How Are Magnets Made? All Types Explained With Fun Facts

Deepthi Reddy
Feb 29, 2024 By Deepthi Reddy
Originally Published on Oct 22, 2021
Fact-checked by Shruti Thapa
Close up of male hand holding horseshoe magnet.
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 8.7 Min

We are sure everyone reading this is familiar with a magnet and what it does.

However, the real deal is how it does it all, and the answer to it lies in the magnet's internal structure. To understand the structure, let's get to how exactly magnets are made and what makes them attracted to metals.

You might have learned about a couple of forces in physics, say, gravity and nuclear forces, but you might have also come across the term magnetic force or electromagnetic forces, right? These forces are a part of several processes around us. In this article, we cover one of the widely applicable and phenomenal forces of nature-magnetic force on magnets, the materials that make up for the entire process of magnetization.

Several natural and artificial materials have particles within them to induce magnetic field lines around them. These lines are a visual representation of the direction of the magnetic field. One of the natural magnets known to us is called the lodestone. Lodestone is a naturally magnetized stone about which we will talk in detail. It attracts iron and other ferric materials such as iron-cobalt, neodymium, ceramic and other types of ferrite material. In other words, it is a naturally formed natural magnet.

Continue reading the blog for more attractive information on how are magnets made, and once done, you might want to have a look at how many hands does a monkey have? And how many legs does a centipede have?

The History Of Magnets

Magnets are of different kinds, and the manufacturing process to produce depends on the magnetic requirements. Electromagnets are cast via standard metal casting methods. Permanent flexible magnets are formed via a plastic extrusion process whereby materials are mixed, heated, and forced through a specified shape opening under pressure. Modified powdered metallurgy process consisting of finely powdered metal is also used to form certain magnets. The powder form of metal is subjected to heat, magnetic forces, and pressure to form the final magnet. Neodymium-iron-boron, a type of permanent magnet, is produced using the powdered metal technique.

The technique mentioned above uses a lot of new technological advancements, but what about 1,000 years back? Did magnets not exist back then? Of course they did, and their occurrence goes back as early as 500 BC. Naturally occurring magnetic lodestone was used for studies in Greece. However, it is estimated that other civilizations may have known about magnetic materials even before. The fun fact is that the word magnet is also, in fact, derived from the Greek name magnetis lithos, which is the stone of magnesia. The name refers to the region of the Aegean coast, which is now called Turkey, where the initial magnets were found.

Lodestone is believed to have first been found in AD 1100 to AD 1200 in Europe in the application of the compass. The term ‘lodestone’ means the stone that leads or a leading stone. Leider-stein is the Icelandic word for it, and were you aware that this word was also used in the writings of that period referring to navigation of ships?

Coming a little ahead in our timeline, in 1600, English scientist William Gilbert concluded that the Earth was indeed a magnet itself, and it has magnetic poles. Another famous scientist associated with magnetism that we often see in our textbooks, is the Dutch scientist Hans Christian Oersted who pioneered the research about electromagnets. He discovered that electric current and magnetism go in tandem. French scientist, Andre Ampere, furthered on the electromagnet in 1821.

The early 1900s marked the study of magnets whose material consisted of elements other than steel and iron. Three decades later, the world witnessed the emergence of Alnico magnets. The 1970s had even more powerful ceramic magnets formed using rare earth materials. The 1980s passed with further advances in this area.

Coming back to today's date, we have several magnets made in factories that are available, such as natural magnets, artificial objects, and various electromagnets as well.

How are artificial magnets made?

The most commonly used magnets in industries often include magnets that are man-made, i.e., magnets are made artificially using electricity or other artificial objects. These magnets are made extra strong, stronger than usual and are of two types, namely, permanent and temporary magnets. Temporary refers to those magnets that don't retain their magnetic properties, whereas a permanent magnet never loses its magnetic properties. The shape of such artificial magnets varies from horse-shoe, cylindrical, to a bar-shaped magnet.

Did you know that you can make magnets at home too? Artificial ones, of course, and they are quite easy to make. 

Let's look at ways to create these magnets. Electric current is used essentially to turn a battery into a magnetic object. It's simple; you can connect a wire to a battery, and guess what? The magnetic field is generated around the wire. The coil of wire is now an artificial magnet; as long as electricity is flowing, you can even intensify the magnetic field by coiling the wire so that the magnetic fields overlap each other to produce a stronger magnetic field.

An electromagnet is another kind of popular artificial magnet that is widely used in various industries. You can design them yourselves by attaching both ends of a wire to a battery and coiling the wire around a metallic core or large nail. Once electricity starts flowing, the metallic core acts like a magnet attracting small metallic particles. If metals around, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron, then the artificial magnet is sure to attract them. Disconnecting the flow of electric current will cancel the magnetic properties exhibited by the artificial magnet.

How do magnets work?

Red and blue horseshoe magnet.

The mechanics of how magnets work can be broken down to the smallest level there is, atoms. An atom essentially determines how an element works, but how does it work for a magnet? To put it simply, the north and south poles do the magic! However, this is just the surface of the magic working of magnets. How about we get to the bottom of it? For instance, when you rub a piece of iron along with the magnet, the atoms present in the north pole line up in the same direction, and the force generated by these aligned atoms is nothing but the work of the magnetic force.

All magnets are essentially made of ferromagnetic materials. Ferromagnetic materials are highly susceptible to any magnetic force and magnetization, and the atoms in these materials tend to have their own magnetic fields generated by the electrons orbiting them. Groups of such atoms called the magnetic domain, orient themselves in the same direction. Each of these domains has its respective south and north poles. Before getting magnetized, these domains point to random directions canceling each other's magnetic fields, which prevents the ferromagnetic material from having any south or north pole. Once a magnetic field or an electric current is applied, these domains start lining up alongside the external magnetic field; the higher the material is magnetized, the more domains align with the field. As the external magnetic field becomes intense, more domains line up with it, and at one point, all the domains present in the material orient themselves with the external field; now what? Well, this is the saturation point where no matter how strong or great a magnetic force is applied, the material's magnetism remains unchanged.

You can definitely remove the external field now; soft magnetic materials such as iron-nickel alloys, iron-silicon alloys, iron, and iron oxide will have their domains disoriented. This is in contrast to hard magnetic materials like rare earth cobalt, samarium cobalt, and permanent magnets made from neodymium retain their domain alignment to create a strong permanent magnet.

As for the magnetism that the electromagnet can create, the moving electrons generate the magnetic field again. The magnetic field is created when a current flows through the coil.

How to make a magnet at home?

Did you know that an ordinary metal, coil, or object can be transformed into a magnet? Various simple methods can be incorporated to induce magnetism to create a magnetic field from day-to-day objects. Let's see how!

Ordinary steel or iron can turn into magnets if you rub them with a piece of metal that's already magnetized. You can also rub two magnets on the rod by drawing the south pole of one magnet from the center of the rod and the north pole of the other magnet in the opposite direction. Electricity is an instant source of magnetism, so try wrapping a coil around the rod and allow the current to flow. Lastly, try hanging the bar vertically and repeatedly hit it with a hammer; this can also induce magnetism in the rod. Moreover, the process of heating the rod might increase the intensity of the magnetic field surrounding it. The main objective is to trigger the spinning of electrons around the atom to point towards the same direction, which will generate a magnetic field around various ferromagnetic materials. For best results, try using electricity since getting electrons in motion is done easily via current.

Have an extra steel nail around somewhere? If yes, with just a few simple and quick steps, you can have a tiny little magnet with you! Firstly, gather a power source like a low-voltage transformer to plug into an outlet or a D-cell battery, a foot of two insulated copper wires. Ensure the transformer you use has a terminal to connect to the wires. To start the magnetism process, wrap the copper wire around the nail as many times as you can. Let them overlap too; in fact, be generous while doing so because the strength of magnetism directly varies with the number of coils. Leave the ends of wires and strip an inch of the wire's insulation to finally connect them to the power source. Ensure the power is on for a minute before turning it off. You can test if the nail has been magnetized by holding iron filings near it; if it attracts the filings, then voila! You have just created a magnet from one of the metals; how cool is that!

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for how are magnets made? Then why not take a look at how many legs do butterflies have? Or how do crystals form?

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Written by Deepthi Reddy

Master of Business Administration

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Deepthi ReddyMaster of Business Administration

With an MBA under her belt, Deepthi has discovered her true calling in content writing. Her writing repertoire is diverse, covering travel, movies, pet care, parenting, animals and birds, and more. Her joy of learning and creating has helped her craft well-written and engaging articles. When she isn't writing, Deepthi enjoys exploring new cultures, trying different foods, and spending quality time with her two children aged 7 and 12.

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