What's the Difference Between Ferrous and Nonferrous Materials

Written By: msilvestro Category: Magnets Date: 2014-08-22 Hits: 4130

This is a common question with an easy answer. The difference between ferrous and nonferrous materials is that ferrous metals contain iron and nonferrous metals do not. An important and interesting followup question is how the difference between these two types of metals changes the way they are used and what they can be used for.

What's the Difference Between Ferrous and Nonferrous Materials

While some metals - think gold, silver and copper - are often used in their pure form, most metals that we commonly use are alloys, mixtures of one or more metals along with other elements.

Steel, brass, pewter, bronze and brass are the most common metal alloys. Many alloys are ferrous, containing iron, but some are not.

Non-Ferrous Metals

There are times when iron is not useful in metal.

If you want metal to be lightweight, non-magnetic, have high conductivity and corrosion resistance, the best results will not include iron. Non-ferrous metals tend to be more expensive than metals with iron and are extensively recycled.

Brass is the most common non-ferrous alloy and is a mixture of copper and zinc.

Copper has high conductivity and zinc is very resistant to corrosion. Aluminum is also non-ferrous. Though we think of aluminum as a pure metal, most of what we actually use is an alloy with manganese and some copper. It is very lightweight and can be easily shaped.

Ferrous Metals

Many of the metals we use on a daily basis are ferrous alloys.

The strength properties of iron, when combined with other materials, make it valuable for many purposes. Ferrous metals are used in construction materials, industrial manufacturing, medical devices, magnetic cores and more. The five most important ferrous metals are:

  • Cast Iron - This is another carbon and iron alloy, with more carbon and less iron than the steels described above. It has high strength and wear resistance, but low tensile strength; in other words, it is brittle. Historically, cast iron had ornamental uses, but is used now for things like engine blocks and manhole covers.
  • Wrought Iron - So called because it used to be worked by hand, wrought iron is similar in composition to mild steel, but it also has slag - metal byproducts - included in the mix. Ornamental ironwork used to be made from wrought iron, but now it’s more likely to be formed from mild steel.

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That’s a basic tour through commonly used ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Though most of us don’t use those terms very often, we use products made from them as part of our daily lives.

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