What is a Ferrous Metal?

“Ferrous” means generally “containing iron”.  The word is derived from the Latin word ferrum (“iron”).  Ferrous metals include steel and pig iron (with a carbon content of a few percent) and alloys of iron with other metals (such as stainless steel). 

The term “ferrous” is usually applied only to metals and alloys. 

Examples of Ferrous Metals

Carbon Steel

Carbon steels are possibly the most widely used type of ferrous metal. They are primarily made up of iron, with over 90% of their chemical composition being that element. The only other major alloying element in carbon steel is carbon. There are only trace amounts of other elements. Common applications of carbon steels include structures, furniture, and automotive components.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is another group of ferrous metals that are commonly used. In general, stainless steels have a high amount of chromium that helps them to resist corrosion better than carbon steels. Stainless steels can be further broken down into subgroups. Austenitic stainless steels have the most corrosion resistance, with high amounts of nickel and chromium. There are also ferritic, martensitic, and duplex stainless steels. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages depending on the application. Common applications of stainless steels include appliances, pharmaceutical and medical equipment, food-grade equipment, and knives.

Cast Iron

Cast iron is a type of ferrous metal that has more carbon than most other types. This gives it a high amount of strength. Although high in strength, it is quite brittle. The lack of other alloying elements outside of iron and carbon make it a relatively affordable ferrous metal. Common applications of cast iron include cookware, small components subject to wear such as gears, rods, and pins, and mining equipment.

Alloy Steel

Alloy steels are a type of ferrous metal specially formulated to serve specific purposes. While composed primarily of iron, differing amounts of copper, vanadium, tungsten, manganese, and other elements can be used to tailor an alloy steel to have higher toughness, ductility, tensile strength, hardness, and other properties. Common applications of alloy steels include tools, dies, and machining equipment.