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Scrap Metal Recycling: How to Tell What's in Your Hands

Scrap metal recycling is a serious and lucrative business. Each year Americans manage to come up with 56 million tons of scrap steel and iron, 10 million of which are from automobiles. And despite its light weight, 2.5 million tons of aluminum are recycled every year.

Some metals are worth more or less than others, so it's important to know what metal you are recycling for cash. You don't want to turn in 50 pounds of bronze only to discover it's really just iron. What you thought was worth $1.54 per pound has now dropped to a disappointing 6 cents per pound. However, you can maximize your scrap metal profits by looking for specific metals. Here's how to narrow down what type of metal you have in your hands before selling it for scrap.

The Magnet Test

An ordinary magnet is your best friend when you're trying to discern ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Test a piece of metal by placing a magnet on it: if the magnet sticks to the metal, the metal contains iron, nickel or cobalt. Because iron and its alloys are so plentiful, most likely your metal is one of them rather than nickel or cobalt. Old iron and steel will usually have orange-red rust on them.

Some good sources of iron and steel are:

•    Old water pipes and castings
•    Older boilers, radiators and bathtubs
•    Catalytic converters and forklift batteries
•    Metal dry cleaner hangers

If your magnet does not stick to your metal sample, the metal is non-ferrous and worth more money. Read on to find out how to distinguish between some of them.


Aluminum is a very light metal, and unless it’s covered with paint or clad with another metal, it has no visible rust and is always a shiny gray. If you're unsure whether something is aluminum or stainless steel, rap your knuckles against the side and listen. Aluminum produces a dull sound, while stainless steel makes a more ringing noise. Aluminum is easier to bend, and a brass house key will scratch aluminum and not stainless steel.

Aluminum is one of the most familiar metals because so many objects are constructed of aluminum, including soda pop cans, car bumpers, street signs and siding on homes. Look out for water pump pistons, car cylinder heads, transmission cases, old lawn chair frames, buffet foil pans and old pie tins.

Copper, Brass and Bronze

These three metals can appear similar to one another: they are all relatively heavy and can take on a patina or dull covering over time. The fact that brass and bronze are both alloys of copper make them seem confusing. Brass is a mixture of copper and zinc, while bronze is produced from copper and tin. Here are some ways to distinguish between these three tricky metals:

•    Pure copper is as bright as a new penny, but over time takes on a brown, rustic finish. Eventually copper will oxidize to a green color like the Statue of Liberty. Copper also scratches more easily.
•    Brass possesses a lighter yellow finish similar to gold but ages a brownish color.
•    Bronze usually takes on a darker, dull finish and appears to have faint rings on its surface.

Look for old musical instruments, doorknobs, cookware, statues, pipe valves and wiring made of these valuable metals.


Similar to iron, lead is gray in color. However, it is much denser than iron so will feel much heavier. If you don't have a magnet, you can differentiate between the two by easily scratching lead's soft surface with a knife. You can also polish dull lead and restore its original shiny appearance.

A few common items made of lead include fishing sinkers, bullet cores and newer, inexpensive statues.

Now that you are better informed about metal types, you will be able to spot their differences. Maximize your scrap metal profits at a recycling center like John's Famous Auto Parts.



    John’s Auto Parts - Main

    3625 South US Highway 1
    Bunnell , FL 32110
    Phone: 386-437-2163

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    408 LPGA Blvd.
    Holly Hill, FL 32117
    Phone: 386-253-9585

    John’s Metals

    1819 Madison St.
    Palatka , FL 32177
    Phone: 386-325-5011

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    7405 Crill Ave.
    Palatka , FL 32177
    Phone: 386-325-7802

    John’s Tomoka Auto Parts

    454 N. Highway 17
    Palatka , FL 32177
    Phone: 386-325-1414