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How do you make a magnet?

Nature has its ways – but then again so does man…

Okay so we all know what magnets do and some of us know how they work. But how does one go about making a magnet whether it be for the fridge or as a part of magnetic products?

One way is to find a strong magnet that already exists, taking a piece of iron and rubbing the iron with the strong magnet. This in fact was one of the ways people created magnets in the past. They took Lodestone – a natural strong magnet of a type of magnetite – and rubbed pieces of  iron with it. In general they found that soft iron was easy to magnetize, but didn’t retain its magnetism. Hard iron was hard to magnetize, but more likely to retain its magnetism once it was magnetized.

This process had been discovered more than a thousand years ago. This process enabled them to make compasses some time between 850 and 1050 B.C.. However there is textual evidence suggesting that the Chinese had discovered lodestones as far back as 4 B.C. and objects that spun naturally towards a particular direction as far as 76-84 A.D.

A magnet is essentially many miniature magnets with their own magnetic “domains” all lined up in the same direction. So to create a magnet you have to get all the miniature magnetic domains within the metal to line up. That is essentially what happens when you rub a piece of iron with a lodestone. Another ancient way of making magnets is placing a piece of iron in alignment with earth’s North-South magnetic field and pounding it many times with a hammer. This might sound primitive, but it does work – albeit to create only very weak magnets.

But there are more efficient ways of creating  magnets than these the old-fashioned ways. The two modern ways are place the material to be magnetized in a strong magnetic field or to pass an electrical current through the material. In both cases, this only works if the material is such that it is likely to retain its magnetism.

In general the best magnets are those in which the iron has been supplemented by various added elements. The reason for this is not that the other materials make better magnets, but that the other materials help the magnetized iron to retain its magnetism. Such materials, to list them alphabetically, include aluminium, barium, boron, cobalt, nickel, neodymium samarium and strontium. Often these other elements are added in certain combinations. But not all combinations work.

So when you go into a magnetic products store and buy titanium magnetic bracelets, silicone magnetic bracelets or hematite bracelets, you are buying a product that was made by human beings using mad-made processes that mimic the functions of nature.