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The Difference Between Ferrous vs. Non-Ferrous Metals

 by General Kinematics,

The Difference Between Ferrous vs. Non-Ferrous Metals

One of the most important categorizations is whether a metal is ferrous or non-ferrous. In order to understand why this categorization is important, we first need to understand the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

On the surface, the difference is blindingly simple. Ferrous metals contain iron, and non-ferrous metals do not. However, there’s much more to that distinction than a simple black and white definition. Some non-ferrous metals do contain iron, but only in trace amounts. If iron is the first, second, or third main component, the metal is usually categorized as ferrous. Any other amounts usually lead to the metal being categorized as non-ferrous. However, the categorization process still goes beyond that. The different compositions and uses of ferrous and non-ferrous metals are vast. Let’s examine some of the main qualities apparent in ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

Properties of Ferrous Metals


Iron and many types of steel are common examples of ferrous metals. These metals are well-known and popular because of how long they last. As you can imagine, thanks to the durability of these composites, ferrous metals are often used in construction, pipelines, and the creation of tools. Cast iron skillets are a great example of the durability of ferrous metals.

Extreme Strength

When you look at the uses of ferrous metals, you’ll recognize many products associated with strength. Products such as railroad tracks and cars rely on this strength to do their jobs over many years.


Just because they’re sturdy doesn’t mean ferrous metals aren’t also extremely malleable,  meaning the metal can be shaped without cracking or breaking. Steel, for example, is just blended iron and carbon. However, by changing the amount of either ingredient or adding in a few other materials, steel can be transformed to become anything from the thick steel beams used in skyscrapers to the shiny stainless steel decorating kitchen appliances.

Industrial background from part of valves for power, oil or gas industry
Stainless steel valves.

Examples of ferrous metals include:

  • Mild steel – Used for general engineering and building purposes
  • Carbon steel – Used for the creation of tools
  • Stainless steel – A ferrous metal that resists rust due to the presence of chromium
  • Cast iron – Used for vehicle engines, utility hole covers and cooking applications
  • Wrought iron – Typically used in gates and fences

Properties of Non-Ferrous Metals


Because non-ferrous metals  contain little to no iron, non-ferrous metals tend to be non-magnetic. This makes them very useful in jewelry, wiring, and electronics.


Another advantage of these metals is the lack of iron content, which leads to the resistance of corrosion. Non-ferrous metals tend to last for a long time because they don’t corrode due to rusting over time. This makes them useful in products that are exposed to the elements like water pipes and gutters.


One last advantage of non-ferrous metals is that they are malleable and lightweight. This makes the metal easy to shape into a finished product quickly. Because of this, they’re used in certain airplane parts and street signs.

Ranging Uses

Non-ferrous metals have a limitless variety of uses. Copper and aluminum are used for their ability to conduct heat and electricity. Several non-ferrous metals make up the core components of most smartphones. Of course, metals like gold and silver have been used decoratively for thousands of years. Non-ferrous metals are fundamentally resistant to both corrosion and magnetism, making them obvious choices for many applications across many different industries. 

Coiled copper wire
Wiring is often made from copper.

Examples of non-ferrous metals include:

  • Lead – Used in pipes, fuels, paints, and batteries
  • Copper – Used for wiring, appliances, and vehicles
  • Silver – Used for jewelry, cutlery, electrical contacts, and the creation of mirrors
  • Aluminum – Used in vehicles, appliances, power lines, and food packaging
  • Brass – Used in screws, light fixtures, door knobs, as well as bath and sink fixtures
  • Gold – Utilized for medical purposes, and is used in computers, electronics, and jewelry

Ferrous vs Non-Ferrous Metals:  The Major Distinctions

A variety of cast metal parts made from assorted ferrous and non-ferrous metals.When it comes down to it, the main differences between ferrous and non-ferrous metals are cost and availability. This is what affects how and when the inputs are used in producing everything from jewelry to automobile engines. Ferrous metals are more commonly used and cheaper because the basic ingredients of ferrous metals — minerals like carbon and iron — are plentiful, easily obtainable, and less expensive overall.

On the other hand, non-ferrous metals like gold and silver are exceptionally rare. The availability, or lack thereof, combined with their relatively wide range of uses, typically makes non-ferrous metals more expensive. That’s why they’re often referred to as “precious metals.”

General Kinematics Is Here to Help

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As with all General Kinematics equipment, you can rest assured that our vibrating grinding drum is built for longevity and durability. We understand that when you need processing equipment, you need a solution you can rely on. Looking for something else? General Kinematics offers a wide range of high-quality equipment designed to make your processes more efficient. Contact a GK engineer today to learn more!

General Kinematics Corporation, incorporated in 1960, was established to market, design, and custom fabricate innovative vibratory equipment for the foundry, recycling, mining, and processing industries. Today the company continues as one of the world’s largest suppliers of vibratory processing equipment and has evolved into an industry-leading EPC firm. Headquartered in Crystal Lake, IL, General Kinematics has seven global locations providing engineering and support to a world-wide customer base. GK is a third generation, family-owned company and is ISO 9001 certified.