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From what I understand it wouldn't matter other than maybe the max VA would be different.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

You will need to ensure that you do not exceed the maximum current as well as the maximum VA rating.

For example, if you have 2400 VA variac designed to work at 240 V, then the implied maximum current rating is 10 A. You can't safely exceed this amount. The maximum VA rating ends up being proportional to the voltage dialed in on the variac (but never more than 2400 VA):

$$ VA_{max} = (10 A) (V_{output})/(V_{mains}) $$

The reason for this is that the power dissipated in a conductor is proportional to the square of the current. If you exceed the current rating the Variac may overheat regardless of voltage.

Also, if you are using a 50 Hz variac with 60 Hz mains, then the autotransformer will be somewhat oversized, and you have a bit of a safety margin. If the situation were reversed, then the autotransformer would be undersized, and you would need to further reduce the maximum current. I believe it's proportional to 50/60 in this case, but I can't remember the formula for this.

I assumed based on the 120V/240V that you're working with a normal, residential sized loads. If for some reason this is an industrial load, you'd better just use the right equipment for the job. Either way, test it first on a low power load.

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Thanks. You're right in that I'm just looking for home use. I just saw a 240V 9A variac for sale and it's way more than I need, but a deal is a deal. I just wanted to know if there were any gotchas in getting one that was specced for 240. – mordac Dec 6 '12 at 9:12
As an ad on question, I saw a video by that crazy guy Photonicinduction about getting 480v from a variac with multiple taps, but to use a ballast to avoid overcurrent. The only ballast I know of is for fluorescent lamps. I'm just wondering what he meant. – mordac Dec 6 '12 at 9:19

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