I frequently get asked by our Australian readers
if it is possible to buy power tools from the USA and use them
here. Many readers are under the impression that they can do
this and use a simple travel adaptor plug to convert between the
USA plug style and Australian plug style. Unfortunately, in many
cases, this just doesn't work, especially when it comes to power
What these readers require is a stepdown transformer. We
a stepdown transformer unit from Tortech. They are one of the
few manufacturers of these units that make models with enough
converting capacity to run even larger electrical power tools.
Power Supply differences
The primary reason most power tools purchased from the USA
will not work in Australia is because the U.S. tools are
designed to run on a 115v circuit (which is the main electrical
supply in the USA). In Australia, the standard supply is 240v.
So if you have a U.S. power tool designed for 115v and use only a
plug adaptor and plug it into an Australian 240v outlet, let's
just say you will be in for a nasty (and potentially dangerous
surprise). Depending on the tool, you are likely to burn
switches, melt components, and end up with a cloudy, stinky mess
(if not a fire!). If you are lucky, the tool might have a fuse
that trips first to prevent further damage, but the end result
is that the tool will simply not work safely on a 240v supply.
Now, some tools offer switching voltage from 110-240v and these
can be used in Australia on a 240v circuit with a simple plug adaptor
just fine. Generally, these are limited to small battery
chargers and other low-power devices.
To use a 115v power tool in Australia, your best
and safest option is a stepdown transformer. Basically, these
convert the 240v electrical supply to 115v supply, with a U.S.
style outlet on the transformer box to plug your power tool
into. There are various sized and priced stepdown transformers,
and it depends what level of power you require for your needs.
I.e. a 100w stepdown transformer is much cheaper but will only
run tools or devices up to 100w power. A 2000 watt transformer costs more
but allows you to run a larger range of tools. The larger units
are the most practical if you are planning to run U.S. purchased
115v tools here in Australia. A good corded drill might draw
over 1000 watts, so the extra power is handy to have. Larger
tools like heavy duty routers will draw 2000 watts or more.
We tested the SD2000 model which offers a maximum
2000 watt output.
This allows you to run most power tools, except
the the larger routers, saws or stationary machinery etc. But
considering most purchases of tools from the USA will likely be
smaller items that are cost effective to ship to Australia, this
might not even be a factor?
The Tortech Stepdown Transformer uses a toroidal
type transforming coil to convert voltage. I'm not going to go
deep into the scientifics of how this works, as you probably
don't even need to know really, plus there is lots of
information on this already online (just search!), but have a
look here for starters -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transformer - it
is really quite interesting.
The advantage of toroidal type transformers over
other common transformer types is that they are more energy
efficient (up to 86% with no load, 36% under load), they weight
substantially less which means the transformer is easier to move
around (these things can be heavy!), there is less "hum" than
traditional types, and less interference noise that could affect
other sensitive electronics located nearby.
Build Quality and Features
I'm no expert on the building of these devices, so I can't
comment directly on the toroidal transformer component itself,
except to say that is appears to be well bound and tightly
packed and wrapped, and it is built to meet and exceed
The SD2000 is
encased is a strong white powder coat finished metal box which
is rather rigid and affords the innards some excellent protection
from bumps and knocks. The unit I purchased came with a
removable top with screw fixings. I requested this so I could
remove to top to check the insides and take photos for this very
review. You can request removable tops, or just have the
case riveted for a permanently enclosed unit. Handles are
optional and will cost a little extra, but given that the larger
transformers can weight a bit, it is well worth it. The SD2000
unit weighs in at around 16kg. The outer case features numerous
milled slots for passive cooling and to allow air to flow through
The unit is electrically isolated and fully
insulated from input to output for improved user safety. Some
inferior transformers that can still be purchased on the
Australian market are not built to the same standards as the
Tortech units and hence may not be as safe. For overload
protection, a fuse is inserted on the 240v side, which is
accessible on the front of the case for convenient access.
Additionally there is thermal overload protection in the winding
of the transformer as well. With these protection measures in
place, both the user and unit itself are quite well protected
from damage, which is always a good thing!
The unit plugs directly into an Australian 240v
power outlet with an Australian style plug, and then two U.S.
style plug outlets are located on the case front so you can plug
in your U.S. tools or devices with their respective U.S. style
two-pin + earth plugs. (Smaller Tortech transformers only have one US
outlet). ON/OFF control of the transformer is supplied by the
240v wall outlet switch into which it is plugged. The unit
itself does not have its own switch.
All transformers come with a 1 year warranty and
the company accepts returns (to its Australian office) for
warranty or service problems for all units sold. The few short
dealings I have had with the company have certainly been
positive. The staff seem helpful and very friendly.
Using the Transformer
This is perhaps the easiest tool to use that I have ever
purchased. Why? because you don't really have to do anything!
Just plug it into the 240v outlet, plug your U.S. 115v tool plug
into the U.S. outlet on the transformer, switch on at the wall,
and away you go, you have 115v 50Hz power supply with a
rating (as listed on the unit itself) to handle 18 Amp maximum
draw on U.S. devices.
I have quite a few U.S. electrical devices I have
imported from the states over the years. Most are battery
chargers that have come from video cameras, digital cameras and
the like. These don't require much power at all, and I have a
smaller stepdown transformer that handled these fine. But there
are certain power tools for woodworking that I would like to use
which are not available on the market here which are for
specialized tasks that require much more power. I am hoping to
purchase these soon now that I know I can use them here with the
Tortech Stepdown transformer.
But I digress. I have recently purchased a couple
of tools from the USA since they were at excellent prices. These
were a Makita Li Ion 18v cordless drill kit, a Hitachi corded
drill and a Makita corded Metal Cutting Saw. Now, the Li Ion
drill is no problem as it is cordless, and the charger that
comes with it doesn't draw a lot of power. Simply plug it into
the transformer and charge up the batteries. Being Li Ion, they
only take 20 minutes or so to charge, then I can take the drill
anywhere I want.
The Hitachi drill is rated at 6 Amps, so nowhere
near the full load available from the transformer, and it worked
perfectly well without any dramas. Note however that Tortech
recommend that if your device has a motor you should use a
transformer with 25% more max output than the rated output of
the tool. Another thing to check is that if a timing device is
included the speed of the device may change due to the frequency
change, 60Hz to 50Hz.
The 13 Amp metal cutting saw is closer to the
maximum capacity the transformer can handle. I used this,
plugged into the transformer for a few metal test cuts. Again,
no problems with the transformer handling the load. The saw
worked fine, and as far as I could guesstimate, was achieving
Using Multiple Devices at Once
Since the SD2000 unit features two plug outlets, you can run
two U.S. powered tools at once, however, the maximum load of
both tools must not add up to be more than the maximum load
allowable by the transformer. So as long as this is the case,
you can easily run both together at the same time.
If you have more than two devices you want to run
at once and their power requirements do not collectively exceed
the transformer's maximum capacity, you can also purchase a
powerboard from the company with 5 outlets available on the
board. This is pretty much the same as a regular Australian
powerboard, except that it has the U.S. style outlets and
delivers 115v per outlet. A master switch on the board offers
ON/OFF control to all outlets. These are handy if you have lots
of U.S. devices. I use the powerboard regularly when running
multiple battery chargers for the U.S. electronic devices I have
collected over the years.
Of course, the transformer can be used for more than just
tools. You can run anything off it that is designed for 115v
50Hz power. I know of people who have these transformers and use
them to run game consoles they have purchased or brought back
from overseas. U.S. citizens that have moved over here to live
temporarily or permanently can use these stepdown transformers
to power their U.S. electrical gear they bring over. As mentioned above, I use
this device to power all my U.S. battery chargers, whereas
before I had these types of units, I would have to buy an Australian
plugged/powered version of the same battery charger, which would
cost additional dollars. Now there is no need. My external hard
drive (purchased from the USA) gets powered by the transformer
whenever I am doing data backups. And the list goes on. With the
Australian dollar much more favorable against U.S. currency
recently (Q4, 2007), it can be much cheaper to buy tools and
goods from the USA and have them shipped out if you own one of
One consideration that must be taken into
account... If you purchase a U.S. device (say a power tool) that
you need to take to different locations frequently, then you
must remember that you also need to take the transformer with
you too. Could be some logistical implications there, but with
most battery devices, this is not a factor as they can be
charged up from home, then taken anywhere.
The unit works perfectly and I have not had any problems
with it since purchasing it about 2 months ago. The SD2000,
which is the largest transformer offered by Tortech, retails for
AUD$495. This sounds like a lot, but in just two power tool
purchases I recently made from the USA, I actually saved MORE
than the cost of this unit than if I had purchased those items
locally. Overall, a well-built, functional transformer that meets
all the Australian Standard safety requirements. I certainly
don't regret purchasing this transformer one bit.
Tortech Stepdown Transformers are available in
Australia direct from Tortech at