Jewelry Tools—110 volts to 220 conversion

Q: I’m moving to Europe from the USA, and wonder if I can make my electrical jewelry equipment work over there, since they use 220v 50hz power, while all my equipment was set up to run on 110v 60hz.

A: Small appliances will generally work if you use the proper types of adapters. That probably would mean more than just a plug converter, though. Some things (some motors, especially), can be easily rewired to use 220 volts instead of 110, and some of them don’t mind the difference between 50 cycle and 60 cycle AC either. So these items can be easily modified by any decent electrician, to work with 220 volt, 50 cycle power. And some things like kilns, if they’ve got dial elements that could be switched to run in series when they now run in parallel, could then also be easily modified to work with the different power. (Though whether the kiln controls would like this is another question…)

But there will be a number of tools that, simply put, want 110 volts. For these, the things usually called “adapters” are useless. For those, you need a step-down transformer, to take the higher 220 volts and turn it into 110. Whether these hold up well and last, depends entirely on the manufacturer of the unit. Like any appliance, they can be made cheaply or made well. What you buy is up to you. It’s possible that such conversion transformers sold through industrial suppliers might be more robust, as well as more costly, than the cheapest thing you might find sold to consumers. The main safeguard I can think of in this regard is to buy units rated for higher current levels than you’ll actually need. That will keep the transformers running cooler, and heat is the big enemy of such things. But like anything, higher rated transformers (higher current, not voltage) will mean bigger, heavier transformers, and more cash.

Considering the cost of adapting your old equipment and shipping it over there, you should ask yourself if it really wouldn’t be cheaper and easier to sell it before you go and buy new equipment when you get there, which can be serviced more easily by local technicians.

by Peter W. Rowe M.F.A., G.G.