The most important distinction between ferrous and non-ferrous metals is the presence or absence of iron. Ferrous metals contain iron. Non-ferrous metals don’t.
Understanding the practical differences between the two categories of metal isn’t quite as straightforward. Each of them has its own distinct set of properties that determines everything from appearance to applications. Read on to find out about these more nuanced distinctions.
The most common and easily-recognized non-ferrous metals are copper and bronze. These metals were first discovered at the end of the stone age and have been used by people for constructing tools, weapons, and structural components for millennia.
Iron wasn’t discovered until around 1,200 BC. This date marks the beginning of the iron age when ferrous metals became commonplace. Today, contractors and consumers alike can take advantage of both ferrous and non-ferrous metals in Custom Metal Fabrication.
Each type of ferrous and non-ferrous metal has its own unique set of benefits and drawbacks. Materials in each of these categories tend to have more similarities than differences, though, so there are some advantages that span most or all metal types within the category.
Advantages of Ferrous Metals
The primary benefits of ferrous metals are their strength and durability. Materials like cast iron, wrought iron, and steel are well-known for their tensile strength. Some types of ferrous metal offer higher levels of fatigue strength than others, though, so it’s important to choose them carefully.
Ferrous metals are also resistant to heat. This can be a huge advantage when it comes to designing fire-proof structures or installing metal fixtures in heat-prone areas like commercial kitchens. Ferrous metals are also magnetic, which can offer an advantage for specific applications like manufacturing refrigerators, motors, and certain electrical components.
Advantages of Non-Ferrous Metals
Non-ferrous metals are lighter weight and more malleable. They also have a higher level of rust and corrosion resistance since they contain no iron. They’re also non-magnetic, which gives them an advantage in wiring applications and some types of small electronics manufacturing.
Some types of non-ferrous metal have high electrical conductivity, while others have low melting points. Each non-ferrous metal is used for different applications.
Since every type of metal has different properties, they’re all suited to different applications. That goes for not just ferrous vs. non-ferrous metals, but also each material that falls into these two categories.
Common Applications for Ferrous Metals
Here are a few of the most common applications for different types of ferrous metals:
- Wrought iron is resistant to oxidation and corrosion, which makes it perfect for chains, railings, and barbed wire fencing.
- Cast iron is strong and brittle so it’s used to manufacture things like manhole covers and engine blocks.
- Stainless steel is heat and corrosion resistant and is commonly found in commercial kitchens.
- Carbon steel is one of the hardest types of steel, so it’s used to manufacture machine tools, drills, and blades.
Common Applications for Non-Ferrous Metals
It’s common for non-ferrous metals to be used in outdoor applications like gutters, roofing, and the fabrication of pipes. Here are a few other applications:
- Aluminum is lightweight and perfect for manufacturing things like cans, utensils, cars, and aircraft.
- Copper has high electrical conductivity and is very malleable, so it’s great for wiring.
- Brass is a combination of copper and zinc used primarily for ornamental purposes.
- Zinc has a very low melting point and is used to protect ferrous metals against rust.
How to Choose
Still not sure which type of metal will be best for a particular application? It’s always best to ask a metal fabricator.