The Difference Between Ferrous & Non-Ferrous Metals | Eclipse Magnetics

The Difference Between Ferrous & Non-Ferrous Metals

Two major categories of metals exist: ferrous metals and non-ferrous metals. It's a simple fact that ferrous metals contain iron, whereas non-ferrous metals do not. It's more complicated than that because ferrous and non-ferrous metals have different properties. Based on these properties, they are best suited to certain applications.

Here are the simplified differences between ferrous and non-ferrous metals. 

Ferrous Metals

What is ferrous metal?

The term ferrous metal refers to any metal containing iron. As a result of their iron content, ferrous metals are magnetic, strong, and hard. Therefore, these materials are frequently used for building houses, large-scale piping, industrial containers, construction and engineering applications. 

Ferrous metals also contain a high amount of carbon, which makes them prone to rust when exposed to moisture. There are two exceptions: stainless steel, with its high chromium content, and wrought iron, which contains high levels of pure iron.

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Ferrous metals include:

Engineering steel: Usually iron; however, it can be made tougher, ductile, stronger, harder, and more durable by adding copper, vanadium, tungsten, and manganese. It can be used for dies, tools, construction and machining equipment.

Carbon steel: One of the most common ferrous metals with over 90% iron content. Besides structures and furniture, it can also be used in automotive components.

Cast iron: Contains more carbon than most other types. Due to the lack of other alloying elements besides iron and carbon, it is relatively inexpensive. The material can be used to manufacture cookware, gears, rods, and pins that are subject to wear, as well as mining equipment.

Wrought Iron: In comparison to cast iron, wrought iron has a relatively low carbon content. It has a high degree of elasticity and tensile strength, and is soft, ductile, and magnetic. It can be heated and reheated and shaped to a variety of shapes. Unlike most other ferrous metals, wrought iron resists corrosion and oxidation. As a result, nuts, bolts, handrails, outdoor stairs, fences, and gates can be made with this material.

Stainless steel: Made from 100% recyclable materials, with a high amount of chromium that makes it more corrosion resistant than carbon steel. This material can be used to make appliances, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, food-grade equipment, and knives.

The following are examples of ferrous metal applications:

As these metals are usually strong and durable, they can be used in construction and engineering. Ferrous metals are found in large structures, such as skyscrapers and bridges. Additionally, ferrous metals can be found in shipping containers, industrial piping, cars, railroad tracks, and domestic tools.

Non Ferrous Metals

What is non-ferrous metal?

Metals that don't contain iron are called non-ferrous metals. Unlike ferrous metals, these alloys are malleable and lighter, making them particularly useful where strength must meet weight restrictions, such as in the aerospace industry. 

There are distinct properties in the material, which are primarily pure metals or alloys without any iron. In terms of magnetic properties, they are mostly non-magnetic.

In addition to the nonferrous metals like aluminium, copper, lead, zinc, tin, precious metals like gold and silver are also included and used for aesthetic purposes. 

Non-ferrous metals contain no iron, which makes them more resistant to corrosion and rust, so they are suitable for piping, gutters, roofing, outdoor signs, and roofing. As well as being non-magnetic, they are critical for electronic and wiring applications.

Non-ferrous metals include:

  • Aluminium: Light, strong, and easy to shape
  • Copper: An electrically conductive metal that is highly malleable
  • Lead: Heavy, soft, malleable metal; low melting point, low strength
  • Tin: Typically used to prevent corrosion on steel, tin is soft, malleable, and low tensile strength
  • Zinc: A low melting point metal with medium strength used in galvanising to prevent rusting of steel or iron
  • Brass: Primarily an alloy of copper and zinc. Depending on the amount of zinc or other elements added to the brass, the composition can change
  • Aluminium Alloys: An aluminium alloy is a chemical composition in which other elements are added to pure aluminium to improve its properties, primarily to make it stronger

The following are examples of non-ferrous metal applications:

The use of non-ferrous metals has been extensive throughout history, with copper and bronze credited for advancing civilisation during the stone age to around 1700 BCE, when people learned how to mine copper and tin to make bronze weapons. The non-ferrous metals of today are used to build things, make tools, electrical cables, vehicle engines, pipelines, containers, and even cutlery.

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