A guide to ferrous and non ferrous metals and how they compare
As a scrap metal yard that purchases all types of ferrous and non ferrous metals, we get asked this question a lot (what is the difference between ferrous and non ferrous metals?).
So we’ve decided to break it down for you here, in simple terms – removing the technical lingo. (Because, unless you’re already in the know, no one wants that).
First, let’s start with the basics; what makes something a ferrous metal, and what makes others non ferrous metals?
Ferrous metals contain iron. We’d say more here, but that’s the key info you need to know in terms of the technical side of things. You may hear people describe metals as ‘iron ferrous’ – which just really means it contains iron, and therefore is ferrous.
Non ferrous metals
Yup, you’ve probably guessed it; if a ferrous metal is one that contains iron, a non ferrous metal is one that does not. It’s actually as simple as that.
But what’s important to know, is that this key difference in the material’s makeup actually has a big difference on how the metals can be used, and how they react in certain situations.
We’ll take a look at that shortly. But first, here are some examples of which metals are ferrous metals and which are non ferrous metals.
Examples of ferrous metals
Some common ferrous metal examples include:
Not surprisingly, iron is a ferrous metal (as ferrous metals are those that contain iron). Iron is one of the most common and widely used ferrous metals. Iron production is high, as it’s used in a wide range of applications, and is used in a lot of projects in the automotive, construction and manufacturing industries. So we see, buy, and recycle a lot of iron ferrous metals.
Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon and is another of the most widely used ferrous metals. It is used in construction, automotive, aerospace, and many other industries. Galvanised steel is most often used for sheet roofing in building applications. It’s used in industrial containers, barbed wire, and several electrical industry applications. We also see steel used in many household and domestic tools, like stainless steel pots and pans.
Cast iron is another common ferrous metal that is used in a wide range of applications, such as pipes, cast iron cookware, and machinery.
Wrought iron is a low-carbon iron alloy that is “highly malleable and ductile” (which in normal terms means that it can be easily shaped and stretched into different forms without breaking). Wrought iron is commonly used in the construction of fences, railings, and decorative items.
Examples of non ferrous metals
Copper is one of the most widely used non-ferrous materials. It is used in electrical wiring and components, plumbing fixtures, and many other applications.
Aluminum is a lightweight and highly conductive non-ferrous metal. It is used in a wide range of applications, such as aircraft parts, alcohol and soft drink cans, and construction materials.
Brass is an alloy (mixture of two metals or a mixture of a metal and non metal) of copper and zinc. Brass is commonly used in plumbing fixtures, musical instruments, and decorative items.
Bronze is an alloy (mixture of a metal + metal or metal + other elements) of copper, tin, and other metals. Bronze is commonly used in sculptures, bearings, and musical instruments.
Nickel is a highly corrosion-resistant non-ferrous metal that is commonly used in aerospace, electronics, and chemical processing industries.
Titanium is a lightweight and highly corrosion-resistant non-ferrous metal. (This means it can withstand exposure to things like moisture and air without breaking down or deteriorating over time. It is less likely to rust, corrode, or otherwise deteriorate from exposure to its environment). Titanium is commonly used in aerospace, parts of the aircraft industry, medical implants, and sports equipment.
Zinc is a non-ferrous metal that is commonly used in galvanizing steel to protect it from corrosion. (Galvanisation is when you coat steel with a layer of zinc, as a protective coating from rust and corrosion). Zinc is also used in batteries, die-casting, and other applications.
What is the practical difference between ferrous and non ferrous metals?
Let's take a closer look at the practical side of ferrous metals vs non ferrous metals.
Strength and durability
One of the most significant advantages of ferrous metals is their strength and durability. Because they contain iron, they tend to be harder and more robust than non-ferrous metals. This makes them ideal for use in applications where strength and durability are essential, such as construction material, engineering, and automotive industries. Some common examples of ferrous metals include steel, cast iron, and wrought iron.
Non-ferrous metals, on the other hand, are typically softer and less strong than their ferrous counterparts. However, they have their own unique properties that make them ideal for specific applications. For example, copper and aluminum are excellent conductors of electricity, making them ideal for use in electrical wiring and other electrical components.
Another key difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals is their resistance to corrosion. Ferrous metals are much more susceptible to rust and other forms of corrosion than non-ferrous metals. This is because the iron in ferrous metals reacts with oxygen and moisture in the air, causing it to corrode over time.
Non-ferrous metals, on the other hand, are much more resistant to corrosion. Non ferrous metals resistance to corrosion makes them ideal for use in applications where exposure to moisture or other corrosive substances is likely, such as marine environments. Examples of non-ferrous metals that are known for their corrosion resistance include aluminum, copper, brass, and bronze.
Another key difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals is their magnetic properties. Ferrous metals are magnetic, which means they can be magnetized and will be attracted to magnets. This property makes them ideal for use in applications where magnetic properties are essential, such as in electrical generators and motors.
Non-ferrous metals, on the other hand, are not magnetic. This means they cannot be magnetized and will not be attracted to magnets. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, nickel, cobalt, and some alloys of these metals can be magnetic.
The melting point of a metal is the temperature at which it transitions from a solid to a liquid state. Ferrous and non-ferrous metals have different melting points, which can have an impact on their applications. Ferrous metals typically have higher melting points than non-ferrous metals. For example, the melting point of iron is 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit, while the low melting point of of aluminum is 1,221 degrees Fahrenheit.
This difference in melting points can impact how these metals are processed and used. For example, because ferrous metals have higher melting points, they can be more challenging to work with than non-ferrous metals. They may require more specialized equipment and techniques to melt and shape them.
Finally, the difference in properties between ferrous and non-ferrous metals makes them ideal for different applications. Ferrous metals are typically used in applications where strength, durability, and magnetic properties are essential. Some common examples include:
- Construction materials, such as steel beams and reinforcing bars
- Automotive parts, such as engine blocks
Non-ferrous metals, on the other hand, are used in applications where their distinctive properties, such as corrosion resistance, electrical conductivity, and lightness, are essential. Some common examples include:
- Electrical wiring and components, such as copper wires and aluminum connectors
- Plumbing fixtures, such as brass and bronze fittings
- Aerospace materials, such as titanium and aluminum alloys
Non-ferrous metals also have a wide range of applications in the jewelry and art industries, where their unique colors, textures, and properties are highly valued.
The inbetweeners; intermediate or low-alloy steel
One thing to keep in mind is that while most ferrous metals and non-ferrous metals have their unique properties and applications, there are some metals that fall in between the two categories. These are known as “intermediate” or “low-alloy” steels, which contain small amounts of non-ferrous metals such as nickel, chromium, or manganese to enhance their properties.
These additional elements modify the properties of the steel, making it more suitable for certain applications.
For example, adding nickel to steel can increase its strength, toughness, and corrosion resistance. This makes nickel-containing steels ideal for use in applications where strength and corrosion resistance are essential, such as in the oil and gas industry.
Similarly, adding chromium to steel can increase its hardness and resistance to corrosion and wear. This makes chromium-containing steels ideal for use in applications such as cutting tools, bearings, and automotive components.
Manganese-containing steels are also commonly used in the industry. Manganese can increase the strength and toughness of the steel and also improves its workability and weldability. Manganese-containing steels are used in a variety of applications, such as railway tracks, construction materials, and mining equipment.
Another common alloying element in intermediate steels is molybdenum. Molybdenum can improve the strength, toughness, and corrosion resistance of steel. Molybdenum-containing steels are used in applications such as aircraft and missile components, power plant equipment, and chemical processing equipment.
Intermediate steels are versatile and can be tailored to have specific properties for a particular application. However, they can be more expensive and require more specialized processing techniques.
The right steel for the job
Understanding the differences between ferrous and non-ferrous metals is essential for selecting the appropriate metal for a specific application. By understanding the unique properties of these metals, you can choose the most suitable metal for your project, whether you need a strong and durable ferrous metal or a corrosion-resistant and lightweight non-ferrous metal.
Got the wrong metal for your application? We've got you covered
If you’ve got scrap metal laying around, or have organised the wrong metal for your project, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. We buy ferrous scrap metals, ferrous alloys, all common ferrous metals – and all non ferrous metals too!
Save paying to take it to the dump or leaving it lying around in the backyard or your worksite for forever.
At Tall Ingots, we buy and recycle scrap metal of all varieties, meaning you can get cash for your scrap metal. We process and trade in non ferrous, ferrous, e waste and plastic recyclable materials, and pay a great price for your unwanted metals.
We even have scrap metal bins you can hire, to make your life easier.
Give us a call or send us a message to learn more.