Two Types of Metal, Ferrous and Non-Ferrous

When you talk about scrap metal, there are two different types that are regularly referred to; Ferrous, and Non-Ferrous metals. In this article you’ll understand the basic differences between these metals, how to determine the differences for yourself, and some resources where to find them.

Ferrous Metals

We’ll first discuss ferrous metal. Ferrous metal is mostly used for things like machinery, cars, motors, farm implements, and other uses such as appliances, like stoves refrigerators, washers, dryers, and freezers. Lawn mowers are usually made from a combination of both ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Most of your smaller push type mowers, generally speaking, the motors are usually made from aluminum (a non-ferrous metal); however, the deck and handle assembly are made from ferrous metals.

How to Determine if the Metal You Are Looking at is Ferrous or Not

Two of the best ways to discern if a piece of metal you are looking at is made of ferrous metals or not are these: Does a magnet stick to it? And, if it’s an older piece of metal, is there any rust on it?

Does a magnet stick to it?

The biggest ingredient in ferrous metal is iron, or iron ore, which is a very magnetic material. Therefore, if you always carry a magnet around with you, you’ll know immediately if the piece of metal is ferrous or not. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and stainless steel (another non-ferrous metal) is one of those exceptions. Even though the main component for making steel itself is iron, high quality stainless steel has a high amount of nickel in it (another non-ferrous metal) and, therefore, a magnet will not stick to it.

Is there any rust on it?

The second and usually more common way to determine whether the metal you have just found is ferrous or not is if you can visibly see any rust anywhere on the item. Rust will especially be more prevalent on any areas that were touching the ground. Obviously, if an old piece of ferrous metal has been left out in the elements, it’s usually covered in rust, as a rule. Non-ferrous metals do not rust. They do, however, sometimes oxidize. We’ll discuss that later in this article.

Scrap Metal Buyers Should Always Carry a Magnet

Non-ferrous metals (and there quite a few to discuss here) usually do not contain any, or only small traces, of iron, and thus are not magnetic. If you are into scrap metal recycling or are thinking or starting a scrap metal business, one of your very best friends should be a magnet. I recommend using one that is on a chain, and one that has VERY strong magnetic charge, because that is what you’ll see all the people at the scrap yards using. A weak magnet can sometimes fool you, because you are strong, and the magnet is weak, you can touch it quickly and pull it away quickly, and think that you have a piece of non-ferrous metal when in fact the metal you just found is actually ferrous metal. That is also the reason that I recommend that your magnet should dangle from a chain, simply waving the magnet in front of a ferrous piece of metal will cause the magnet to “sway” or be “influenced” by the ferrous metal in some way.

Non-Ferrous Metals

As opposed to its ferrous counter parts, non-ferrous metals, as mentioned earlier, do not rust. However, some non-ferrous metals do oxidize. Oxidation is the process where there is a layer formed on the outside of a piece of metal. Aluminum is one metal in particular that tends to oxidize rather than rust. Interestingly enough, it is roughly the same process; however, with the lack of iron contained in the metal, the oxidation looks white and flaky as opposed to reddish and porous looking.

Here is a list of non-ferrous metal that are the most commonly found:

  • Copper
  • Aluminum
  • Stainless Steel
  • Brass
  • Lead
  • Platinum

Where do You Find Copper?

As a rule, you’ll usually find copper in plumbing and refrigeration type applications, like air conditioners, refrigerators, freezers. Even in like the small window type air conditioning units there is a fair amount of copper tubing there as well.

In approximately 2009, when the economy was really in a bad way, there was a rash of thefts, particularly large commercial air conditioning units. I was told one doctor’s office had their air conditioning units stolen twice. Just as soon as the new units were installed and replaced after being stolen the first time, they were stolen again! It became such a big problem that scrap yards were required by law to stop taking aluminum/copper radiators (ACR’s) all together without written proof of where they came from, and how you came by them, if you were trying to bring them in as scrap metal.

Where to Find Aluminum…

When it comes to aluminum, some of the very first things people think about is aluminum cans, siding from homes, and door and window trim. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s aluminum it was popular to use for replacements windows, until the window manufactures starting using vinyl. Today there are people who still have aluminum doors and windows being replaced, so be on the lookout for opportunities to take advantage of when it comes to getting that sort of scrap aluminum.

There are many other applications where aluminum is used, but one of the greatest resources I can advise a person to find it is motors. There are many components under the hood of a car which are made from aluminum. Most radiators and air conditioning condensers are made of aluminum. The casings for the alternator are made of aluminum, and many intake manifolds are made of aluminum, as well as anchoring hardware attached to the engine.

Another rich source for finding aluminum is lawn mower engines. Not all the parts on a motor are made from aluminum, therefore, that sort of a mix of both ferrous metals and aluminum in scrap metal terms is called “irony aluminum.”

Most recently, there are some car manufactures that are also using aluminum to make cars parts like hoods, doors, and truck tailgates from. When you bring in a car for scrap metal recycling, it would be a good practice to put a magnet to those various parts and see if sticks or not, because there is no sense in getting paid ferrous scrap metal prices for non-ferrous scrap metals.

What Are Good Sources to Find Stainless Steel?

The best resource that I have ever found for finding stainless steel is restaurants and the food industry. Health codes require that restaurants use stainless steel because of how it cleans up so well, and it is usually a germ-free environment. The health care industry is another source where you’ll find stainless steel in high demand.

In the early part of 2012, I had the fortune of being selected to haul off scrap metal for about 90 Burger King locations across North Carolina, they were installing a new drink fountains. We were hired to haul off the old soda fountain machines. In those machines and other various scrap metal items we hauled off were loads of copper and brass, and massive amounts of stainless steel!

You must exercise some caution, however, when you’re dealing with stainless steel. Sometimes the metal looks exactly like stainless steel, but there is not enough nickel content in it to make it stainless steel, so a magnet will stick to it. That is one biggest reasons for making sure that if you are going to be buying scrap metal, or trying to sell it to a scrap yard, you MUST have a magnet, or you’ll pay too much for it, or make yourself look foolish, not knowing your metal product.

Brass Resources…

When it comes to finding brass, the most common application is going to be plumbing fixtures; things like faucets, drains, and some plumbing pipes. Valves and pumps are other good sources for finding brass. Referring back to the Burger King jobs we did, there were a lot of brass fittings, valves and pumps that we brought in to the scrap yard.

How Do You Find Lead?

The number one source that I know of for finding lead is batteries.

  • Car batteries
  • Golf cart batteries
  • Back up computer batteries
  • Batteries from fork lifts
  • Large diesel truck batteries

I think you get the picture. The batteries contain large quantities of lead.

You must be cautious when working with batteries because there is “battery acid” in most batteries. Many scrap yards are cautious about accepting batteries. For example, where I bring my scrap cars, the battery must be removed before you can bring the car in; no exceptions!

I Thought Platinum Was Used for Jewelry?

While that is true, platinum is used for jewelry, it is not exclusive to being used for jewelry. The most common place to find platinum is actually in catalytic converters.

Once again, the law makers had to step up and put into place laws governing who can recycle or scrap catalytic converters. For a while there were car dealerships that were getting catalytic converters cut off their automobiles, dozens at a time, right on the dealership car lot!

The law enforcement agencies and law makers had to move quickly before more car lots were hit. Now there are laws is place prohibiting scrap yards from buying catalytic converters unless the person bringing them in has documented proof of how the catalytic converter was obtained. Sometimes even the documented proof is not even good enough. In this case, the law makers were very proactive to try to protect business owners from would-be criminals because catalytic converters are very expensive to replace. Furthermore, they bring a pretty penny at the scrap yard, if you have the right documentation that is.

So there you have it, a full report on scrap metal and the differences between ferrous and non-ferrous metals; how to tell them apart and even some sources to find the most valuable ones.


Source by James A Masters