Scrap Metal Identification

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This should clear up some of the confusion I have heard from some on how to identify different types of metals! Before you leave please check out my must read page on HOW TO START SCRAPPING METAL!Check out the bottom of the page for a link to the ISRI scrap specification manual.

  • Make sure you know how to pull apart all of the items listed in the SCRAP GUIDE.
  • First and foremost, ALWAYS HAVE A MAGNET! This is the tool of the trade, some would say, and to be without one will make you seem like a fool. I have a whole collection of magnets that I have tore out of different scrapped appliances and what not. Microwaves, speakers, hard drives, and other electronics all have magnets you can pull out.
  • You will undoubtably make very good use of the Spark Test… that is if you lean about the spark test. Use that guide to get it down, and then practice.
  • I have written a specialty guide to identifying special types of e-waste. Things like computers, monitors, RAM, CPUs, and more.

The magnet will become your weapon, and with it you will sort ferrous and non-ferrous metals.


  • Is 3x heavier than aluminum.
  • Will rust.
  • Sticks to a magnet…
  • is abundant.
  • is strong


How to Identify Aluminum:

  • is quite light
  • does NOT draw a magnet
  • does NOT throw sparks when ground with an angle grinder.
  • doesn’t rust.


How To Identify Copper:

  • Is mostly used in wiring and electronics.
  • Makes great cookware
  • When copper is pure it has beautiful pink color
  • Due to tarnishing, is usually a red or brown color. (also beautiful)
  • Oxidizes into a strong green color. (see Statue Of Liberty)
  • Is more dense than iron, by about 15%.
  • Bright Copper is another name for very pure copper, usually wire. Bright copper is the most valuable of scrap copper
  • Copper #1 is clean copper, including pipes without solder joints.
  • Copper #2 is painted copper, copper with solder joints, things of that nature
  • Light Copper is copper sheeting. Some yards may call this copper #3.
  • Copper Breakage: Motors, transformers, inductors, some processors, et cetera.

How To Identify Brass or Bronze:
  • is usually a yellow-ish color and pays about half the price of copper #1.
  • may be called brass or bronze, but some will say “Copper alloy” to avoid confusion.
  • Is often found in the form of pipe valves, fluid manifolds, decorative pieces, or instruments.
  • Can be alloyed with nickel, in which case it is called a CUPRONICKEL (see below)
  • Because the grades of wire are not explicitly spelled out by the ISRI, they are usually graded different by every yard.
  • There are many different ways of grading copper wire, but what it really comes down to is percentage of copper that is within the wire. Some people like to strip the copper themselves and get full copper price, other like to just take it in as is. Really, it just comes down to how much time you have.
  • 85% Wire: Thin case with a diameter comparible to a pencil’s. If you have this type of wire, just strip it yourself and get ful copper price!
  • 70% Wire: Romex/machine wire without any attachments.
  • 50% Wire: Extension cords and appliance cords, with all attachments removed.
  • 30% Wire: Thinly gauged wire with a considerable degree of attachments.
  • 15% Wire: Christmas lights.


How To Identify Lead:
  • Is 150% denser than iron, so it should feel heavy.
  • Is atomic element 82 with chemical symbol Pb (from latin plumbum meaning lead)
  • is very malleable, or soft, and can be carved with a pocket knife.
  • Will melt in an over or over a fire at 621°F
  • used to make bullets, and line xray machines.
  • is very toxic (but apparently has a sweet taste).
  • 304 stainless steel is an iron alloy with 18% chromium an 8% nickel.
  • It WILL NOT draw a magnet.
  • Use the Spark test.


  • is non magnetic
  • Is an iron alloy with 18% chromium and 10% nickel, but is worth up to 50 cents more per pound depending on the yard.
  • To me and most scrappers, it looks exactly the same as 304 stainless.
  • Look for a “316 SS” stamp or one similar to distinguish this.
  • When spark tested, will have less “forks” at the end of streams.
  • Have your yard check with an XRF gun if you’re curious but don’t know.
  • Is an iron alloy with 17% chromium 4%Nickel and 7% Manganese
  • Are much more corrosion resistant that 300 grade.
  • Are harder to sell to a scrap yard because they will not accumulate enough to find a buyer.
  • A scrap yard could sell this with 300 grade stainless if they wanted to.



  • has no nickel in it, and therefore IS magnetic.
  • If it is magnetic, many yards will not pay stainless price for it.
  • Is an alloy of 11% Chromium and ~1% manganese


  • a fancy way of saying copper/nickel alloy
  • is worth much more that copper 1.
  • Some yards will cheat and try to buy this stuff as brass or cheaper.
  • is actually at least 30% Ni, sometimes up to 90%, which is 3 times as expensive as copper.
  • Is often used in fake jewelry, silver plated dinnerware, ship making, salt water pipes, heat exchangers and condensers, musical instruments and more…
  • You my have to shop around until you find a yard that will buy this for a great price without trying to screw you.



  • The heating elements out of an electric stove are all made of a majority nickel alloy.
  • If you have a lot of them, get payed for them!
  • have your yard check all heating elements with an XRF gun so you can get payed the right price.
  • Your price for heating elements should at least be that of the price of 316 Stainless.

How To Identify CARBIDE

  • Carbide is short for Tungston Carbide, a compound with shorthand WC.
  • Carbide is heavy! At 16g/cm^3, it is 16 times as heavy as water!
  • Two tablespoons of this stuff weights over a pound!
  • Can be scrapper for over 7 dollars per pound.
  • Is usually found in the form of end mills, inserts or saw tips.
  • If you hit it with a grinder, it will make very short, dim, dark red sparks.
  • It is very strong!
  • Most carbide is actually Cemented Tungston Carbide Cobalt, or basically, Co with grains of WC in it.



If you already know your way around a scrap yard, check out the ISRI Scrap Specifications Circular.  This document will completely spell out all types of scrap, many of which yards do not even offer prices for, as well as scrap of all types including glass and plastic.

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