Ferrous Metals

Metals can be separated into many categories, each with a set of properties. For example, some metals are magnetic, others are not, some are brittle, some are ductile. Some metals can be altered by various chemical processes, while others are mixed to create alloys, which in turn can create a variety of things including alloy wheels.

However, one of the most important ways to categorise a metal, before other differences are noted, is if it is ferrous or non-ferrous.

Where does the word ferrous come from?

The word ferrous derives from the Latin word ‘ferrum’, which means iron. Ferrous metals are, therefore, those that consist mainly of iron (Chemically known as Fe).

Why does it matter if a metal is ferrous or not?

What any metal is made of is vital to deciding how it might be used. While ferrous metals are renowned for their strength and ductility, the presence of iron makes them vulnerable to rusting when exposed to air and moisture, so certain uses for them will be limited by these characteristics.

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What is a ferrous metal?

Ferrous metal means that it has iron in its make-up. But this doesn’t mean just trace or small amounts of iron. When the term ferrous metal is used, it typically means that iron is a large percentage of the metal’s elemental composition. In fact, it’s likely to be the second or third largest part of the metal, if it’s not the largest.

Why isn’t every metal containing iron ferrous?

Many metals contain small amounts of iron. If they were all classed as ferrous, the category wouldn’t have much meaning, so a small amount is not considered enough to declare the metal ferrous.

What are the qualities of ferrous metals?

The iron found in ferrous metals tends to make them magnetic, strong, and hard. The characteristics of a ferrous metal can differ greatly depending on the other elements they are made up from. Because they have a high carbon content, ferrous metals are vulnerable to rust when exposed to moisture.

How is ferrous metal used?

Because ferrous metals tend to be strong and durable, they have many uses in construction and engineering. Below are some types of ferrous metals and their uses:

Cast Iron


Has more carbon than most other types. relatively affordable due to lack of other alloying elements outside of iron and carbon.


Cookware, small components subject to wear such as gears, rods, and pins, and mining equipment.

Carbon Steel


Typically over 90% iron and the most commonly used ferrous metal.


Structures, furniture, and automotive components.


100% recyclable Usually have a high amount of chromium that helps resist corrosion better than carbon steels.


Appliances, pharmaceutical and medical equipment, food-grade equipment, and knives.

Engineering Steel


Mostly iron, but amounts of copper, vanadium, tungsten, manganese, and other elements can tailor it for toughness, ductility, tensile strength, hardness, and other properties.


Tools, dies, and machining equipment.

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