Shopping for a Metal Detector

A conversation about finding a good metal detector. October 1, 2009

Could someone suggest a good metal detector? I have tried several with limited luck. I am cutting some hydro poles and occasionally a barn beam - mostly nails and screws. Is there any special technique to using them? Can they detect deeply imbedded nails?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor D:
Got mine from Radio Shack for about $90 - on the recommendation of another sawmiller who got his from the same for $50. They were sold out of the $50 one's when I got there. So far my little buddy has not missed a single piece of trash metal in a log. The head on mine (probably on all) swivels, which makes it easy to scan along the bottom of a log. Sensitivity is adjustable, which is nice. Just scan the log before it gets onto the mills load arm - too late at that point, the metal of the mill will set them off. Get one Ė itís a good investment to save money on bands.

From contributor W:
Yes they can detect deeply embedded nails. I like the ones with the 'pinpoint' option. I think it's just a sensitivity adjustment like the other poster said. The one I have has an inner ring on the head so when in pinpoint mode you know it's in the center portion. I always use pinpoint so it doesn't pick up 'ambient' metal. The key is getting used to how it works so no matter which one you get practice with it and get a feel for what different sounds mean etc. If you can keep a 'metal detection' area free of metal it will save you aggravation. The metal detector doesn't lie! Too bad detection is only half the battle. For removing broken embedded nails one of those antique style 'slide hammer' nail pullers is essential. The type they used to open crates in the old days. Hope this helps!

From contributor H:
I did a great deal of searching myself a month ago about what detector to get. There are very little on specifics out there. I ended up buying a Wizard III for $75 from Lee Valley tools, and a Rens P4000 from Bailey's for $1395. I used both recently for the first time on the job and they make a great combination. The Wizard can be used on the mill for the next cut and to sort between metal near the surface or not. The Rens sees very deep. Of course how deep for both depends on how big the metal is. With the Rens, you have to scan the log at least four feet or more away from the mill, and then as it is being rolled toward the mill.

You should clear the ground first you're going to roll the log over to make sure there's nothing there that lights up. Having metal detectors however doesn't take care of your problems. The question then becomes what are you going to do when you find metal. Recently I found metal twice, and unfortunately ended up hitting both pieces and charging the customer for two blades. However the wood wasn't ruined because we cut the suspect cants last, and went very slowly so that after the blade hit metal it didn't dive up or down and ruin the boards.

It probably saved time compared to hitting it by surprise. Basically the detector gives you more choices and eliminates the nasty surprise. "Managing expectations" one might say. All told I'm very glad to have the detectors and hopefully next time I can avoid blade charges possibly by carrying with me damaged, already paid for blades which will still cut straight when approaching the bad areas. The Rens 4000 is very fast and easy to use. Certainly worth having if one is buying or accepting free logs, or especially if you're cutting down trees for the wood, with no customer paying when you hit metal.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for your replies. I am in Canada and am not familiar with baileys. Are they woodlot suppliers or more electronics, etc? I agree that keeping some damaged blades on hand is a good idea. I should really refuse to cut hydro poles and suspect logs but seem to get talked into it, you just have to charge for the damages. At roughly $100 for the cheaper models, do you feel they will do a screening, or does one have to spend a bit more to get accuracy and satisfaction? The Rens model may be out of my ballpark.

From contributor H:
The Lumber Wizard III detects the sawmill from about 8-10" away. It won't detect a 3" nail until it's about 2" away. So it will screen for you near the surface, and seems to be a good answer for whether or not you can saw the next 1-2" thick board off of the log without hitting metal. I would strongly recommend it or another similar model to you (like Garrett). Finding metal just near the surface of a log is valuable. It's very useful in the shop, on the mill, or in the snow looking for what you dropped. But it won't tell you if most logs big enough to be worth sawing are metal-free.

From contributor I:
I have a white 5900 di pro. It does a great job when itís set right. I paid over $900 for it but itís been worth it.

From contributor Y:
I use a Lumber Wizard. Can't remember the price but it wasn't that expensive - around $150 or under. I had a friend look at it after he had hit a nail in some reclaimed wood he was planing and said he would have paid for the Wizard with the three planer blades he ruined. Piling into metal with wood working tools is dangerous and frustrating. Metal detection tools are great.

From contributor S:
If you are short on money, Harbor freight has a clone of the lumber wizard. It works pretty well for $25. Always look for tell-tale staining as you mill lumber, even if you have checked it for metal before. Seems like every nail I have hit has been buried deep!

From contributor T:
I use a treasure hunter type of metal detector and it hasnít failed yet. I cut three foot diameter logs from yards too.