Silver can be difficult to identify because there are a lot of metals that look similar. Each material’s value differs vastly from this precious metal, so it’s important to know the difference. Fortunately, there are a few tests you can run to check if a rock has silver or not.
To tell if a rock has silver in it, look for a dull silver tone, test it with a magnet, or hold it over a Bunsen burner. Silver has a high melting point, so a regular handheld lighter won’t melt it. You can also use an acid scratch test to check if a rock is silver or has silver in it.
In this post, I’ll show you multiple ways to tell if a rock you found has silver in it. I’ll also explain which tests you can use to identify real silver.
1. Look for Physical Signs of Silver
Silver is often confused with platinum, aluminum, iron, and other metals. All of these materials are silver-colored, but true natural silver has a couple of distinct traits that you can look for. Checking for these characteristics will let you know if you should try the remaining steps and tests.
Here’s a list of silver’s unique traits:
- Silver is slightly dull with a white shine when it’s near a light source. That being said, it’s not as white or bright as platinum. Silver is also duller than aluminum, but it’s brighter and shinier than iron. Check the ore for random bright patches among sooty dark spots to know if you might have silver.
- According to Provident Metals, broken silver has a hackly fracture appearance. It breaks apart a lot like copper. It looks like metal drops were frozen throughout the rock. Silver is almost never found in a natural, solid form without other minerals and metals. Its unique hackly fractures distinguish it from the rest.
- Natural silver deposits form with limestone, granite, clay slate, and a few other minerals and rocks. Check for these rocks and minerals to know if you might’ve found silver. Although identification can be tricky, you can quickly narrow down the results and possibilities by knowing more details about the surrounding rocks.
- Silver is very soft and scratches easily. Much like gold, silver is softer than most metals. It breaks much easier than platinum, palladium, and even some minerals. If you found raw silver, you should be able to scratch it with a rock pick or a sharp knife. This is one of the many reasons silver works so well with acid scratch tests.
- Silver-bearing rocks often have dark, crystalline marks. This happens because rocks form around the aforementioned hackly fractures made by silver. Furthermore, high temperatures and excessive amounts of moisture can turn exposed silver patches, making them look dark brown or black. It can also make them look slightly yellow.
2. Check the Silver With a Magnet
Silver isn’t magnetic, which means you shouldn’t be able to notice any interactions with magnets, magnetic apps, and similar tools. Quick Test explains that you can check if a nugget is made of silver by waving a magnet over it. That being said, it’s important to note that there could be other magnetic materials present in the rock.
So, how can you use magnets to identify silver in a rock?
Use a Smartphone Magnet App
Magnetic smartphone apps are getting increasingly sophisticated and easier to use. These effective applications let you test the surrounding magnetic fields, checking for various metals. If you wave the app over your potential silver-bearing rock and it’s magnetic, the exposed portion isn’t silver. Consider the Magnetic Field Sensor app for the best results.
Hold Any Magnet Over the Rock
Magnets will push or pull the material if it’s magnetic. Unfortunately, this means the material isn’t made of silver. However, you could also crush the rock and look for small pieces of potential silver, testing each of them with a magnet (or the previously mentioned magnetic field app).
Another option is to use a metal detector. Silver is extremely conductive, which means you can find it with almost any metal detector. Wave the metal detector over the rock with potential pieces of silver in it, then keep an eye on the tool. Smaller pieces of silver can be harder to detect, so you could get a detector with a higher frequency.
3. Try To Melt the Rock With a Bunsen Burner
Bunsen burners can’t melt platinum, but they can melt silver and many other metals. These high-grade burners have adjustable collars that let you control the heat output. This process allows you to increase the burner’s temperature to the point that it would melt aluminum and similar metals, but not silver.
Here’s the easiest method to use a Bunsen burner on a silver-bearing rock:
- Use a laser or infrared thermometer to monitor and adjust the Bunsen burner’s flame temperature. Cast Master Elite reports that silver melts at approximately 1,761 degrees Fahrenheit (960.5 Celsius). Increase the temperature to within 100 degrees Fahrenheit of this limit. If it melts, it’s not made of silver. If it doesn’t, it could be silver.
- Hold the rock over the fire with flame-resistant tongs. Make sure the tons have a high enough temperature resistance to prevent them from melting when you put them over the flame. Slowly rotate the rock, ensuring all sides of it are heated to the same temperature. You can use the aforementioned thermometer to monitor the rock.
- Look for signs of melting, corrosion, and similar effects. Keep in mind that other materials throughout the rock can melt (including the primary mineral holding it together). However, the potential piece of silver shouldn’t melt at all. It could change colors slightly, ranging from dark yellow to dark brown.
- Remove the rock from the flame and break it open if necessary. You can break it apart and look for other pieces of silver to test. Remember, the material could also be made of platinum (though platinum is significantly rarer than silver, gold, and other metals).
4. Use a Silver Acid Test
Acid tests are some of the most efficient ways to check almost any precious metal at home. They come with multiple items, including a metal-specific acid solution, a stone, and a pair of gloves (if yours doesn’t include gloves, you should still wear a pair). There are acid scratch kits for several materials, so make sure you choose the correct one for silver.
Follow these instructions to use a silver acid test properly:
- Place the scratching stone on a level surface and scratch the potential piece of silver in the rock against the stone. You should scratch at least between 1.25 to 1.5 inches to cover a sizeable area. A bit of metal dust will form on the surface of the stone. Leave it and don’t brush it away!
- Pour a couple of drops on the scratched portion of the stone, ensuring that all of the dust is covered in the liquid. The liquid is specific to the metal you’re testing. You can use it to check for all sorts of materials. Don’t use more than two to three drops per test or it could interfere with the reaction.
- Wait for a few seconds, then inspect the stone. If the solution dissolves the material, then it wasn’t made of silver. If there’s no interaction between the acid and the metal, then it’s raw silver. There might be a bit of bubbling, but the metal dust shouldn’t dissolve or break down.
- Break the rock with a rubber mallet and test other pieces of silver by repeating the process. These kits typically come with enough of the acidic solution to test multiple parts of the rock, so you should be able to check several chunks. You can also use it to check if your jewelry is made of real silver.
5. Crush and Pan the Materials
You can crush and pan almost any rock you come across. This method allows you to bring everything you prospected back to your house. It makes it much easier to pan when you have spare time rather than spending your whole time at a river panning for silver and gold.
All you have to do is follow this procedure:
- Crush the rock into ½” (12.7mm) pieces with a hammer.
- Grind the rock chunks into a coarse, sandy powder with a metal rod or a mortar and pestle.
- Pour the powder through a sieve.
- Scoop and pan the powder with a cup or two of water as you normally would.
There are many places you can find gold-bearing rocks and silver-bearing rocks. In fact, you can pan for gold and silver without a claim in several locations across the country.
Silver might be hard to find, but there are several methods of identifying this precious metal. Whether you decide to crush and pan for silver or use various magnetic tests, there’s no doubt that you can check every potential silver grain and nugget that you come across.