Some people who are new to the scrap metal industry ask “what do you mean by the term Non-ferrous and ferrous?” and if you have worked in the industry for some time it may seem like a silly question. However it is important for us to take the time to explain the industry terminology to new people.
In simple terms “Ferrous” means that it contains Iron. Ferrous metals include mild steel, carbon steel, stainless steel (sometimes mistaken for non-ferrous due to being non-magnetic”, cast iron and wrought iron. These metals are generally used for their tensile strength and durability, an example being mild steel which is used extensively to build major structures such as bridges and skyscrapers. You will also find ferrous metals in use every day around your home, steel roofs, tools, furniture, knives and forks, stoves, fridges, the car, train tracks and the trains, ships and shipping containers, forklifts and many other uses. Almost everywhere we go and everything we do, ferrous steel is used.
However the downside of using ferrous metals is that they contain high amounts of carbon which in turn makes them vulnerable to rust when exposed to the elements. Although this is not true for stainless steel having a high chromium content protecting it from rust and wrought iron due to it being so iron pure meaning it resists oxidization however you can normally assume if it has rust on it, it is a ferrous metal.
The other important factor is that most ferrous metals have a magnetic property which enables us to quickly identify ferrous metals, however stainless steel is normally non-magnetic. I use a simple technique to identify stainless steel from other non-magnetic metals by using a small hand grinder and lightly grinding the edge of the metal if it sparks then it is most likely stainless steel and not aluminium.
Probably one of the most important factors regarding ferrous metals is that it is the most recycled materials in the world nearly 1.5 billion tons of steel is produced annually and more than a third of that is recycled scrap steel.
Non-ferrous metal is any metal that does not contain Iron (of any appreciable amount). Non-ferrous metals are normally more expensive to buy so have a higher value as a scrap metal than the ferrous metals as they have other desirable properties such as being low weight, corrosion resistant, non-magnetic and have a higher conductivity.
The most common non-ferrous metals that are purchased by scrap metal merchants are aluminium, copper, brass, nickel, tin and lead. Gold and silver are also non-ferrous but are regarded as precious metals.
Tin has a slight magnetic property but is minimal compared to steel.
Tin? A tin can or just a tin is actually made of steel that has been coated on either side with a very thin layer of tin. Steel makes up the main component of the can’s mass, therefore it is the steel that is attracted to a magnet rather than the tin itself. The thin layer of tin prevents the can from rusting.
In general non-ferrous metals are much more scarce than ferrous metals and so command a higher price as scrap metal. The most common practise to determine whether a metal is ferrous or non-ferrous is to use a magnet. A magnet will stick to most ferrous metals and not to most non-ferrous metals.