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 History

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.

The Benefits

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.

The 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:

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:

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.