Knowing Your Metals

What’s the difference between ferrous and nonferrous metals?

The simplest answer is that ferrous metals and alloys contain iron (Fe) and nonferrous metals do not. Which is exactly why a magnet is your most useful tool in separating and collecting metals. If your magnet sticks to a piece of metal, chances are it’s ferrous. If it doesn’t stick, chances are it’s nonferrous.

The reason this is important is because there is typically a significant price difference between the two; nonferrous metals often pay more per pound than ferrous metals do. So if your magnet doesn’t stick, you’re looking at a little more cash in your pocket.

Common Nonferrous Metals

Aluminum – Window frames, building structures, roofs, airplanes, trains, boats, cars and trucks. It is also used in smaller vehicles like bicycles, motorbikes, and other mobility devices such as wheelchairs. Keep in mind that if there is iron (use your magnet) attached to any of these things it will need to be removed in order for you to get full aluminum prices for scrap. Of course, your old soda and beer cans also can be recycled, but it will take a lot of volume to make an amount of money that’s worth it.

Brass – Most commonly scrapped are valves and pipefittings. Some other items made from brass include: bullet casings, faucets, doorknobs, and light fixtures.

Copper – Copper pipe, wires, circuits, switches, and electromagnets. A few others are plumbing fittings and also pieces found in refrigeration units, air conditioners, and water supply systems.

Lead – Lead is used in many different applications from piping to wheel weights. It’s usually soft and somewhat pliable, but it’s deceptively heavy.

Stainless Steel – Although containing 70% iron, stainless steel is still considered a nonferrous metal and fetches a higher price. The reason it is more valuable is because it is made using a minimum of 8% nickel. Stainless steel can often be found in appliances and kitchenware as well as some automotive and aerospace technology. It will probably look like regular steel, but will not draw a magnet.

Ferrous Metals

While there are a large variety of ferrous metals (the most common being varieties of steel and iron), what’s most important to know are the following two categories of ferrous metal:

New Scrap – Excess from the production lines of manufacturing warehouses. The common person will not likely have access to this type of metal.

Obsolete Scrap Old stuff: appliances, lawnmowers, cars – anything that’s old and made of steel. Both new and obsolete scrap will draw the pull of a magnet. I’ve listed some common items below:

AutomobilesYes, you can scrap an entire vehicle if you want to. A lot of people I know will just sit some old hunk of junk in their yard forever because it doesn’t run and they never find the time to fix it. The good news is that you can scrap it if you can’t fix it or sell it. I’d recommend stripping off anything that contains aluminum or other nonferrous metals because you can get more money for them. Also, before taking the car in, you should call ahead to the local scrapyard to see what they need from you in order to buy it. Most yards will need you to present the title and empty it of all liquids. Emptying the liquids from the car sucks, trust me; I spent an entire summer doing it once, but it’s worth it if you’re getting paid.

Washers, Dryers, Heaters, Other Appliances – Most scrapyards take them all. So, if you’ve recently replaced any of these household appliances lately you can get some decent scrap money for them instead of letting them sit in your garage.

Structural Steel – Prepared I-beams, channels, angles and/or plates, steel girders, and structural steel from demolition scrap. This is the stuff that typically holds up bridges and buildings.