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What is a Bar Magnet?

By Brad Cole
Updated May 17, 2024
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A bar magnet is a rectangular object that has a magnetic field. It is usually made of iron or steel, but it can also be made of any ferromagnetic substance or a ferromagnetic composite. This type of magnet is almost always permanent, meaning that it will retain its magnetic field for a significant period of time without the use of a supplied electric current.

Each end of a bar magnet is called a pole — one is north and the other south. When freely suspended, the magnet will align itself so that the end of its northern pole points towards the Earth’s magnetic North Pole. This works in the exact same manner as a compass needle, which itself uses or is a magnet. If the magnet has one end painted red, that end is traditionally the north pole.

Bar magnets are usually made of ferromagnetic materials, which are elements that can naturally have a magnetic field. They include cobalt, iron, and nickel. Some magnets are made of composite materials that combine ferromagnetic materials with other substances such as aluminum, clay, or resin.

Magnets have uses based on their magnetic attraction. This attraction draws other ferromagnetic materials to the magnet, or the magnet towards them. It can be used to pick up small ferromagnetic items such as screws and metal shavings, as a “magnetic stirring rod” on a laboratory hotplate, and to hold papers and other items to the sides of refrigerators, among many other tasks.

Like other magnets, the magnetic field generated by a bar magnet can damage electronic equipment. When placed near a hard drive, computer disk, or even a video cassette, it can cause the data stored by the magnetic particles on the item to be damaged. Magnets placed on the sides of speakers or other sound devices can cause disruptions in the sound or even permanent damage. One placed on the side of a computer can result in the system being deactivated, and may even make it completely inoperable.

Bar magnets have been used for years to demonstrate magnetic fields and magnetic lines of force. One demonstration is to pour metal shavings (sometimes called filings) onto a piece of paper that is suspended above a magnet. Over time, the filings will align themselves into arcs going outward from the magnet’s north and south poles. Another demonstration involves attempting to touch the north poles of two different weak magnets together to show how the poles repel each other. Cutting a bar magnet in half will produce two magnets, each with a north and south pole, though excessive force or heat from cutting can demagnetize the bar instead.

AboutMechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon339839 — On Jun 27, 2013

I am learning about magnets at college what the thing that matters is I do not know how to make a leaflet. Can someone give me some simple facts?

By anon158164 — On Mar 06, 2011

a neodymium bar magnet is simply a bar magnet made of neodymium, a type of metal. They are extremely strong, in fact, neodymium bar magnets are sometimes used in aircraft.

It is slightly unusual that he would need to buy a bar magnet of that strength for a chemistry class, but I imagine that it's something the teacher will use for a demonstration.

By Planch — On Aug 28, 2010

There are other types of bar magnets as well, including ceramic bar magnets and rare-earth magnets.

They also come in a variety of shapes, including cylindrical bar magnets, rectangular bar magnets, and horseshoe shaped bar magnets.

By lightning88 — On Aug 28, 2010

@Charlie89 -- a neodymium bar magnet is simply a bar magnet made of neodymium, a type of metal. They are extremely strong, in fact, neodymium bar magnets are sometimes used in aircraft.

It is slightly unusual that he would need to buy a bar magnet of that strength for a chemistry class, but I imagine that it's something the teacher will use for a demonstration.

By Charlie89 — On Aug 28, 2010

What is a neodymium bar magnet? My son's school supply list says he has to have a neodymium bar magnet and I have no idea what it is, much less where to find one or why he would need it for a high school chemistry class!

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