This paper presents a novel, cost-effective and single-step technique for the synthesis of single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs), multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWNTs) and magnetic metal-filled MWNTs using a fixed bed reaction thermal chemical vapour deposition (CVD) using alloy hydride catalyst. The single-step method involves the pyrolysis of methane at suitable temperatures over fine powders of certain Mischmetal-based AB3 alloy hydride catalysts, prepared through the hydrogen decrepitation technique. These carbon nanostructures have been characterized using scanning electron microscopy (SEM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM), energy dispersive x-ray analysis (EDAX), thermo-gravimetric analysis (TGA) and Raman spectroscopy. The magnetic properties of these metal-filled MWNTs have been studied by vibrating sample magnetometry, and the results are discussed. © IOP Publishing Ltd.