Metalworking professionals have the challenging task of figuring out which type of metal is best suited for the project at hand. In some cases, it’s a metal with certain properties like hardness, density or cold-working abilities. In other cases, it’s about choosing a metal that can be specifically treated or fabricated to specifications.
There’s one more variable a metalworking professional needs to consider when choosing metal: Ferrous vs. non-ferrous. It’s a simple property, but could have major ramifications on the outcome of a metalworking project, purely because of what this property entails.
What is a ferrous metal?
Ferrous metals are alloys containing iron. The name “ferrous” is actually derived from the Latin word for iron, “ferrum.” Because of this iron content, most ferrous metals are magnetic and react to an electrical charge. By comparison, non-ferrous metals are metals that lack iron content and thus, are not magnetic.
Why choose ferrous metals?
There are plenty of reasons to choose ferrous metals for your metalworking project. For starters, they exude unmatched strength and longevity! Due to their iron content, ferrous metals are extremely durable and tremendously strong, making them widely applicable across a number of infrastructure projects and other fabrications.
Ferrous metals are also typically some of the most cost-effective options when it comes to metalworking and offer workers a great return on investment based on the properties they exude. For example, steel, alloys, cast iron and other metals are considered ferrous—each of these is commonly used in fabrication projects where strength and resilience are the most important desired properties.
The advantages of non-ferrous metals
While ferrous metals may be strong, their iron content makes them susceptible to corrosion and rust, which can compromise the integrity of a project over time. This is where non-ferrous metals come in. Because they lack iron, these metals won’t corrode and remain inert throughout their lifespan—and they can even be chemically treated to improve their surface properties.
Another advantage non-ferrous metals have is their lightweight nature and low density. Iron is incredibly heavy, so taking the iron content out of alloys makes them extremely lightweight and malleable during the fabrication process. Metals like copper, lead, tin, zinc and others can be formed to spec without much trouble, resulting in a more accurate outcome for a fabrication project.
Making the right choice
Choosing between ferrous and non-ferrous metal comes down to the nature of your project and the properties you need from the finished fabrication. For long-term strength and resilience derived from density and hardness, ferrous metals are likely the way to go. For lightweight malleability and inertness that can be used in more delicate fabrications, non-ferrous is a smart choice.
Part of being an experienced metalworker is being able to see ferrous characteristics and leverage them into the final product you’re creating. Understanding how iron content and its properties play into the finished product (or don’t) will determine which type of metal is best suited for the job.