Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals: What is the Difference?

What is the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals? The simple answer to this question is that the ferrous metals have some ‘iron’ while non-ferrous metals do not. However, these two types of metals depict more inherent properties that determine their applications. 

When you take a closer look at non-ferrous metals, you will realize that they have been in use since the start of civilization. For example, copper was discovered around 5,000 BC. This period was used to mark the end of the Stone Age and heralded the entry of copper age. The use of ferrous metal commenced around 1,200 BC when iron production started.

A Closer Look at the Ferrous Metals 

The ferrous metals that are common in the market as indicated here include cast iron and carbon steel. They contain high carbon content that makes them strong but also vulnerable to corrosion (rust) when exposed to moisture. The only two exceptions include stainless steel that is protected using chromium and wrought iron because of its purity.  

Another important property of ferrous metals is that they are magnetic. This means they are very useful in electrical and motor applications. Here is a list of common ferrous metals.

  • Carbon steel (structural steel). This metal is used in constructions such as skyscrapers, long bridges, shipping containers, railroad tracks, and domestic tools where strength is paramount.
  • Steel. This metal is created by hardening iron through the addition of carbon. Like carbon steel, steel is also very strong and mostly used in the construction industry.

Other ferrous metals include alloy steel, cast iron, and wrought iron. 

Which are the Non-ferrous Metals 

Non-ferrous metals come with the advantage of malleability. The fact that they do not have any iron means that they are resistant to corrosion. This makes them the ideal option for outdoor signs, liquid pipes, gutters, and roofing. Their non-magnetic nature further makes them the ideal options for most electronic applications. Here is a list of the top non-ferrous metals.

  • Aluminum. It is light, soft, and can be easily forged and machine welded. 
  • Copper. This is a highly ductile, malleable and red colored metal. It also has a very high conductivity.
  • Lead. This is a soft, heavy and malleable metal with low tensile strength and melting point. 
  • Zinc. This is another low-medium strength metal with low melting point. It is preferred for galvanizing materials such as iron to prevent rust.
  • Tin. This is another soft and ductile metal that has low tensile strength. Like zinc, it is mainly used for galvanization to prevent corrosion.

Whether you are an industrial producer or professional who needs metallic tools, understanding the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals is crucial. This post has outlined the core differences that you need to know.