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The word "ferrous" comes from the Latin word for iron, ferrum. Therefore, ferrous metals are those which have an iron component. Ferrous metals tend to be magnetic and may be pure iron or any alloys that contain iron. All forms of steel and iron are considered to be ferrous metals; any form of metal that does not have an iron component may be referred to as non-ferrous.
Almost all types of ferrous metals see wide use in manufacturing. Depending on the composition, they may be used in a variety of products, from steel beams, to machine parts, to cookware. The iron that defines a metal as ferrous is greatly important to metal manufacturing, as its properties of strength, susceptibility to corrosion, and hardness will change depending on the other materials added to it.
Pig iron is a basic form of ferrous medal that results from the combination of iron ore with a fuel high in carbon, creating a product that is brittle and not highly durable. The creation of pig iron is typically an intermediary step to producing steel or wrought iron, as the high-carbon initial product can be remelted and adjusted to have desired properties by burning off carbon and adding other metals. Many other ferrous metals start first as iron ore, then are turned into pig iron before being processed into another type of finished metal.
Wrought iron is used in decorative materials, such as delicately carved metal gates. It has an exceptionally low carbon content, and has the advantage of being easily molded. Wrought iron was used in the creation of nails, rivets, and pipes before being superseded by the more durable and strong steel alloys. A form of wrought iron is the primary component in the Eiffel tower, the tallest and most recognizable building in Paris.
Different types of steel make up the majority of ferrous metals in commercial use today. Steel is divided by type based on the amount of carbon or other agents blended in with iron. Depending on composition, ferrous metals that fall under the heading of steel may have distinct uses. Stainless steel, for instance, is known for its gleaming finish and high resistance to corrosion, and is often used in the construction of pipes and for kitchen knives. High tensile steel is blended with nickel and chromium and has most of the carbon removed, leaving an extremely strong alloy that is used in heavy duty gears and engine construction.