A magnetic locator is an instrument used to locate ferrous metals. Commonly, we use it to locate underground buried objects such as iron stakes, mag nails, pk nails, survey monuments, rebar, steel well casings, pipe joints, septic tank handles, manhole cover, cast iron pipes, valve boxes, underground oil storage tanks, and even unexploded ordnances.
For homeowners, this instrument is important to find the established property line. Perhaps, you are going to install a fence or build a new guess room or start gardening or even face an invasive neighbor. Rebuilding the fence because you invade your neighbor’s land is not cheap. Worsely, your relationship breaks apart. All the steps start from knowing the boundary of your property line.
As the landowner, hiring a licensed land surveyor can charge you a single unit of a magnetic locator according to HomeAdvisor (cost may change anytime). If you have free time, you should be able to do it.
If you are a surveyor, a magnetic locator will save you time, effort, and money. Although an underground magnetic locator is expensive, they can last up to 20 years according to EngineerSupply. It should be a win-win solution for you.
For contractors, this device can be your utility locator, too. In some cases, the utilities cannot be traced down using a wire cable locator or pipe locator because there is no way to inject/pick the signal. A magnetic locator can locate iron pipe lines, pipe joints, valve boxes, and underground oil tanks without injecting any electrical signal.
Whether you are going to buy or rent a magnetic locator, the following top 5 best magnetic locators can be your reference before making a decision. Read further to learn about the buying guide and the difference between magnetic locator and metal detector.
Top 5 Best Magnetic Locator Reviews in 2023
1. Schonstedt Maggie Magnetic Locator [Best Overall]
If you are asking us about the best magnetic locator for surveyors, our answer is Schonstedt Maggie. It has all the surveyors need such as deep sensitivity, fancy audio visual output, water protection, single-handed operation, ergonomic, padded case, durable, and 7-year warranty.
Its accuracy and sensitivity allow locating down to 20 feet in depth. Surely, it depends on the object’s size. In this case, a well casing buried 20 feet deep is able to be located using this instrument.
For small objects, it can locate a 1-1/4″ PK nail that is buried up to 12″. Since the mag nail is larger than the PK nail, it should locate the mag nail as well.
All in all, this instrument is able to locate PK nails, mag nails, railroad spikes, iron stakes, cast iron pipes, pipe joints, septic tank handles, rebar, corner marker, steel drums, magnetic objects nearby fences, manholes, well casings, and ordnances.
If you are a contractor and wanting a magnetic locator that can act as a utility locator as well, this model is the choice.
Fancy Audio Visual Output
Schonstedt Maggie produces the output in two ways: audio and visual.
It has a built-in speaker on the top side of the panel. The sound volume is adjustable. You could also plug in an external speaker. Sometimes, working in a noisy place may drown the audio output, a headphone can handle it. However, you should let one ear hear surroundings.
On the LCD display, you could see the visual output. There are several indicators such as battery level, sensitivity level that you have selected, numbered digital reading, and bar graph. The bar graph shows the polarity (positive or negative) and the relative signal strength of the ferromagnetic objects.
This bar graph is helpful when locating pipe lines, steel drums, and ordnances. It lets you identify whether it’s a horizontal pipe or two vertical pipes. In most cases, two close vertical pipes generate the same polarity.
Water and Dust Protection
The lower body part is waterproof while the panel (where the buttons take place) is IP54 rated. This protection permits you to carry it with peace in mind even though it light rains. Locating the objects covered by water or snow is no problem because you can submerge some parts of the lower body into the water. Don’t worry about the water splash that jumps to the panel. Once again, it has passed the IP54 rating test.
Single Hand Operated
This Maggie model allows you to operate it single-handed because all the buttons are placed on the top side of the panel. Using a thumb, you can reach all the buttons. In addition to the benefits, you could wear a wristwatch on your second hand without causing any interference with the locator.
This pistol grip magnetic locator makes handling easier. You could position the locator more vertically or slightly tilted. Especially when locating cast iron pipes, you have to operate the locator vertically, this grip model really helps you to do it. The same thing goes for pinpointing small objects such as PK nails that require a vertical locator position above the ground. This instrument can precisely find it.
This padded case is important for protection when carrying the device. Perhaps, you put it on the truck and let it bounces up and down. The padded case can be a shield for it.
For surveyors, having a long-lasting instrument can save time and money. Schonstedt is backed up with 7 years warranty. Some users reported that this one lasts decades.
It can be a little tricky to locate things nearby fences. As you could read in the manual, a perpendicular position is required so that it doesn’t interfere with the iron fences. Aside from that, its sensitivity level that you can adjust is only 4. Its battery life is only 24 hours of medium use. However, these drawbacks are not fatal. All in all, we’d like to say that Schonstedt Maggie is the best choice overall for any needs.
2. CST/Berger 19-202SC MagnaTrak Magnetic Locator [Budget Option]
If you are a homeowner who wants to build a fence, the best magnetic locator for your DIY surveying is CST/Berger 19-202SC. This model allows you to locate iron pins nearby the fence easily with its erase feature. Nicely, it is budget-friendly.
Easy to Use for Magnetic Objects Nearby Fence
There is no need for a perpendicular movement to locate metal objects nearby the fence. The interference can be easily minimized by pressing the erase button. Now, you could locate the iron pins more accurately.
Audio and Visual Output
The screen is highly informative. There are a bar graph, power line notification, battery indicator, sensitivity level indicator, numbered digital signal, and sound volume level indicator.
The bar graph tells us the polarity and signal strength. As said before, bar graph is helpful to locate some utilities.
Power line notification is nice. This indicator shown on the screen notifies you when nearby an active power line. As it generates a magnetic field, the locator may catch it. You are aware of the power line magnetic field may mislead your locator.
Buttons on the panel are 2 right buttons for sound volume control, 2 left buttons for sensitivity level control, erase button, and a power button.
Long Battery Life
CST/Berger 19-202SC has an outstanding long hour operation of up to 100 hours of medium use powered by 6 AA batteries. If you have a long project for several days, the 6 batteries should cover it.
3. Schonstedt GA-52Cx Magnetic Locator
If you don’t need fancy visual output, but want a Schonstedt product, Schonstedt GA-52Cx can be your choice. By choosing this model, you are more focused on sensitivity. It can locate underground magnetic things down to 18 feet depending on the object’s dimension.
Not only sensitive but also more extending battery life. Powered by 2 9-volt batteries, it can last up to 40 hours of medium use.
There are two knobs. One knob is to adjust sound volume and the second one is to adjust the sensitivity. There is no screen display, only audio output. As long as you remember what you’ve just set up, no need for visual output.
The drawback is no IP rating qualified of the panel. You could still use it to locate things covered by water because its stick is waterproof. But, be careful of the panel because it hasn’t been qualified for any IP rating. You shouldn’t use it under rain or snow because it has no guarantee of water resistance.
This simple Schonstedt magnetic locator comes with a 7-year warranty.
4. Schonstedt SPOT Magnetic Locator
Schonstedt SPOT is sensitive, lightweight, water protected, and durable. It also should be the cheapest price point amongst the five Schonstedt locators (GA-52Cx, GA-72Cx, GA-92Cx, Maggie, and Spot).
It’s reliable to locate ferrous objects buried up to 18 feet underground depending on object size. Its weight is about 2.0 lb. (0.9 kg) which is lightweight.
The panel is safer from water and dust ingression with an IP54 rating. So, operating it during light rain will not be a problem. While the bottom tip all the way up to 27 inches near the panel is waterproof.
There are two buttons on the panel: power and sensitivity buttons. It has no sound volume control button, thus, the sound volume is fixed. But, the sensitivity is controllable. You could adjust 5 gain levels: Extra Low, Low, Medium, High, and Extra High.
If you are a pro that not needs visual support, then we consider the Schonstedt SPOT model would be a decisive choice for your budget. You should save some bucks rather than buying the Maggie model.
Like other Schonstedt magnetic locators, this model has a 7-year warranty representing its quality and durability.
5. CST/Berger 19-555 MT101 Magna-Trak Locator with Soft Case
Looking for another budget choice of magnetic locator? Check out CST/Berger 19-555.
It possesses all the important functions such as sensitivity and volume controls. If you want to distinguish a large magnetic object from the smaller ones, you could reduce the sensitivity to find the larger one. It goes the same with the depth of them buried. At full sensitivity level, it allows you to locate deeper objects up to 15 feet of large iron tanks. The sound also helps you guess about the object’s depth and size.
If you want to locate iron stakes nearby the fence, this instrument can do it. Simply, you need to move the locator perpendicularly to the fence to locate without interference.
Another advantage of this model is its waterproof tube. So, you can locate buried objects ground surface that is inundated by water. It’s claimed that the housing (upper body part) is water-resistant although there is no a known water protection rating.
Since there is no fancy visual display, meanwhile, the 6 AA battery is ready to power up the system, this instrument’s battery life can last for more than 100 hours of moderate use. Locating for days will be sufficient.
Magnetic Locator Vs. Metal Detector
The advantages of a magnetic locator are its capability to locate down to 20 feet in depth (depending on the magnetic object’s size and instrument capability).
Aside from that, a magnetic locator gives you further information about the object being located. It’s not interfered with other non-ferrous objects such as those made from brass, aluminum, copper, etc. So, you are narrower at guessing the object. Moreover, some models come with polarity detection. This capability allows you to guess the object’s shape, direction (horizontal or vertical), and even length.
In comparison with a metal detector, it can only locate shallow metals about 9-12″ underground according to Eastcomassoc.
So, in terms of locating magnetic objects, a magnetic locator is way more powerful than a metal detector.
Things to Consider When Buying Magnetic Locator
1. Sensitivity (Accuracy)
For magnetic locators made by Schonstedt, they made a nice explanation of how their products work, the longer the separation between the sensors, the more sensitive it is. The more sensitive it is, the more accurate it is to locate ferromagnetic objects.
Each magnetic locator’s capability to detect magnetic objects varies. Some of them are able to detect up to 20 feet underground while the others are up to 15 feet only. If you are going to use it for surveying only, this doesn’t matter. But for utilities, it matters.
Sensitivity also means how reliable it is to locate small objects. Objects such as PK nails and mag nails require high sensitivity to locate.
A long operation requires long battery power. You shouldn’t charge or replace the battery during the job in the field. A long battery use also gives you an advantage of no worry about the exhausting power during the instrument operation.
3. Output (Audio or/and Visual)
Some locators come with audio output only, while some come with audio and visual output. If you require ease of use, choose the one with audio-visual output.
When selecting the locator with audio output only, make sure the audio has a sufficient range of frequency. That means, the frequency can increase when the locator is exactly above the surface of the magnetic objects. The frequency decreases as the locators off from the exact point of the object.
Aside from that consideration, it should be able to allow you to adjust the audio volume.
Several models allow you to connect with an external speaker a.k.a. “headphone”. However, in some cases, working with headphones can be dangerous and not recommended.
The LCD screen should show a bar graph for polarity indication and magnetic strength, battery indicator, and sensitivity indicator.
The expanding bar graph shows that the magnetic strength increase. If it expands to the right/up, it is commonly showing positive polarity. Meanwhile, if it expands to the left/down, it is commonly showing negative polarity. You could check the manual for the guide.
Another important thing your screen should display is the battery indicator. If you cannot guess the remaining power and don’t want the locator suddenly off during serious work, the battery indicator is an important feature for you. The same thing goes for the sensitivity indicator. You may forget the sensitivity level that you have chosen, the indicator can recall it for you.
4. Working Temperature
Read the manual to find its working temperature. This information is important to know whether the instrument is suitable to work in snow or desert.
5. IP Rating
Like many other digital instruments, the IP rating tells you how resistant it is against water, moisture, and dust ingression. Working under the rain can be no problem if the panel has a sufficient IP rating. Additionally, locating any ferrous metal object covered by mud or water is okay if it’s water-resistant.
In many cases, the tube that covers the sensors is waterproof. However, the panel has only a certain IP rating. So, you cannot ingress all the locator body parts. The panel should be kept dry to work well.
The warranty gives you peace of mind. As we know that this type of instrument is expensive. Backing it up with a nice warranty is wise.
How to Use Magnetic Locator
It’s easy to use it. You should keep the position of the locator perpendicular to the earth’s surface. Especially when dealing with small objects, you need to locate them vertically. If you can’t do it, keep it at a 30-degree or 45-degree angle. Locating iron metals nearby a fence requires perpendicular movement to the fence. This method is needed to eliminate interference caused by the iron fence.
Thanks to God and scientists. The continuous development of instrumentation, especially magnetometers, makes our life easier.
The top 5 best magnetic locator products on the above list have been exposed in the shape of reviews. Plus, there are 6 extra choices you may want to consider. Among them, we consider Schonstedt Maggie as the best magnetic locator overall. It can locate both small and large magnetic objects. Not only a magnetic locator but also a utility locator.
Grab your plot plan and do it yourself. By using a surveyor tape/laser measure, compass, GPS tracker, and theodolite, you should be able to survey your own land.
If you are going to use a magnetic locator for a utility locator, keep in mind that it cannot locate stainless steel as it contains a small portion of iron. It locates iron and steel only. Another disadvantage is the magnetic locator cannot tell you how deep the utility is buried underground.
The combination of a magnetic locator, GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar), metal detector, wire cable utility locator, and plastic pipe locator gives you a tremendous detail of buried object underground. Make sure to call 811 as well before digging.