Sei sulla pagina 1di 2
RHEOSTAT A rheostat is an adjustable or variable resistor used to divide voltage in applications

A rheostat is an adjustable or variable resistor used to divide voltage in applications that require the adjustment of resistance in an electric circuit. Rheostats are generally used in applications that require variable control for higher amounts of current.

As a result of the reduction of size and power consumption in many of today’s electrical devices, rheostats, are now a less common item found in commercial and industrial products and have been replaced by potentiometers, triacs and SCRs. However, rheostats are still commonly used for applications requiring a large amount of current or high voltage. Some common uses for rheostats include light dimmers, motor speed controls, arc lamps, pumps, fans, respirators, x-ray equipment and medical apparatus.


Most rheostats are the wire-wound types that have a long length of conductive wire coiled into a tight spiral. Its resistance element can be a metal wire or ribbon, carbon, or a conducting liquid, depending on the application. For average current flow, the metallic type is most common; for very small current flow, the carbon type is used; and for large amounts of current the electrolytic type, in which electrodes are placed in a conducting fluid, is most suitable. The coil and contacts are sealed inside the case to protect them from dirt and other contaminants, which can cause an open circuit, and from moisture, which can cause a short circuit. Rheostats have 3 terminals and usually consist of a resistive wire wrapped to form a toroid coil with a wiper that slides along the surface of the coil. It is most often designed with a ceramic core.

When selecting a rheostat for a particular application, the current rating is usually a more important factor than the wattage rating. If you are using a rheostat for motor control it is important to know that all types of direct current motors can be speed-controlled, however, only a few kinds of alternating current motors are controllable with a rheostat. Therefore, it is essential to obtain the correct type of AC motor when a speed control is required. Most rheostats have either a round or flat shaft that allows you to attach a knob to the rheostat. Some of the smaller sizes have screw-driver slots that allow you to adjust the rheostat.

Switches can be attached to a rheostat in order to open the rheostat circuit or to access an independent circuit. Rheostats can be supplied with a fixed or an adjustable stop. The stop can be set to limit the angle of rotation to any desired part of the total possible rotation. Generally this style of rheostat is used in applications where it is desired to leave a certain amount of resistance in the circuit at all times.


The basic principle that applies to the effect of a rheostat in a circuit is Ohm’s law, which states that, current is inversely proportional to resistance for a given voltage. This means the current decreases as the resistance increases or current increases as the resistance decreases. Current enters the rheostat through one of its terminals, flows through the wire coil and contact, and exits through the other terminal. Rheostats do not have polarity and operate the same when the terminals are reversed.


Some light dimmers use rheostats to limit the current passing through a light bulb in order to vary the brightness. The greater the resistance of the rheostat, the dimmer the light bulb will glow. Some lights will not work properly with dimmers, such as fluorescent and gas discharge lamps. These lights use resistive, inductive or electronic ballasts which limit and maintain a constant current for the lighting circuit. Rheostats may have no effect on varying the brightness of the lamps and may even damage the ballasts.

Motor controllers also use rheostats to control a motor’s speed by limiting the flow of current.

are used in many small appliances such as blenders, mixers, fans, and power tools. Rheostats are also used as test instruments to provide a reference resistance value. While rheostats can be used to control electric ovens and cook-tops, thermostats or temperature controllers are preferred because they have additional controls and temperature feedback capabilities that allow for a more consistent temperature regulation.


The rheostat is still a common and fundamental electronic component used to control the flow of current in a circuit. However, it has largely been replaced by solid state devices such as triacs and silicon controlled rectifiers (SCR). A triac is more energy efficient than a rheostat and is more reliable due to the absence of mechanical components. Rheostats commonly fail because their contacts become dirty or the coil wire corrodes and breaks, while solid state devices are relatively immune to these external conditions.


Both rheostats and potentiometers provide the same function in an electronic circuit, with the primary difference in terminology being used to describe the current capacity and composition of the devices. Rheostats are typically rated at 5 watts or more and are wire-wound, while potentiometers are usually less than 5 watts and are of carbon composition. Through their diversified constructions, potentiometers and rheostats are utilized in different applications where voltage, current, range, tolerance, operating AC and DC voltage and environment are key factors. Potentiometers and rheostats also differ in terms of packaging, mounting, performance specifications and features.

Rheostats are available at Galco Industrial Electronics