Frequently Asked Questions

The Basics

Magnet Power

Measuring Strength

Magnetic Poles

Magnet Materials

Magnetic Properties

Magnetic Assemblies

Magnets and Temperature

Machining Magnets

Handling Magnets

The Basics

Brief History

Long ago, the ancient Greeks and Chinese discovered that certain rare stones, called ‘lodestones’, could attract small pieces of iron in a magical way. When swinging freely or floating on water, the lodestones were found to always point in the same direction. Early navigators used these magnets to build the first compass to help them determine their direction at sea.

The term ‘magnet’ comes from Magnesia, a district in Thessaly, Greece where it is believed that the first lodestone was mined.

Whilst the initial lodestone magnets were weak, technology has evolved magnets into the high-strength materials we know today. By creating alloys of various materials, the level of magnetism was found to increase significantly. The first man-made magnets were created in the 18th century, and progress in creating stronger magnetic alloys was very slow until the 1920s when Al Nico (an alloy of nickel, aluminum and cobalt) was formed. Ferrites were created in the 1950s and the Rare Earths in the 1970s. Since then, the science of magnetism has exploded exponentially and extremely powerful magnetic materials have made possible many miniature and powerful devices.

What is a magnet?

Magnets can be made by placing a magnetic material such as iron or steel, in a strong magnetic field. Permanent, temporary and electromagnets can be made in this manner.

The atoms forming materials that can be easily magnetized such as iron, steel, nickel, and cobalt are arranged in small units, called domains. Each domain, although microscopic in size, contains millions of billions of atoms and each domain acts like a small magnet. If a magnetic material is placed in a strong magnetic field, the individual domains, which normally point in all directions, gradually swing around into the direction of the field. They also take over neighboring domains. When most of the domains are aligned in the field, the material becomes a magnet.

What does a magnet do?

Magnets do the following things:

  • Attract certain materials – such as iron, nickel, cobalt, certain steels and other alloys;
  • Exert an attractive or repulsive force on other magnets (opposite poles attract, like poles repel);
  • Have an effect on electrical conductors when the magnet and conductor are moving in relation to each other;
  • Have an effect on the path taken by electrically charged particles traveling in free space.

Based on these effects, magnets transform energy from one form to another, without any permanent loss of their own energy. Examples of magnet functions are:

  1. Mechanical to mechanical – such as attraction and repulsion.
  2. Mechanical to electrical – such as generators and microphones.
  3. Electrical to mechanical – such as motors, loudspeakers, charged particle deflection.
  4. Mechanical to heat – such as eddy current and hysteresis torque devices.
  5. Special effects – such as magneto-resistance, Hall effect devices, and magnetic resonance.

What are permanent magnets made of?

Modern permanent magnets are made of special alloys that have been found through research to create increasingly better magnets. The most common families of magnet materials today are ones made out of Aluminum-Nickel-Cobalt (Alnicos), Strontium-Iron (Ferrites, also known as Ceramics), Neodymium-Iron-Boron (Neo magnets, sometimes referred to as “super magnets“), and Samarium-Cobalt. (The Samarium-Cobalt and Neodymium-Iron-Boron families are collectively known as the Rare Earths.)

How are magnets made?

Modern magnet materials are made through casting, pressing and sintering, compression bonding, injection molding, extruding, or calendaring processes.

What is a temporary magnet?

Soft iron and certain iron alloys, such as Permalloy (a mixture of iron and nickel) can be very easily magnetized, even in a weak field. As soon as the field is removed, however, the magnetism is lost. These materials make excellent temporary magnets that are used in telephones and electric motors for example.

What are electromagnets?

Electromagnets are used when really strong magnets are required. Electromagnets are produced by placing a metal core (usually an iron alloy) inside a coil of wire carrying an electric current. The electricity in the coil produces a magnetic field. Its strength depends on the strength of the electric current and the number of coils of wire. Its polarity depends on the direction of the current flow. While the current flows, the core behaves like a magnet, but as soon as the current stops, the magnetic properties are lost. Electric motors, televisions, maglev trains, telephones, computers and many other modern devices use electromagnets.

What are superconductors?

These are the strongest magnets. They don’t need a metal core at all, but are made of coils of wire made from special metal alloys which become superconductors when cooled to very low temperatures.

Magnet Power

How permanent is a magnet’s strength?

If a magnet is stored away from power lines, other magnets, high temperatures, and other factors that adversely affect the magnet, it will retain its magnetism essentially forever.

Will magnets lose their power over time?

Modern magnet materials do lose a very small fraction of their magnetism over time. For Samarium Cobalt materials, for example, this has been shown to be less that 1% over a period of ten years.

What might affect a magnet’s strength?

The factors can affect a magnet’s strength:

  • Heat
  • Radiation
  • Strong electrical currents in close proximity to the magnet
  • Other magnets in close proximity to the magnet
  • (Neo magnets will corrode in high humidity environments unless they have a protective coating.)

Shock and vibration do not affect modern magnet materials, unless sufficient to physically damage the material.

How does a magnet’s strength drop off over distance?

The strength of a magnetic field drops off roughly exponentially over distance.

Here is an example of how the field (measured in Gauss) drops off with distance for a Samarium Cobalt Grade 18 disc magnet which is 1″ in diameter and ?” long.

Distance, x
Field at
Distance x

What is the governing equation for field strength relative to distance?

For a circular magnet with a radius of R and Length L, the field Bx at the centerline of the magnet a distance X from the surface can be calculated by the following formula (where Br is the Residual Induction of the material):

There are additional formulae that can be used to calculate the field from a rectangular magnet and magnets in other configurations.

Can a magnet that has lost its magnetism be re-magnetized?

Provided that the material has not been damaged by extreme heat, the magnet can be re-magnetized back to its original strength.

Can I make a magnet that I already have any stronger?

Once a magnet is fully magnetized, it cannot be made any stronger – it is “saturated”. In that sense, magnets are like buckets of water: once they are full, they can’t get any “fuller”.

Measuring Strength

How do you measure the strength or power of a magnet?

Most commonly, Gaussmeters, Magnetometers, or Pull-Testers are used to measure the strength of a magnet. Gaussmeters measure the strength in Gauss, Magnetometers measure in Gauss or arbitrary units (so its easy to compare one magnet to another), and Pull-Testers can measure pull in pounds, kilograms, or other force units. Special Gaussmeters can cost several thousands of dollars. We stock several types of Gaussmeters that cost between $400 and $1,500 each. Helmholtz Coils, search coils and permeameters are also used to make sophisticated measurements of magnets.

If I have a Neo magnet with a Br of 12,300 Gauss, should I be able to measure 12,300 Gauss on its surface?

No. The Br value is measured under closed circuit conditions. A closed circuit magnet is not of much use. In practice, you will measure a field that is less than 12,300 Gauss close to the surface of the magnet. The actual measurement will depend on whether the magnet has any steel attached to it, how far away from the surface you make the measurement, and the size of the magnet (assuming that the measurement is being made at room temperature). For example, a 1″ diameter Grade 35 Neo magnet that is ?” long, will measure approximately 2,500 Gauss 1/16″ away from the surface, and 2,200 Gauss 1/8″ away from the surface.

What is the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field?

The surface field strength of the Earth is about 0.5 gauss, but it varies by as much as 10% depending on the strength of the crustal field. A range from 0.85 to 0.45 can be found across the globe. Geomagnetic storms can cause changes of between 1% to 5% that last from hours to a day or so.

Magnetic Poles


What are Magnetic Poles?

Magnetic Poles are the surfaces from which the invisible lines of magnetic flux emanate and connect on return to the magnet.

What are the standard industry definitions of “North” and “South” Poles?

The North Pole is defined as the pole of a magnet that, when free to rotate, seeks the North Pole of the Earth. In other words, the North Pole of a magnet seeks the North Pole of the Earth. Similarly, the South Pole of a magnet seeks the South Pole of the Earth.

Can a particular pole be identified?

Yes, the North or South Pole of a magnet can be marked if specified.

How can you tell which is the North Pole if it is not marked?

You can’t tell by looking. You can tell by placing a compass close to the magnet. The end of the needle that normally points toward the North Pole of the Earth would point to the South Pole of the magnet.

How do lines of magnetic flux behave?

Lines of force are three-dimensional, surrounding a bar magnet on all sides.

Like poles repel and unlike poles attract. When opposite poles of a magnet are brought together, the lines of force join up and the magnets pull together.

When like poles of a magnet are brought together, the lines of force push away from each other and the magnets repel each other.

Magnetic Materials

What are the different types of magnets available?

There are 3 types of magnets: permanent magnets, temporary magnets, and electro-magnets.

Permanent magnets emit a magnetic field without the need for any external source of magnetism or electrical power. Temporary magnets behave as magnets while attached to or close to something that emits a magnetic field, but lose this characteristic when the source of the magnetic field is removed. Electro-magnets require electricity in order to behave as a magnet.

There are various different types of permanent magnet materials, each with their own unique characteristics. Each different material has a family of grades that have properties slightly different from each other, though based on the same composition.

What are Rare Earth Magnets?

Rare Earth magnets are magnets that are made out of the Rare Earth group of elements. The most common Rare Earth magnets are the Neodymium-Iron-Boron and Samarium Cobalt types.

Which are the strongest magnets?

The most powerful magnets available today are the Rare Earths types. Of the Rare Earths, Neodymium-Iron-Boron types are the strongest. However, at elevated temperatures (of approximately 150°C and above), the Samarium Cobalt types can be stronger than the Neodymium-Iron-Boron types (depending on the magnetic circuit).

Properties of Magnets

What does “orientation direction” mean?

Most modern magnet materials have a “grain” in that they can be magnetized for maximum effect only through one direction. This is the “orientation direction”, also known as the “easy axis”, or “axis”.

Un-oriented magnets (also known as “Isotropic magnets”) are much weaker than oriented magnets, and can be magnetized in any direction. Oriented magnets (also known as “Anisotropic magnets”) are not the same in every direction – they have a preferred direction in which they should be magnetized.

How are magnets rated?

Magnets are characterized by three main characteristics. These are known as the:

  1. Residual Induction (given the symbol Br, and measured in Gauss). This is an indication of how strong the magnet is capable of being.
  2. Coercive Force (given the symbol Hc, and measured in Oersteds). This is an indication of how difficult it is to demagnetize the magnet.
  3. Maximum Energy Product (given the symbol BHmax, and measured in Gauss-Oersteds). This is an indication of what volume of magnet material is required to project a given level of magnetic flux.

What are the properties of commonly used magnet materials?

Here are the three important properties that characterize magnets for some of the most common magnet materials used today.

NdFeB 42
NdFeB 35
SmCo 26
Alnico 5
Ceramic 5

How can I use this information?

Given a magnet size, you can estimate how much magnetic flux different materials will project at a given distance or you can use this information to compare one material to another.


How much more flux will a Neo 35 project as compared to a Ceramic 5 of the same dimension at a given distance? Simply divide the Br of Neo 35 by the Br of Ceramic 5 (12300/3950) to get 3.1. This means that the Neo 35 would give you 3.1 times the flux a Ceramic 5 the same size would at a given distance.

Given a certain flux required at some fixed distance from the magnet, you can use this information to estimate what magnet volume will be required for different magnet materials.

For example, what volume of Ceramic 5 magnet would give the same flux as a Neo 35 magnet at a given distance? Simply divide the BHmax of Neo 35 by the BHmax of Ceramic 5 (35/3.6) to get 9.7. This means that the volume of the Ceramic 5 magnet would have to be 9.7 times that of the Neo 35 magnet to give you the same flux.

is a magnetic assembly?

A magnet
assembly consists of one or more magnets, and other components, such as
steel, that generally affect the functioning of the magnet.

should I assemble magnets to my device?

If a magnet
needs to be fastened to a device, you can use either mechanical means,
or adhesives to secure the magnet in place.

are often used to secure magnets in place. If magnets are being adhered
to uneven surfaces, you will need an adhesive with plenty of ‘body’ so
that it will conform to the uneven surface. Hot glues have been found
to work well for adhering magnets to ceramics, wood, cloth, and other
materials. For magnets being adhered to metal, ‘super-glues’ can be used
very effectively.

We can supply
Flexible magnets with an adhesive already attached to the magnet: all
you need to do is to peel off the liner and attach to your product.

As with all
adhesive applications, it is very important to ensure that all surfaces
being bonded are clean and dry before bonding.

Magnets and Temperature

What are the maximum recommended operating temperatures for different magnet materials?

Approximate Maximum
Operating Temperatures
° C
° F

The maximum temperature that a magnet may be effectively used at depends greatly on the “permeance coefficient” or Pc – which is a function of the magnetic circuit the magnet is operating in. The higher the Pc (the more “closed” the circuit), the higher temperature at which the magnet may operate at, without becoming severely demagnetized. Shown here are approximate maximum operating temperatures for the various classes of magnet material. At temperatures close to those listed here, special attention may be needed in order to ensure that the magnet will not become demagnetized.

Why is the maximum temperature a magnet can operate at not a set value?

Magnets function at different levels of efficiency given different circuits that they operate in. The more closed the circuit the magnet is operating in, the more stable it is, and the less effect temperature will have on it.

Machining Magnets

Can I machine magnets?

Magnets can be machined. However, hard magnet materials – as opposed to the flexible or rubber type magnet materials – are extremely difficult to machine. Magnets should be machined using diamond tools or soft grinding wheels, and in the unmagnetized state as far as possible. In general, it is best not to try to machine hard magnet materials unless you are familiar with these specialized machining techniques.

How much does it cost to machine magnets?

The factors which determine cost to machine magnets are:

  • Quantity – the larger the quantity, the lower the cost since set-up charges must be amortized over the quantity, and special tooling can be created to machine larger quantities;
  • Material – SmCo materials are more costly to machine since they are very brittle, flexible materials are very inexpensive to machine because of their physical characteristics;
  • Shape – complex shapes are more expensive than simple shapes; and,
  • Tolerances – the closer the required tolerances, the more expensive it will be to machine the magnets.

Handling Magnets

What can I use to block a magnetic field?

Only materials that are attracted to a magnet can “block” a magnetic field. Depending on how thick the blocking piece is, it will partially or completely block the magnetic field.

Tips on handling and storing magnets

Always take
care! Magnets can snap together and injure personnel or damage themselves.

Keep magnets
away from magnetic media – such as floppy discs , credit cards and computer

Store magnets
in closed containers, so that they don’t attract metal debris.

If several
magnets are being stored, they should be stored in attracting positions.

Alnico magnets
should be stored with “keepers” (iron or magnetic steel plates
that connect the poles of the magnet) since they can easily become demagnetized.

Magnets should
be kept away from pacemakers!


Magnetic Assemblies & System Solution

Magpole Technology can design the assembly, source the magnetic material, integrate the manufacture of the magnet and assembly, coat it, glue it, magnetize it, package it and ship it, all on time and within budget! Highly experienced in various areas of specialty, We can be the ideal choice for the design, engineering, prototyping and manufacturing […]

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Magnetic Materials Solution

Magpole Technology is able to provide many kinds of magnets. Our main magnetic materials products range includes sintered NdFeB, ferrite magnets, AlNiCo, sintered SmCO. We specialise in special-shaped and micro magnet of NdFeB, Ferrite, SmCo and AlNiCo from olive-shape to mm scale micro magnet.

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