An Opinion on Metal Detector Ergonomics
By Lee Wiese
In the U.S. metal detecting market there are six major manufacturers of
detectors and these six manufacturers offer more than 59 different models.
These multi-functional detector models start at a price of $200 or less and
go to a high of $1,500 or more, so choosing the right detector can be a
challenging task. The intent of this article is to provide guidance on one
very important aspect of metal detectors - ergonomics. Ergonomics should be
one of most important elements in any decision to purchase a detector since
friendly ergonomics will result in the efficient use of the operator’s
energy and minimize the possibly of sore muscles or injury to the operator
Ergonomics is defined as the science related to man and his work, embodying
the anatomic, physiologic, and mechanical principles affecting the efficient
use of human energy.
Detector ergonomics comes down to THREE
major issues; the gripping of the
detector with your hand, weight / balance of the detector and adjustability
of the detector’s handle length. Excellent ergonomic design will result in
less strain put on the wrist, arm, shoulder, and/or back during the use of
First there are two types of handle designs used by detector manufactures:
the “L” shaped handle and “S” shaped handle. In the two photos you can see
an example of each of the designs and how they are gripped.
“L” Shape Handle “S” Shape Handle
Take a look at the “L” shaped handle in the photo (at the DOTTED RED ARROW
and note that the remaining portion of the handle for coil attachment is
designed to extend outward below the hand and wrist. This design feature
helps to reduce the load on the wrist during the swing of the search coil.
An additional feature of this handle’s design is that the electronics is
usually mounted on top of the “L” portion of the handle placing the
electronics above the hand (see the BLUE CIRCLE
). Now take another look at
the hand gripping the “L” shaped handle in the photo (at the SOLID RED
) and you will see the angle on the hand and wrist is in a more natural
position with little or no strain on the wrist. Take your own hand and hold
it in that position, you will feel no strain.
Now take a look at the “S” shaped handle in the photo (at the DOTTED RED
) note that the remaining portion of the handle extends forward and
outward above the hand and wrist where the coil and electronics (see the
) are attached. Now look at the gripping of the “S” shaped handle
in the photo (see the SOLID RED ARROW
) and you will see that the hand is
tipped slightly downward. This slight downward tilt of the hand puts an
unnatural strain on the wrist and forearm and will over time extend to the
shoulder. Note: some “S” handles may have a greater vertical angle design
that will bring the grip closer to the “L” design grip. The mounting of the
electronics after the grip will add weight to the swing of the search coil
and increase the strain on the wrist. Take your own hand and hold it in that
position, you will feel a slight strain in the wrist area.
The second ergonomic issue is the weight of the detector and how the weight
is distributed on the detector’s handle. One of the specifications of a
detector is weight with and without the batteries installed but there is
usually no discussion or specification on detector balance. A well balanced
detector should have a fulcrum or balance point where the hand grips the
handle. This is the point where there is equal weight before and after the
grip, the best possible situation for swinging the search coil for a long
period of time.
For the “L” shaped handle the electronics are ideally placed directly above
the hand grip and usually the batteries are placed under the forearm for
added balance to the overall assembly. This brings the balance point very
close to the hand grip but still slightly forward of the grip point. This
design is approaching the ideal situation.
The “S” shaped handle usually has the electronics placed on the handle after
the hand grip position which puts more weight past the gripping position.
The placement of the electronics after grip position toward the search coil
end will result in a very un-balanced handle. This situation puts a greater
load on the wrist and forearm because the balance point is much further
forward of the grip position.
The third ergonomic issue of importance is the ability to extend the lower
handle to the correct length for good upright posture while swinging the
search coil. This adjustment will reduce the strain on the operators
shoulder and back. Improper adjustment can cause the operator to bend over
while swinging the coil and may result in a lower back stress during the
There are a few more ergonomic issues one must be aware of with detectors.
First the detector must have an audio volume control & a headphone jack. The
audio output should be stereo and the volume control should cover a wide
range for good operator comfort and target identification. Also if the
detector has an LCD display, the display information should be very readable
(Large Characters) in bright sun light and have an excellent back lighted
display for night use.
The recommendation is that for new detector purchases there should be a
review of the detector’s ergonomics before hitting the BUY button. Make sure
the detector is light, well balanced, and has a good grip design that will
put less strain on the wrist, the arm, shoulder and back while swinging that
search coil for the treasure find of a life time. A side note: some
manufactures offer ultra light detector to enhance the ergonomics of their
models and this certainly makes a huge difference during their usage. Also
there are a number of after market manufactures that offer “L” shaped
handles for many of the major manufacturers’ detector models. Their products
can be found on the web.
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