548 State Road, Westport, MA 02790

How to Identify Different Types of Scrap Metal

How to Identify Different Types of Scrap Metal

Identifying Scrap MetalsNon-ferrous metals are typically more valuable than ferrous, making it important to know the difference. Once you’ve used the magnet test to separate your ferrous and non-ferrous metals, there are additional tests that can be done. Bring it all to Mid City Scrap Iron & Salvage in Westport for the best prices for scrap metal on Cape Cod.


Below are some tips that will help you to quickly identify the most commonly seen types of non-ferrous scrap metals that you are likely to come across in your home or outside collection activities. The more you work with scrap metals, the easier it will become to identify them just by touch or sight.

Aluminum is easy to identify as we see it regularly in soda pop cans. This metal is very light, non-ferrous and does not rust.

Brass or bronze is typically seen in musical instruments, decorative pieces, pipe valves and manifolds. It is a yellowish color and is generally about 50% the value of copper #1, as it is a copper alloy.

Copper is seen often in cookware, electronics and wiring. Pure copper is pink, but tarnished copper is usually brown or red. When oxidized, copper turns to green such as we see in the Statue of Liberty. Copper wiring is generally made of “bright” or pure wire, which is why it is very valuable. Copper can also be found in processors, inductors, transformers and motors and is usually classified as “copper breakage” in these instances.

  • Copper #1 – clean copper (usually seen in pipes without solder joints)
  • Copper #2 – painted copper (usually seen in copper that has solder joints)
  • Copper #3 – light copper sheeting

Copper wire can be difficult to grade, so you will see some grading differences from scrap yard to scrap yard. In most cases the percentage of copper within the wire itself is what is used to identify the grade. Some scrappers like to strip the copper down to get full price, but it is not required.

  • 85% Copper Wire – Very thin, about the diameter of a pencil
  • 70% Copper Wire – Wire usually found in machinery
  • 50% Copper Wire – Usually seen in appliance or extension cords
  • 30% Copper Wire – Wire that is thinly gauged with a lot of attachments
  • 15% Copper Wire – Seen most often in Christmas lights

Lead is extremely heavy and is very toxic. It has a density that is 150% more than iron and is soft enough that you can make carvings in it with a pocket knife. Lead is used in X-ray machines and for making bullets.

Stainless Steel comes in a number of different varieties:

  • #200 Stainless Steel is a non-magnetic iron alloy which contains 4% nickel, 7% manganese and 17% chromium.
  • #304 Stainless Steel as we mentioned earlier will not draw a magnet even though it is an iron alloy and contains 8% nickel. It also contains 18% chromium.
  • #316 Stainless Steel is also non-magnetic, despite being an iron alloy. It contains 10% nickel and 18% chromium. It is worth more than other stainless steel grades and can be easily identified by a 316 SS stamp somewhere on the product.
  • #400 Stainless Steel does not contain nickel and actually is the only type of stainless steel that is magnetic. It is made up of an alloy that contains 1% manganese and 11% chromium.


Like the magnet test, the spark test has been used for centuries to test for different types of metals. In order to do this test you will need a grinder of some type, like a bench grinder that will give you control during the test. Also – make sure the piece you are testing is big enough that it won’t melt during the test, otherwise your efforts are just useless.

The best way to identify a type of metal is to know exactly what the sparks should like. The descriptions we will provide here should help, but having a known sample of each type of metal will be even more helpful in identifying what you’ve got.

Identifying Markers

  • Color – The color of the sparks help to identify the metal. For example, nickel will produce very dark, red sparks, incredibly white sparks can mean titanium and wrought iron produces very long yellow sparks.
  • Forks & Sprigs – The number of forks and sprigs that you see will be telling of the amount of carbon content found in the metal sample. The higher percentage of carbon, the more forks and sprigs you’ll see in the sparks.
  • Absence of Sparks – Absolutely no sparks means that the metal you have discovered is non-ferrous. Good for confirming a magnet test and separating items that may look similar, such as aluminum and stainless steel.
  • Length – The length of the stream is also very telling. For example, alloy steel will produce a very large stream up to 50 or 60 inches in length that is white and ends in forks. However, tungsten carbide streams are usually very small, rarely over 3 inches in length and have a light orange hue throughout.


If you aren’t sure about what type of scrap metal you have, the trained, certified Scale Operators at Mid City Scrap Iron & Salvage will check it over to classify the material for you. The scale ticket that you receive from the Scale Operator will identify the type of material you are recycling and you will be directed where to unload the material. Mid City is located on State Road in Westport, MA and serves residents, businesses and industrial customers all over the Cape, from New Bedford to Buzzards Bay, Provincetown and everywhere in between.

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