy iron content present. Iron targets give low tones, good targets high tones.

vehicle – the word used for “car” when detectorist is ashamed they don’t have a cool 4×4 truck.

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)

whatzit — Unknown object of curiosity

wheatie — US wheat back cent (1909-1958)

whispers / peeps— Barely audible tones, often an indication of depth.

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.

TIP: For a guide to more of the scientific and technical terms used, check out Minelab’s excellent Metal Detecting Terminology List.