Ferrous vs. Non-Ferrous Metals: What’s the Difference?

After a construction project, you might have scraps from a variety of metals lying around the garage. Most metal companies will sell metal and buy back the scraps, but how do you begin the process of sorting your scraps for cash?

Whether you’re finishing a project to sort the scraps or trying to decide what metal to start with, it’s important to divide metals into ferrous and non-ferrous. You might already know that ferrous metals contain iron while non-ferrous metals don’t, but what are the pros and cons of each type?

The best place to start is with an overview of how some of the most popular metals are classified:

Ferrous Metals

  • Stainless steel
  • Carbon steel
  • Mild steel
  • Cast iron
  • Wrought iron

Non-Ferrous Metals

  • Copper
  • Aluminum
  • Zinc
  • Brass
  • Tungsten steel
  • Gold

Need a cheat sheet for non-ferrous metals? Remember that any metal on the periodic table of elements (except for iron) is a non-ferrous metal.

What Are the Benefits of Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals?
Now that you know which metals are ferrous and which are non-ferrous, the next step in determining which one to use is to understand what each type of metal is good for. These qualities can help you decide which type of metal will be best for your project:

Durability, Flexibility & Weight
There’s a reason why ferrous metals are in such high demand: they are incredibly durable, strong metals. This is why skyscrapers are made out of steel – ferrous metals can withstand a lot of strain. If you need a metal that can endure a high amount of pressure, whether it’s supporting a house, a car, or a bridge, a ferrous metal should fit your project perfectly.

In contrast, non-ferrous metals are very flexible. They also weigh less than ferrous metals, which means that non-ferrous metals are useful when a project needs to be lightweight and malleable as well as durable, as in the aircraft industry.

Rust Resistance
Because of their high amount of iron, most ferrous metals rust quickly: if you see rust on metal, it’s likely ferrous (with the exception of stainless steel and wrought iron). Non-ferrous metals don’t contain iron and therefore don’t rust as quickly. This makes non-ferrous metals preferable for use in projects where corrosion is possible, such as gutters and road signs, both of which are constantly exposed to the elements.

The next time you stick something to your fridge, thank a ferrous metal! Because they contain iron, ferrous metals are very magnetic, which makes them useful for large electric equipment and motors. Non-ferrous metals aren’t magnetic at all, which gives them good application for projects were magnetism would compromise the work, as in smaller electronics.

Steel is the most recycled material on the planet. When you buy steel or ferrous metals for a project, the good news is your scrap metal can be recycled fairly easily – the company that sold you the metal is usually eager to buy back your scraps at a good price.

Non-ferrous metals can also be recycled – aluminum is the third most recycled material on the planet – but because some non-ferrous metals like copper are comparatively rare, you’re likely to get a better price selling back your non-ferrous scraps than your ferrous scraps.

You’re Educated – Now What?
Now that you’re informed, you know which metal is right for your project and how to sort the scraps once you’re done.

Companies like Federal Metals sell, buy, and recycle both types of metal, so you can both purchase your metal and sell back the scraps at one location. Sort your scrap now to get the best cash back on any scrap metal, ferrous or non-ferrous.

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