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Thread: The real difference between 110 and 220 current

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Butte Montana which is 1/2 way between Purgatory and Heaven

    The real difference between 110 and 220 current

    I think its time to explain about 220 current and why it is so different from 110 volt service. First of all, it's twice as big.

    Secondly, it'll shock you more. Outside of that, 220 are really two 110 volt lines coming to your house from different parts of the globe.

    The up and down 110 comes from the northern hemisphere, and the down and up version comes from below the equator.

    Without trying to get technical, it all boils down to the direction water flows when it goes down the drain. In the top of the earth, it goes clockwise, while on the bottom of the earth it goes counter clockwise. Since most electricity is made from hydro dams, the clockwise flow gives you an up and down sine wave, while the counterclockwise version gives you a down and up sine wave. Between the two, you have 220 volts, while either individual side only gives you 110 volts.

    This is particularly important to know when buying power tools- which side of the globe did they come from? If you get an Australian saw, for instance, it will turn backwards if connected to a US generated 110 volt source. Sure, you can buy backwards blades for it, but that is an unnecessary burden. Other appliances, like toasters cannot be converted from Australian electricity to American electricity, without horrible results. I knew one person who bought an Australian toaster by mistake and it froze the slices of bread she put in it.

    If you wire your shop with 220 and accidentally get two US-generated 110 volt lines run in by accident, you can get 220 by using a trick I learned from an old electrician. Just put each source into its own fuse box and then turn one of the boxes upside down. That'll invert one of the two up and down sine waves to down and up, giving you 220. DO NOT just turn the box sideways, since that'll give you 165 volts and you'll be limited to just using Canadian tools with it.

    (This was intended as pure humor)
    Author un-known

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    ABQ NM
    Thanks, Jiggs. That makes perfect sense. I've always wondered how they got the up/down waves to go down/up. And I also appreciate the explanation of how an inverter really works.

    Your write-up also prompted me to research this "three-phase" electricity thing, and man, does it get complicated. It's like they have American volts mixed with Australian volts, then they throw in some volts they get somewhere else, like an industrial area. (I read that you have to be in an industrial area to get all three phases, so I'm guessing that's where the third bunch of volts comes from.) And to invert three phase electricity, you can't just turn the box over. You have to run it through a motor that spins it all around before shooting it out the wires. Weird, huh?
    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson
    When the weird get going, they start their own forum. - Vaughn McMillan

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Constantine, MI
    Clear as mud
    “We all die. The goal isn't to live forever; the goal is to create something that will.” - Chuck Palahniuk

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    No, not all of SoCal is Los Angeles!
    All my confusion is gone. My mind is clear as a bell . . . as a matter of fact there's ringing in my ears. Oh wait. That's the phone . . . gotta go.
    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
    - Arthur C. Clarke

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    North of Reno, NV...middle of the desert

    I took all that stuff in college. Went in one ear and out the other (via an electric wire). Probably the only "C" I got. If I can't see the piston move up and down, it doesn't exist

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Syracuse, Nebraska
    Ya gotta love it.

    I spent over half of my life as a tool & die maker and wasn't aware, until a weld foreman at work told me, if you need to tap a left hand thread, you just turn the tap the other way. Then a guy in assembly was checking each nut before he put it on a bolt, to make sure it was "right side up"

    Guess it's sort of like a nail with the head on the wrong's for the other side.

    Anyway....Thanks Jiggs for splainin' electricicle to me....I found the truth to be really shocking.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Long Hill Township, NJ
    I'm with Sharon on this - I can understand basic electrical wiring and plumbing. Once you get to electric motors, stators, rotors, fields and all that stuff my eyes glaze over.

    One of my college professors was in the electrical generation business. He was delivering a lecture on power transmission and said that it's easy with 60 hertz power to tweak things - ie add some inductance or some capacitance to get the power factor you want. Something about vars . . .

    He admitted that he was impressed that an audio amplifier designer can get the results they want given the wide range of frequencies they are required to deliver.

    Once things go beyond lefty-loosy righty-tighty I have to take a step back and think about it.


  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    I was going to correct your affirmations when I saw that it was a joke.

    We 220V here in spain, and this is true you can touch one of the wires at a time without getting a shock because the other is the so called "neutral" you can do the same with 125V.

    The main advantatge I can see of having 220V is that you do not need so thick wires to carry it and that you get more power.

    We used to have 125V all over when I was a kid but gradually everything was changed to 220V now everything runs on 220V or 380V for heavy machinery.

    Curiously enough 220V motors are more expensive than 380V ones. So table saws, lathes, bandsaws and so forth, while you can find them single phase 220V powered, it is better to get 380V ones ( if you have that power at home).

    I'm thinking about getting 380V line and divide it to power all my house using one live phase and the neutral, or the other to distribute 220V, then I will have 380V in my shop that will allow me to have more powerful tools.

    Mi two cents ( and no joke )
    Best regards,

    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ _________________
    web site:
    I also dream of a shop with north light where my hands can be busy, my soul rest and my mind wander...

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Hungary, Budapest
    Toni, I agree!

    Also with us here in Hungary is 220V. The main advantage I think that the thinner wires are needed, because the lower current strength.
    The three phases R, S, T and neutral. Between the phases is 380V.
    The phase between 220 and a neutral. The 22 ampere fuse. This is enough to have a smaller holding.

    The engines turn out to wherever I want
    Last edited by Jozsef Zsomle; 12-28-2010 at 08:42 PM.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    East Freeetown, Massachusetts
    Ya Know -- I must have a warped brain - cause it all makes sense to me.

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