Ferrous and non-ferrous metals

Types of metals and their uses

Metals are found naturally and are mined from the earth. Metals used in products are extracted from the natural ore using large heat furnaces. They are sold as sheets, bars, rods, tubes and angles. Most metals can be recycled, saving natural resources.

Bent metal angles used to construct a large, slightly rusting shoe rack.
Shelving made from metal angles

Ferrous metals

Ferrous metals contain iron and are magnetic. They are prone to rust and therefore require a protective finish, which is sometimes used to improve the aesthetics of the product it is used for as well.

Ferrous metalPropertiesUses
Cast ironBrittle if thin, can be cast in a mould, strong compression strength, good electrical and thermal conductivity but poor resistance to corrosionManhole covers, pans and gates, vices
High-carbon steel (tool steel)Hard but brittle, less malleable than mild steel, good electrical and thermal conductivityTaps and tools, eg screwdrivers and chisels
Low-carbon steel (mild steel)Ductile and tough, easy to form, braze and weld, good electrical and thermal conductivity but poor resistance to corrosionNuts, bolts, screws, bike frames and car bodies
Rusted metal framework at a pier overhanging the blue sea.
Orange, flaking rust on an old steel pier

Non-ferrous metals

Non-ferrous metals do not contain iron and are not magnetic. They do not rust.

Non-ferrous metalPropertiesUses
AluminiumLight in weight and malleable but strong, a good conductor of heat and corrosion resistantDrink cans, saucepans, bike frames
CopperAn excellent electrical conductor of heat and electricity, extremely malleable and can be polished, oxidises to a green colourPlumbing fittings and electrical wires, professional chef's saucepans
SilverA precious metal that is soft and malleable when heated, highly resistant to corrosion and an excellent electrical conductor of heatJewellery
A historic collection of axes showing copper oxidising to a green colour (verdigris).
Copper oxidised to a green colour


Alloys are mixtures of metal with an element to improve its properties or aesthetic. For example brass is a mixture of copper and zinc. Alloys can also be classified as ferrous or non-ferrous. Non-ferrous metal may require a protective finish. This finish is sometimes used to improve the aesthetics of the product it is used for.

Brass (alloy of copper and zinc)Non-ferrous metal that is strong and ductile, casts well and is gold coloured but darkens when oxidised with age, a good conductor of heatTaps, screws, castings, locks and doorknobs
Bronze (alloy of copper, aluminium and/or nickel)Non-ferrous alloy, harder than brass and corrosion resistant, reddish/yellow in colourCastings, bearings
Stainless steel (alloy of steel also with chromium, nickel and magnesium)Ferrous metal that is silver when polished, hard and tough with excellent resistance to corrosionCutlery, sinks, saucepans, surgical equipment
A close-up image of a silver, stainless steel spatula used for cooking.
Stainless steel spatula