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How Magnets Work

A
magnet is any object that has a magnetic field. It attracts ferrous objects like pieces of iron, steel,
nickel and cobalt. In the early days, the Greeks observed that the naturally occurring 'lodestone'
attracted iron pieces. From that day onwards began the journey into the discovery of magnets.

These days magnets are made artificially in various shapes and sizes depending on their use. One of
the most common magnets - the bar magnet - is a long, rectangular bar of uniform cross-section that
attracts pieces of ferrous objects. The magnetic compass needle is also commonly used. The
compass needle is a tiny magnet which is free to move horizontally on a pivot. One end of the
compass needle points in the North direction and the other end points in the South direction.

The end of a freely pivoted magnet will always point in the North-South direction. The end that points
in the North is called the North Pole of the magnet and the end that points South is called the South
Pole of the magnet. It has been proven by experiments that like magnetic poles repel each other
whereas unlike poles attract each other.

Magnetic Fields
What is a magnetic field? The space surrounding a magnet, in which magnetic force is exerted, is
called a magnetic field. If a bar magnet is placed in such a field, it will experience magnetic forces.
However, the field will continue to exist even if the magnet is removed. The direction of magnetic field
at a point is the direction of the resultant force acting on a hypothetical North Pole placed at that point.

Magnetic fields are produced by the motion of electrical charges around an


electrified wire.
How is a magnetic field created?

When current flows in a wire, a magnetic field is created around the wire. From this it has been
inferred that magnetic fields are produced by the motion of electrical charges. A magnetic field of a bar
magnet thus results from the motion of negatively charged electrons in the magnet.

Magnetic Lines Of Force


Just as an electric field is described by drawing the electric lines of force, in the same way, a magnetic
field is described by drawing the magnetic lines of force. When a small north magnetic pole is placed
in the magnetic field created by a magnet, it will experience a force. And if the North Pole is free, it will
move under the influence of magnetic field. The path traced by a North magnetic pole free to move
under the influence of a magnetic field is called a magnetic line of force. In other words, the magnetic
lines of force are the lines drawn in a magnetic field along which a north magnetic pole would move.

The direction of a magnetic line of force at any point gives the direction of the magnetic force on a
north pole placed at that point. Since the direction of magnetic line of force is the direction of force on
a North Pole, so the magnetic lines of force always begin on the N-pole of a magnet and end on the
S-pole of the magnet. A small magnetic compass when moved along a line of force always sets itself
along the line tangential to it. So, a line drawn from the South Pole of the compass to its North Pole
indicates the direction of the magnetic field.

Properties of the magnetic lines of force

The magnetic lines of force originate from the North Pole of a magnet and end at its South
Pole.
The magnetic lines of force come closer to one another near the poles of a magnet but they
are widely separated at other places.
The magnetic lines of force do not intersect (or cross) one another.
When a magnetic compass is placed at different points on a magnetic line of force, it aligns
itself along the tangent to the line of force at that point.

These are just some of the basic concepts of magnetism. One cannot possibly grasp the depth and
appreciate the versatility of magnets without reading more about the uses of magnets, the Earth as a
huge magnet and electromagnetism among other things.

Magnet Basics
With so many people using magnets in more and more places, we thought we would
take a moment to step back and discuss some of the basics. How do magnets
attract to one another? How do they repel? How can I magnetize a steel
screwdriver?

Magnet Basics
Magnets can either attract or repel each other.

A permanent magnet is an object that produces a magnetic field around itself. It is


this field that enables them to stick to each other and to some types of metal.
Specifically, they stick to ferromagnetic materials like iron and things that contain
iron, such as steel. This includes everything from your car's steel body to your
refrigerator door. They're also attracted to nickel and cobalt, and a few other rare-
earth elements.

Magnets won't stick to most other types of metal, including aluminum or copper.

When will magnets attract or repel each other?

The rule to remember is that opposites attract. Every magnet has both a North and
a South pole. When you place the North pole of one magnet near the South pole of
another magnet, they are attracted to one another.

When you place like poles of two magnets near each other (North to North or South
to South), they will repel each other.

That's how they work, but why?

The best Physics questions are often the most basic. Why do magnets act the way
they do? The question is both simple and complicated, with some parts of it yet to
be truly understood. It's similar to asking: Why does gravity work the way it does?
Physics studies and models this phenomenon.

Electromagnetism is one of the four basic forces in the universe: electromagnetism,


gravity, and strong and weak nuclear forces. It describes the force that's the result
of the interaction between two charged particles. If that sounds too much like
something a Physicist would say, it should! After all, thinking about some of the
theoretical implications of electromagnetism led Albert Einstein to develop special
relativity in 1905.
You might start with the Wikipedia article on Electromagnetism, or go as deep as the
many textbooks written on Physics and Chemistry to learn more. There's more
material than can be covered in one blog article!

What does Pull Force Case 1 mean?

On our product pages, we list the Pull Force of a magnet as we've measured it using
specific test conditions. A good, comparative measure of a magnet's strength is Pull
Force Case 1. This is the force you need to pull a single magnet directly away from
a large, flat steel plate. A similar description can be found in our FAQ.

If you're wondering why Pull Force Case 3 (magnet-to-magnet) isn't listed, here's
why: When two magnets are touching one another, Pull Force Case 3 is equal to Pull
Force Case 1. It's the same number!

Wait a second, you say, a pair of magnets seem stronger. How can we say this?
Well, first and foremost, because we've measured it many times. It might seem like
a pair of magnets is stronger for two reasons: one, if you're sticking a magnet to a
very thin or small piece of steel, you will see a pull force weaker than our listed Pull
Force Case 1. Two, a pair of magnets that are some distance apart will pull with
more strength than a single magnet at the same distance to a steel plate. At a
distance, Pull Force Case 3 is usually greater. When touching, however, it is equal to
Pull Force Case 1.

What magnets can be used to repel each other and hold up 10


pounds?
RX054 Ring Magnet

Using magnets to repel each other is one way to try to achieve a frictionless
bearing. In practice, it can be difficult to remove all friction. While a pair of
magnets will repel each other, they are not stable in this condition. One magnet
won't simply float forever above another magnet.

The picture on the product page for our RX054 magnet illustrates this point. It
shows one ring magnet floating over another, with one key detail: The pencil sticking
through their holes provides the needed stability. You might mimic this setup in your
own levitation projects.

But what about if I add another magnet in another position, to make a magnetically
stable "pocket" for the floating one to sit in? Sorry, it doesn't work that way. As you
add more and more magnets, the magnetic fields interact in complex ways that are
hard to summarize with simple rules of thumb. What's more, Earnshaw's
theorem states that no matter what way you orient the magnets, you can't make it
stable with stationary magnets alone. See the section in that article
about loopholes if you're trying to get around this!

When considering the repelling force between two magnets, you must consider the
distance between them. The farther two magnets are apart from each other, the
weaker the repulsion force will be. Our Repelling Force Magnet Calculator offers a
way to quantify these forces online. For example, a pair of RX054 magnets will repel
each other with about 25 lb when touching, but only 5.4 lb when held at a distance
of 1/4" apart.

How to magnetize a screwdriver, or other steel objects.


Magnetize a Screwdriver Animation

A steel object such as a screwdriver can retain a small amount of magnetism after a
neodymium magnet is taken away. It won't last forever, but you can temporarily
magnetize it. Here's how:

Take one end of a neodymium magnet and stick it to the base of the screwdriver's
shaft. Slide the magnet along the length of the steel shaft, all the way to the end.
Then remove the magnet from the shaft, and repeat a few more times. The steel is
now fully magnetized!

Do not rub the magnet back and forth -- moving it in opposite directions will work to
cancel each other out.

You can use this same method to re-magnetize old ceramic, ferrite or Alnico
magnets. This is a great way to re-magnetize the needle of a compass. Choose a
magnet sized like what you're trying to magnetize, though it isn't too critical. While
the animation shows a D4X0-ND magnet, a nice D6C magnet works quite well too.