Expert Answers: A question of voltage

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This article is from issue 115 of Woodcraft Magazine.

A question of voltage

Voltage decisions. Many larger woodworking machines provide the option, and wiring diagram, to run on 120 or 240V. But what’s best for you and your machines?

Note: Single phase electrical service in the U.S. is delivered at nominal voltages of 120V and 240V, but 110V and 115V can also be used to refer to the nominal 120V service. Likewise, 220V and 230V for 240V.

Q & A - David King

DAVID KING is the owner of Shop Specialties Inc. in Nazareth, PA. He services equipment in high school and middle school shops in over 80 school districts throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

I have several woodworking machines that can run on 120 or 240V. What should I consider when deciding what voltage to run them at?

—Kris Morton
Houston, TX

Most benchtop tools are strictly 120V, but jointers 6" or wider, 14" bandsaws, belt/disc sanders, and maybe even your table saw may offer dual voltage options. If your machines offer dual voltage motors (120 or 240V) and your shop has the capability to run those machines at 240V, that would be my preference.

Typically, a drill press or 14" bandsaw has less than a 1.5 HP motor and won’t draw a lot of current (amperage) at start up, so 120 or 240V would both work fine. The real advantage comes with tools like stationary belt sanders, larger bandsaws, and table saws. These units’ motors require a lot of amps at start up, and at 120V you will notice the machine will labor to start and get up to speed. I had a Rockwell 10" Unisaw that was wired for 120V. When I brought it home and tried to use it in my garage it would always pop a breaker before it could get up to speed. 

Additionally, choosing 240V will actually save you a bit of money because the motor will not generate as much heat allowing it to run cooler and more efficiently. And you may be able to run two or more machines on the same circuit as well as a dust collector without constant fear of tripping the breaker. 

Safety alert icon

Safety first!

Be sure to consult a qualified electrician and your local electrical codes when making any changes to the electrical service in your workshop.


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