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

“What’s the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals?”

The simple answer is that ferrous metals contain iron, and non-ferrous metals don’t. That means each type of ferrous and non-ferrous metal has different qualities and uses.

Ferrous Metals
Ferrous metals contain iron, and are known for their strength. Think steel, stainless steel, carbon steel, cast iron. Ferrous metals are used in both architectural and industrial fabrication, such as skyscrapers, bridges, vehicles, and railroads. Thanks to their magnetic properties, ferrous metals are also used in appliances and engines. (Yep—thanks to ferrous metals, you can display your child’s report card or your shopping list with a magnet on your refrigerator door.) Ferrous metals also have a high carbon content, which generally makes them prone to rust. The exceptions are stainless steel, because of chromium, and wrought iron because of its high pure iron content.

Examples of ferrous metals are:

  • Steel: Iron plus carbon; widely used in construction and industrial metal fabrication
  • Carbon steel: Even higher carbon content added to iron; exceptionally hard metal
  • Stainless steel: An alloy steel made with added chromium which protects against rust
  • Other alloy steels: Lightweight metals such as chromium, nickel, titanium added to strengthen other metals without adding weight
  • Cast iron: Iron, carbon, silicon; heavy, hard metal that is resistant to wear


Non-Ferrous Metals
Non-ferrous metals have been used since the Copper Age, around 5,000 B.C. Since non-ferrous metals don’t contain iron, they’re usually more corrosion-resistant than ferrous metals. Some examples of non-ferrous metals are aluminum, aluminum alloys, and copper, which are often used in industrial applications such as gutters, roofing, pipes, and electrical. Non-ferrous metals also include brass, gold, nickel, silver, tin, lead, and zinc. Other common properties of non-ferrous metals are non-magnetic, malleable, and lightweight. This makes them ideal for use in aircraft and other applications.

Examples of non-ferrous metals are:

  • Aluminum: Lightweight, low-strength, easily shaped
  • Copper: Highly malleable with high electrical conductivity
  • Lead: Heavy, soft, malleable metal; low melting point, low strength
  • Tin: Soft, malleable, low tensile strength metal often used to coat steel to prevent corrosion
  • Zinc: medium-strength metal with low melting point widely used in galvanizing to prevent rust on iron or steel

Ask the experts at All Metals Fabrication which metal is right for your next industrial or architectural metal fabrication project.

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