You may think that metal detectors can find all types of metal, but this isn’t always the case. Older and less advanced metal detectors may not be able to pick up on certain metals that don’t have a strong metallic character. One metal without a strong metallic character is lead.
Modern, more advanced metal detectors can pick up lead even though lead has low electrical conductivity and doesn’t have a strong metallic character. Lead gives off high tones on most metal detectors.
This article describes everything you need about metal detectors and their ability to pick up lead. I’ll also discuss some lead items to keep an eye out for and give some tips.
How Metal Detectors Pick Up Lead
Metal detectors use a search coil to transmit an electromagnetic field, interacting with any metal objects under the ground. The coil can sense the metal and trigger a tone that the person using the metal detector can hear. Lead is a metal, but it is a poor conductor of electricity, so only modern and advanced metal detectors can detect it.
Conductors allow electricity to flow through them because they easily flow between ions and electrons. Most metals are good conductors of electricity, but lead is an exception because it interacts with atmospheric oxygen and forms a layer of lead oxide.
Metal detectors produce a current that goes through a coil, which makes a magnetic field. If there is a conductive object, the currents flow through the circuit and magnetize it, emitting a signal by speeding up or slowing down the magnetic flux lines.
Because lead is such a poor conductor of electricity, past metal detectors couldn’t pick up on lead’s few frequencies, especially the metal detectors created shortly after the machine’s invention in 1881 and throughout the early and mid-1900s.
However, modern meal detectors are more advanced and capable of detecting the small number of frequencies that lead sends back through the search coil. The search coil then alerts the machine, which transmits a signal back through the headphones you can hear.
Lead usually gives a high-pitched sound, similar to the tone given for gold. If you’re in an area you know has lots of lead, and you’re not getting a signal, your metal detector might not be advanced enough to sense the lead, or there might be a problem with your search coil. For more information, check out my guide on troubleshooting the most common coil issues: How to Tell If Your Metal Detector Coil is Bad
Gold is also a metal with poor electrical conductivity, so any metal detector capable of sensing gold can also pick up lead. Therefore, if you’re searching for a metal detector that you can use to find lead, I recommend checking out prospecting metal detectors. These metal detectors usually have the best, most advanced technology that will be able to sense lead.
Lead Objects You Can Find With a Metal Detector
If you’re reading this article, chances are you have a lead object in mind that you’d like to search for.
However, here are some other objects made of lead that you may encounter while metal detecting to give you a better idea of what treasures await:
- Civil War bullets: Old bullets were made of lead, so you might get lucky and stumble upon a piece of history. However, many old war sites are on protected land, so metal detecting is prohibited.
- Old utensils: Lead isn’t used to make utensils anymore because it can lead to many health problems and even death from lead poisoning. However, many utensils were made with lead in the past, so you might find some older cutlery.
- Fishing tools: Many fishing tools, including sinkers and jigs, are made with lead.
- Historical artifacts or figurines: You may get extremely lucky and stumble upon an old, historical object made of lead. If you find such an object, you probably won’t be able to keep it, and you should report it to an appropriate authority so the public can enjoy your discovery. For more information, check out my article on keeping the things you find with a metal detector: Can You Keep Things You Find with a Metal Detector?
- Pipes and plumbing materials: Some pipes are made with lead, so you might come across an old pipe.
- Batteries: Batteries are made of lead; in fact, 85% of the lead in use today is used to make batteries; if you find batteries while metal detecting, you can donate them to be recycled.
Part of the fun of metal detecting is that you never know what you’ll find. As long as you keep getting out there and trying, you’ll likely find some lead objects.
Tips for Metal Detecting Lead
Detecting lead is already difficult enough because it is a poor conductor of electricity, so any help or guidance you can get to have more success picking up lead will be helpful.
Here are some tips for finding lead the next time you head out with your metal detector:
- Practice with your metal detector before you go out. Sometimes, the hard part of picking up lead is understanding what sound your metal detector makes when it senses lead. Try laying out some pieces of lead in your yard, running your metal detector over them, and listening to the machine’s signal. If you don’t hear anything, your metal detector might not be advanced enough to sense lead.
- Use your metal detector’s discrimination settings. Most high-end metal detectors allow you to choose which metals to find and set the detector to only look for that metal. This feature allows you to waste less time digging up undesirable items and more time discovering what you’re looking for.
- Use high-quality headphones. When metal detectors pick up lead, they usually give a high-pitched signal that can be difficult for some users to hear, especially if they aren’t using headphones and have to compete with outside noise. Therefore, I highly recommend that you use high-quality headphones when you’re looking for lead.
Following these tips will give you a better chance of finding a lead. You should keep in mind, though, that the most crucial part of finding a lead is using the right metal detector; one with advanced technology to pick up on lead despite its weak metallic character.
Is Lead Dangerous?
Metal detectors can pick up lead, but you might not want to spend too much time searching for this material. Lead poisoning is a serious medical condition that occurs when someone is exposed to extremely high levels of lead for a short period of time. You won’t be so exposed to lead while metal detecting that you give yourself lead poisoning, but it is still smart to be aware of this condition.
Most people get lead poisoning from contaminated air, water, or soil. Here are some common sources of lead:
- Dust from lead paint chips
- Some pottery glazes
- Some cosmetics, especially eye makeup
- Some toys, especially those made abroad
- Some clothing
Here are some symptoms of lead poisoning:
- Frequent headaches
- Memory loss
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Hearing loss
- Miscarriage in pregnant women
- Pain in the abdomen, hands, and/or feet
Lead poisoning eventually gets a lot more serious and can lead to anemia, kidney damage, brain damage, and even death.
Luckily, there are some things you can do to prevent getting this condition:
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after metal detecting for lead objects
- Clean the surfaces in your home frequently
- Remove your shoes before you go into your home, especially after a metal detecting adventure
- Eat enough calcium, vitamin C, and iron
- Avoid using lead-based paint in your home
As mentioned above, you probably won’t be so exposed to lead to get lead poisoning because of metal detecting, but it is important to stay informed. If you notice any of the symptoms above, I recommend seeking professional medical help right away.
Lead is a poor conductor of electricity, so even though it is a metal, older and less advanced metal detectors cannot pick up on lead objects and transmit a signal to the user. However, more advanced modern technology has improved metal detectors’ sensitivity, so most metal detectors can pick up lead. Still, finding lead with a metal detector can be challenging if you aren’t using a high-quality detector and looking in the right places.