Introduction: Identify Metals

Picture of Identify Metals

     If your like me and make scrap metal sculpture then it can sometimes be hard to identify what metal the scrap is made of. In this instructable I will show you how too identify some of the more common metals. NOTE: These are not all the metals there are, there are thousands and I couldn't possibly tell about all of them. Also if you bend tin it will make a light "snapping" sound.

Step 1: Ferrous or Nonferrous?

Picture of Ferrous or Nonferrous?

     Ferrous means that the metal has iron content which in most cases makes it magnetic and nonferrous means it doesn't have iron in it. An example of a ferrous metal is mild steel, also known as low carbon steel. An example of a nonferrous metal is copper or aluminum. Its always a good idea to bring a magnet to the scrap yard.

Step 2: Aluminum

Picture of Aluminum

     Aluminum is a shiny grey metal and has a clear oxide that forms on contact with air. This may not be the best thing for identifying it, but aluminums melting point is 658° C (1217°F). Also aluminum is non sparking. Aluminums density is 2.70 g/cm3, this is a good way to identify it because you can find the density of a material by density = mass ÷ volume. As i said earlier, aluminum is nonferrous.

Step 3: Bronze

Picture of Bronze

     Most bronze is an alloy of copper and tin, but architectural bronze actually has a small amount of lead in it. Bronze has a dark coppery color and gets a green oxide over a period of time. bronze's melting point is 850-1000°C (1562-1832°F) depending on how much of each metal is in it. Bronze is nonferrous. Because bronze is an alloy densities vary. Bronze vibrates like a bell when hit.

Step 4: Brass

Picture of Brass

     Brass is another copper alloy but it has zinc instead of tin. Brass has a yellow gold color. Brass' melting point is 900-940°C (1652-1724°F) depending on how much of each metal they used. Brass is nonferrous. Because brass is an alloy its density varies. If hit brass vibrates like a bell, this can be used to determine if something is brass instead of gold.

Step 5: Chromium

Picture of Chromium

     Chromium is a very shiny silver color and forms a clear oxide over time. Chromiums melting point is 1615°C (3034°F). Things are rarely made of pure chromium but lots of things are coated with it to make it shiny and not rust. Chromiums density is 7.2 g/cm3. Chromium is nonferrous.

Step 6: Copper

Picture of Copper

    Copper is made into many alloys like brass and bronze. Copper is light red in color and gets a green oxide over time. Copper is nonferrous. Coppers melting point is 1083°C (1981°F). Coppers density is 8.94 g/cm3. Copper, like brass, also vibrates like a bell when hit.

Step 7: Gold

Picture of Gold

     Gold is a shiny yellow color and does not have an oxide. Golds melting point is 1064.18°C (1947.52°F). Gold is very soft and is very heavy. Gold has a high electrical conductivity (more electricity can pass through it) which means that the connectors on many cords have gold plating. Golds density is 19.30 g/cm^3. Gold is nonferrous. Gold is a "precious" metal which means that it is very expensive and is used in coins and jewelry.

Step 8: Iron

Picture of Iron

     Iron is ferrous (finally!) and magnetic. Iron is a dull grey when unpolished and its rust is a reddish color. Iron is also used in a lot of alloys like steel. Irons melting point is 1530°C (2786°F). Irons density is 7.87 g/cm3.

Step 9: Lead

Picture of Lead

     Lead is a dull grey when unpolished but shinier when polished. Lead has a relatively low melting point, 327°C (621°F). Lead is nonferrous. Leads is very heavy, its density  is 10.6 g/cm3.

Step 10: Magnesium

Picture of Magnesium

     Magnesium has a grey color and develops an oxide that dulls the color. Magnesiums melting point is 650°C (1202°F). Magnesium is extremely flammable in a powder or thin strips. Magnesium burns very brightly and is very hard to put out because it is so hot that if you throw water on it, it separates it into hydrogen and oxygen, two very flammable gasses. Magnesium can also burn without oxygen making it even harder to put out. Magnesium is very light with a density of 1.738 g/cm^3. Because magnesium is so light it is used in engin blocks in cars, and because it burns so brightly it is used in incendiary weaponry (to incinerate things) and fireworks.

Step 11: Mild Steel

Picture of Mild Steel

     Mild steel is black to dark grey unpolished and silvery polished. Mild steel has the same red rust oxide as iron. Mild steel is also ferrous and magnetic. Another name for mild steel is low carbon steel. Mild steel makes yellow sparks when ground down. Mild steels density is about 7.86 g/cm3but it varies since it is an alloy of iron and carbon (low carbon steel). MIld steel melting point is 1350-1530°C (2462-2786°F).

Step 12: Nickel

Picture of Nickel

     Nickel is shiny silver when polished and is darker unpolished. NIckel is one of the few metals that is not an iron alloy that is magnetic (5¢ US nickels are not magnetic because there made of a copper nickel alloy). Nickels melting point is 1452°C (2645°F). Nickels density is 8.902 g/cm3.

Step 13: Stainless Steel

Picture of Stainless Steel

     Stainless steel is a shiny silver color and does not forme and oxide. Chromium (step5) is mixed into the steel, when it hardens the chromium leaves a coating of its oxide on top of the steel, this is too thin to see so the steels color shows through. Stainless steels melting point is from 1400-1450 °C (2552-2642 °F). Stainless steels density varies because it is an alloy. Depending on the alloy some stainless steels are magnetic, but all are ferrous.

Step 14: Tin

Picture of Tin

     Tin is silvery grey in color (like most metals) when polished and darker when unpolished. Tin has a comparatively low melting point of 231°C (449°F). Tins density is 7.365 g/cm3. Tin is nonferrous

Step 15: Titanium

Picture of Titanium

     Titanium is a silvery grey metal metal when unpolished and darker when unpolished. Titanium gives off bright white sparks when it is ground. Titanium is nonferrous. Titaniums melting point is 1795°C (3263°F). Titaniums density is 4.506 g/cm3.

Step 16: Silver

Picture of Silver

     Silver is a shiny grey even before being polished but develops a black film over time and has to be polished. Silvers melting point is 961.78°C (1763.2°F). Silver has the highest electrical conductivity (more electricity can pass through it) than any other metal. Silvers density is 10.49 g/cm^3. Silver is nonferrous. Silver is a "precious" metal meaning that it is expensive and is used in coins and jewlery.

Step 17: Zinc

Picture of Zinc

     Zinc is naturally dull grey and is very hard to polish. Zinc has has an oxide that flakes off carrying some of the zinc so other things are coated in it so the zinc "rusts" instead of the base metal, this is called galvanization. Because of its low cost zinc is the main metal in us pennies. Zincs melting point is 419°C (786°F). Zinc is nonferrous. Zincs density is 7.14 g/cm3.


gearskin (author)2011-03-17

Stainless steel and aluminum both form an oxide layer called a passivation layer that is non-porous to oxygen, thereby protecting the interior of the metal from further oxidization.

eager to learn2 (author)gearskin2017-01-24

Without blemishing the metal with HCL acid or scraping it with a metal grinder, how can one differentiate between stainless steel -vs- aluminum? I've read you can't detect by sight or weight. Does either ping like crystal? Which professionals are considered experts in differntaiting metals? Thank you!

Isn't stainless steel a ferrous metal and aluminum a nonferrous metal?

Ferrous or Nonferrous
philln (author)2017-06-13

I'm trying to figure out an easy way to distinguish cast aluminum from forged aluminum. (in those cases where the obvious signs of a cast piece have been removed) How about whether the mfrs markings are raised lettering (as in cast) or stamped (as in forged)? Or maybe hit it with a big hammer and see if it cracks in two? Thanks

twopussez (author)2017-03-13

SuperElephant - It's called a euphonium and TRUMPET not Trumpit ya tuba.

super elephant (author)2010-12-07

this is not a tuba or a baratone, and for other posters, it is not a trombone, trumpet, or a baratone horn. THIS IS CALLED AN EUPHONEUM
(You-phone-E-yuMM). As proof, i play euphoneum, trumpit, trombone, baratone, and tuba! I also have facts here.

This is a tuba, it is extremely large, heavy, and has 4 valves faceing outwords, a short bell, and all adjustment slides are on the inside. the picture posted on this instructable can not be a tuba. (the first picture is a tuba)

this cant be a baratone. It has a long bell pipe, and it doesn't have so many adjustment pipes,has 3 valves, sometimes 4, alvays pointing out, not up like a trumpits, and onley one tuneing slide. the picture posted on the instructable is not a baratone.(the baratone is the second picture)

this cant be a trombone because a trombone is long thin, has a long slide, and sometimes has one valve, BIG difference.(trombone is picture # 3)

a trumpit is about 1 1/2 feet long(sizes verry slightly), thin, and has three valves pointing up. (trumpit is picture # 4)

a baratone horn is like a trumpit, onley slightly larger than a big trumpit, witn a big bell. (baratone horn is picture # 5)

Finally the euphoneum, the euphoneum is like a baratone, onley with a short wide bell, always 3 valves pointing up, and many tubes inside and out. the picture is an euphoneum (the euphoneum is picture # 6)

nukeme70 (author)super elephant2011-01-09

A tuba might have any of the valve configurations you mention. I have 3 in the house right now - one with 3 upright valves like the original picture, one with the 3 valves facing outward, like in your second picture, and one with 4 rotors, like in your first picture. (I also have 2 marching contrabass bugles with upright valves, like your picture of the marching baritone). A baritone could be thought of as a bass trumpet - they both have cylindrical tubing, whereas a euphonium is more of a tenor tuba - they both have conical tubing, which is also the difference between a trumpet and a cornet. Different manufacturers have different configurations of valves and tubing - some upright, some facing forward, some rotary, some 3 valve, 4 valve - some tubas have up to 6. There are even trumpets that have 4 rotary valves. Your 5th picture is a marching baritone as opposed to a concert horn. A marching euphonium would look similar, but usually has larger diameter tubing and a larger bell.

super elephant (author)nukeme702011-01-22

Alrite, you sound like you know what you are talking about, but that is a euphoneum, it is my current main insterment, and they look exactly the same, except, the one i have is all dented and ugly.
by the way, for all who read about the baratone horn above, that picture isnt a baratone horn. my bad :( . it is a flugel horn.

Just a little correction which is correct by nukeme, 'baritone' not baratone.

TLK45 (author)bricabracwizard2016-11-15

Instrument not insterment

TubaJ446 (author)super elephant2013-08-13

I am playing on a tuba that looks just like this, although I would prefer one with 4 rotary valves like the one you have pictured. Also you see that little ring on the 2nd valve? It's not in the right place for the little finger (like the baritone you have pictured). It also has 2 thick pipes near the bell, euphonium/baritone would have one.

Rush_2112 (author)super elephant2011-05-18

The correct spelling is Trumpet

CraigR76 (author)2016-09-17

HI! I need some help in finding out where I can send metal to find out what it is for sure. I found this about 6 years ago when metal detecting and it showed on the detector as gold, silver, iron and nickle range. So i took it to a friend and we cut a small piece of it off to test. He owned a pawn shop and the unit he had to test with used several chemicals and is what he used to check gold, silver before he would purchase it. The test showed that it was 24kt gold, this test was repeated 6 times and same result all times. I then took the same piece to a jeweler and had them test it, they said it was not gold and they had no idea what it was. I then took some shavings and sent them out to a place that did free testing and they said it showed 99.9% pure iron. I then took the original piece that I had cut and gave it to a friend who had a forge, he heated it to 2300 f and said that it didn't seem to phase it, and he hammered it on a anvil and wouldn't hardly bend. I then took and had a friend that has a top of the line white and he checked it and his showed it was nickle. I do know that once it is polished up that it stays shinny and seams not to tarnish, but that doesn't tell me to much,lol. So I need to find a place I can send it that either is free or cheap to find out what it is for sure. Please send e-mail to if you know of some place, ideas I can try , Thanks and appreciate any thing at all.

Xena4 (author)2015-12-30

any easy gold testing without acid or gun?

KwonP1 (author)Xena42016-06-23

back in the old days (pre-1933) when gold coins were in circulation (and money was worth so much more) people would bite the coin and see if there is a small dent from the bite to determine if the gold coin is legit. Gold is very soft and can even rub off on your fingers. pure solid gold is rarely used for any practical purpose, it is mostly used for jewelry. general purpose gold is either white gold (alloyed) or gold plated electrical components. if you're trying to salvage gold from electrical components or connectors you'd need a few hundred pieces to get a few grams of gold- there really isn't that much gold when its plated on another material.

HerkusK (author)2016-06-17

I was cutting open wires of several different phone chargers to scavenge some copper but one particular charger for Sony Xperia J didn't have copper wiring inside, instead there was a shiny, grey, relatively light ( or so it seemed to my hand) metal wiring. What could that metal be? I thought maybe silver since it is used in electronics but it seems too light especially compared with the copper. What else could it be? Steel, zinc, aluminium, maybe silver after all? Please inform me.

KwonP1 (author)HerkusK2016-06-23

it is likely tinned copper wire. this is copper wire coated with tin so it is easily soldered with other wires or electrical components. the tin is only a few ten thousandths (0.0001") of an inch thick.

i know back in the 60s and 70s for house wiring (in walls or appliances) they'd use aluminum for conductors. it was cheaper at the time to use alumnium than copper, but when overloaded the wires are known to start fires and is banned in construction and general use today. it is unlikely alumnium would be used for cell chargers.

KwonP1 (author)2016-06-23

Its a very basic guide, and really only applies to metals in its pure form. Most scrapyard and commercial sources have an alloyed form of each material, meaning its mixed with other metals and some of its properties will change. Often times it may be washed with another, electroplated, chemical plated, hardened, etc. Not unusual for something that appears to be one metal is actually another- for example, gold and silver plated objects. Another example, pure tin may snap when bent, but the common 'tin sheet' is a steel sheet with a thin layer on tin on the surface, and it does not make noises when bent (with a brake).

A few of my own methods- aluminum is diamagnetic (sp?). this means a non moving magnet will not stick, but a moving magnet the aluminum will gain some magnetic properties.

Chrome is usually plated on to another metal, there is decorative that can tarnish, peel and flake off, if in good condition has a mirror finish, and is pretty soft. Then there is hard chrome often used on load bearing parts (axles, shafts, bearings, etc) that is matte silver in color, can be very glossy in texture, will not be scratched even with a hardened steel sample, generally does not tarnish or corrode.

Its not just silver that turns black over time. the presence of ammonia in the vicinity of a metal can make it turn black. (learned this the hard way when i accidentally left steel tools in a bucket of water with some house paint in it) long term exposure to ammonia can cause pitting.

Best way to identify if something is solid magnesium is its price tag. Its expensive. really expensive. alternatively, small metal filings (shave off with a steel knife) will readily ignite by match or lighter flame and burn bright white. primary consumer uses would be performance engine blocks and performance car wheels (rims).

Titanium is a tough one to identify, but again easy if you just look at the price tag, the stuff is more than $1200 an ounce. Ti is rarely used in every day objects, exotic purposes only- medical, aeronautics, and high end camping gear. I have a Snow Peak camping set made of Ti, only way you'd know its Ti and not something else is that it will scratch ordinary steel utensils (plus its like 50 bucks a pot!)

HerkusK (author)2016-06-17

One thing to mention about magnesium is that is reacts with vinegar ( starts bubbling) while aluminium doesn't so it makes it easier to distinguish between the two.

Yonatan24 (author)2016-01-01

Very interesting and helpful, Thanks!

Xena4 (author)2015-12-30

in costume vintage jewellery with no stamp how can I tell. Which one goes green or black over time?

ian.gallinger (author)2015-08-08

ahhh titanium.... herrrdrrr
y u tell us how to identify titantium

Masonaux (author)2015-06-17

If silver is the most conductive metal there is and a hundred times cheaper than gold, then why plate electronic components in gold?

FernandoE1 (author)Masonaux2015-06-19

It is used because it does not oxidize or corrode, which is a great feature when it comes to plugs. Many cheaper plugs, especially with copper, tend to corrode, and that corrosion can destroy electrical devices.

WendellU (author)2015-05-14

Really nice only thing I could think of to add is tensile and sheer strength

lynne.findley.1 (author)2015-02-26

Thank you. You were at the top of google and this is just how much i wanted to know. :)

MrMercenary (author)2014-10-14

This helps a lot. I'm just starting to work with metals and make alloys.

lazyoaks (author)2013-01-19

Wow, that is interesting stuff!

thrillingtreasures (author)2012-10-19

Great writeup. I am going to write this down plus a few of the comments on a card to carry with me. Thanks

Jack A Lopez (author)2010-11-21

Step 10 could use some editing.

You used the word "allow" for what I think should be "alloy".   Also "there" instead of "they're"

However the major problem is the phrase "us nickels" I am guessing that you are referring to a particular coin found in the Former United States.  The only reason I was capable of decoding this ambiguous language is because I happen to live in the FUS, and I have seen these coins, and I have verified that a strong magnet will not stick to them.  It's the one with a face value of  5/100 FUSD, a "5 cent" piece.  The problem  is that no one living outside the  FUS will have any idea what you're talking about.  What does the phrase "us nickels" mean?  Does it mean all nickel alloys produced in the Former U.S. actually have copper in them?  Does the phrase mean "our nickels", nickels belonging to usAll your nickels are belong to us? It's totally unclear!

So I humbly suggest editing it to something like "U.S. five cent pieces, commonly called nickels, are not magnetic because they are made from a non-magnetic copper-nickel alloy", or something like that.

Overall, I like this 'ible, but Step 10 is just a spelling/grammar/semantic train wreck.  I hope you find this comment helpful.

dlemke (author)Jack A Lopez2012-05-24

"Former" United States????? I know the states are heading downhill, but did not think it had capitulated just yet.

Jack A Lopez (author)dlemke2012-05-24

I dunno. It is really not the same place it used to be, and I think the changes that have taken place are significant enough the word "former" is an appropriate descriptor, and it would be dishonest of me to just call it the US, or America, without the word "former"in front of those words.

tranoxx (author)Jack A Lopez2010-11-21

ill change this, thanks for telling me

Jack A Lopez (author)tranoxx2010-11-23

Glad I could help. BTW, this 'ible is so metal!!! Pun intended.

dlemke (author)2012-05-24

Another word that could be used here for oxidize, is "Patina". Most refer to "Patina" when describing the green color of copper based metals, even though the dictionary says: "A fine coating of oxide on the surface of a metal".

Might add some color to your excellent paper on metals. Pun intended.....

jim5150jvc (author)2011-10-31

Great instructable!! But I'm a big nerd, and like all big nerds, I can't let this instructable go by without stating MY favorite trace-metal: NIOBIUM. Hypo-allergenic jewelry wire (like earring loops) often is made with niobium alloys. you can buy a pair pretty cheap, and they're especially useful if your metal sculpture wears earrings.

mbreukel (author)2011-10-31

pretty nice guide of metals, my dad is a scrap collector for the good cause and we have to help from time to time so i know a bit how to see what metal is what.

weight helps a lot for several pieces, as you said alu is light, steal is heavier etc.
color doesnt always say something, a piece of tin can look the same as a piece of lead(its just a lot lighter)

if you dont know exactly what is is, try bending it. stainless is way harder to bend then the same item in plain iron.

also a thing my father used to do when he began(or above steps never worked) was using a file to file away a corner. the harder the metal the less you file away with 1 strike. after a while you wont need this anymore, if you work enough with metals

jmoore33 (author)2011-10-30

i dug up a bunch of iron from my back yard ( there is an old coverd wagon thing in my back yard and there was a lot of iron) i got 5 bucks for it in a scrap yard

Master Beorn (author)2011-10-09

Thermite is easy to make, and it is equally easy to KILL YOURSELF WITH IT. Please keep that in mind.

badpanda (author)2011-09-30

Great writeup. I've just started playing around with metal work and have no doubt this will come in handy.

shadow wave rider (author)2011-08-19

gold is found in computers to join solers because it is very conductive(i knw im smart and only 13) and not you cannot get rich by taking the gold solers out of dead computers. you would need alot and i mean alot of computers to get rich. not even the amount of computers at my school is enough (about 15 every classroom give or take)

btw im 12

ok sorry for braging. did you reaserch this or did you do it from memory.


Azzazil (author)2011-08-18

This is very useful :), nice work.

SirStokes (author)2011-06-16

What/Where is the burning magnesium picture from?

jaredzeuli (author)SirStokes2011-07-26

Hahaha, I've done that before! In my metallurgy class at school we had a magnesium brake rotor from a commercial airliner lying around and we knew about it's self-reinforcing flammability once heated over its critical temperature. Needless, to say we shaved a few strips off of it and to the oxy-acetylene torch to it in the lot outside the shop. It got red hot them combusted into an intense white flame. It was awesome! And lit left a hole straight through the concrete and word to the wise, be carefully with this stuff!!! I also highly recommend playing with thermite if you can get some! It's easy enough to make, but we got a bag from the railroad company for one of our final projects. Fun stuff, dangerous, but fun!!!

tranoxx (author)SirStokes2011-06-17

hmm, I cant seem to find it again but I searched magnesium fire in google images.

NoPegs (author)tranoxx2011-07-07

I remember where its from. Some guy burned a magnesium engine block from a VW. Plug "magnesium vw block fire" into youtube and its in there somewhere.

ischorr (author)2011-05-14

What do you have against apostrophes? :)

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