high-performance metal detector

Anatomy of a Metal Detector

To say that all metal detectors are created the same would be a lie. Each and every metal detector brand and model are completely different. They all serve the same purpose though, and for the most part they all have the same basic parts. Almost every single metal detector can easily be broken down into six distinct pieces. It will help you to have a firm understanding of what these six pieces are and how they help you find treasure. Take a closer look at this diagram of an example commercial product.

garrett ace 350 anatomy
Anatomy of Garrett Ace 350

These are the six distinct pieces that almost each and every metal detector has, and to make things even more confusing, you will find that just about every distinct piece on every metal detector is a little bit different. Here is an explanation of what each distinct piece is. Let’s start at the top and work our way down.

The Arm Cuff or Arm Rest

This is one area of the metal detector that is always overlooked. Most people get so excited about the possibilities of finding treasure that they are only worried about how deep a detector will detect, or how well it will discriminate trash from treasure.

These two features are very important, but you will not be able to find any amount of treasure if your arm is sore from swinging your metal detector. This is why it is very important to pay close attention to the arm cuff. The arm cuff should be comfortable like your favorite pair of old shoes, socks or underwear. Okay, I admit. I may have gone too far there, but you get the point.

The importance of a comfortable arm cuff is paramount. This is the one area of your metal detector that gets the most resistance from your body. I know this for a fact because on one of my metal detectors, the arm cuff broke during a big hunt. I thought to myself, “No big deal. I can keep swinging.” Boy was I wrong. I never realized just how important this little arm cuff was. I could not swing my detector for more than five minutes without it. Lightweight metal detectors won’t be a problem, but this was a large waterproof machine.

This brings me to the next point about the arm cuff. It needs to be durable. This is one piece that I have managed to break on almost all of my “heavy duty” detectors. If you can take a metal detector for a test drive, pay very close attention to the comfort and durability of the arm cuff. It really makes a huge difference.

Almost all arm cuffs will have some sort of strap that will keep your arm in place. Arm cuffs are also usually lined with some type of thin soft foam as well. Both of these are very important. Without the strap, it becomes very difficult to use your metal detector for any extended period of time. The same goes for the foam lining.

Quick tip on arm cuffs!

I already mentioned that there was a time when the arm cuff broke on my favorite metal detector. It was going to be a few weeks before I could get a replacement, and there was no way that I was going to wait two weeks to start hunting again. It was the middle of metal detecting season. Yes there is a season for metal detecting. It is hard to metal detect in the snow, so any season when it is not snowing is metal detecting season. Here is what I did to fix the problem.

I went out to my local home improvement store and purchased some PVC pipe. I got a piece
that was about 4-5 inches in diameter. I went ahead and bought a few feet of it.

When I got home, I cut off about a 6 inch section of pipe. I then cut the pipe in half. I cut it so that I now had a piece of pipe that was about six inches long and shaped like a “U.” This would become my temporary arm rest. I covered the rough edges with tape, and used a velcro strap that I purchased a few weeks earlier at a garage sale. I drilled two small holes in my makeshift arm rest and attached it to the shaft of my metal detector. This was two years ago.

I still use this arm cuff to this date!

The Controls

This is the next part on the machine, and it can be the most difficult part to figure out if you have a really fancy machine. The controls will always vary depending on the machine you have. I can’t really go into too much detail about what the different controls are, but I can tell you that the more time you spend with your metal detector the better you will be at using it.

Read the manual, and then play with your machine for a little while. Then read the manual again. The more time you put into the machine, the more you will understand what it is trying to tell you.

Audio / Visual Indicators

These will also vary greatly depending on the machine that you have purchased. One of my favorite machines has no visual indicator at all. It has an excellent pair of headphones that tell me everything I need to know. That brings me to my next point.

I would always recommend using headphones with your metal detector. If your machine does not have them, then there is not much you can do about it, but headphones can really make a huge difference. They will block out all of the background noise that may make you miss some of the more faint sounds. Make sure that the headphones you get are comfortable. You will be wearing them for a long time.

As far as the visual indicators go, they can be simple target indicators, or they can be advanced touch screens that will tell you what the target is, how deep it is buried and your exact coordinates.

You can easily spend too much money on a metal detector. I tell everyone the same thing. Pick out a machine that is not too expensive if you are just starting out. It may turn out that you don’t even like metal detecting, and it would be a shame to spend a lot of money on a metal detector that is just going to collect dust in your closet. Start out small, and when you get hooked, upgrade to a better machine.


Unless some new type of power source has been discovered since the time that I wrote this, then batteries are going to be one of the most important parts to your new metal detector. Without good batteries, you will not be finding anything at all. Always make sure you have fresh batteries, and it never hurts to have a nice spare set too.

Most modern machines will have some sort of rechargeable battery pack. Make sure that you have a spare pack because rechargeable batteries are not always the most reliable, and you would be very angry with yourself if your battery pack died right during the middle of the hunt of a lifetime!

The Shaft

This is the long portion of the metal detector that goes from the controls down to the coil. The coil is usually attached to the shaft. There are some machines where the shaft is adjustable. The longer the shaft is, the more ground you will be able to cover. A longer shaft may also be more difficult to swing for long periods of time.

I even went so far as to replace the entire length of the stock shaft that came with one of my metal detectors with a longer piece of lightweight aluminum pipe. By extending the length of the shaft on my metal detector, it gave me about two feet of more coverage when I swing from left to right.

More coverage means more chances to locate some treasure. You will learn over time that metal detecting is a very precise hobby. The more ground you cover, the better your chances are of recovering some great treasure. This by no means is an indicator that you should try to complete any sort of speed runs. Slow and steady wins the race with this concept.

The Coil

There seems to be some argument in this area of the metal detector. There are some people that think a large coil is the best way to recover more treasure, and there are some people who think that a smaller coil is the only way to go. I have used both and here is where I weigh in on the subject. There is a right time and a wrong time to use each one.

I got excited and purchased an aftermarket coil for my favorite machine. It did allow me to cover more ground which meant that I could possibly find more treasure. It was also harder to pinpoint, it did not locate targets as deep as the stock coil did and at times it got in the way. I tried it for a few months, and ended up going back to my stock coil.

There are also times when a smaller coil is the best choice. It will allow you to easily detect in some very small tight spaces. Just imagine trying to use a metal detector that has a coil that
is 14 inches (35 centimeters) in diameter in an area of woods where the trees are about 10 inches (25 centimeters) apart.

Do you think that would work? No it would not. The person that is using a smaller 8 or 6 inch coil (20 or 15 centimeter coil) will be able to walk right into the woods and locate all of the treasure while the person with the large coil is trying to figure out how to get their metal detector into the woods.

A smaller coil will also make it much easier to locate good targets in an area where there are a lot of trashy targets. With most small coils, you sacrifice depth. There is a time and a place for everything.

Quick tip on coils!

In order to get the best results from your metal detector, you should keep your coil as close to the ground as possible at all times. People have a tendency to lift the coil up as they get to the end of their swings. This will cause the machine to false, and it will also cause it to lose sensitivity. It takes a little bit of practice to keep the coil level the entire time you are using it but it really makes a huge difference.

Remember, part of the joy of metal detecting is slowing down and checking out everything around you. Let the machine tell you where the targets are with its audio responses while your eyes scan the ground ahead of you. This is also a good practice that will keep you from stepping in poop, traps or on a nasty snake. Keep your ears focused on the sound and your eyes focused on the ground in front of you.

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