Review By Dean Bielanowski  Tortech Website - http://www.tortech.com.au


Tortech Stepdown Transformers
 Review

By Dean Bielanowski

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 tools.

What these readers require is a stepdown transformer. We purchased 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 Australian Standard
AS/NZS65118.

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.

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 full power.

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.

Other Stuff!
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 or work 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 these units.

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.

Overall
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 www.tortech.com.au
 

Tortech Transformer Photos
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The Tortech SD2000 Stepdown Transformer


Under the bonnet you can see the large toroidal transformer


The 240v side fuse


Two 115v outlets for your U.S. plugged devices


The spec plate


Rivetted carry handles are almost a must have on this 16kg box!


The U.S. extension board for running multiple 115v devices


Plugging in the Makita 115v battery charger


Spinning up a spade bit in a U.S. purchased Hitachi 115v drill, no problems!

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