Image of wood shim in construction

How many tools in construction can claim versatility, precision, and indispensability all at once? Enter the world of shims. If you find yourself asking, "What are shims?", you're not alone. 
These often-underestimated tools play an elemental role in construction and various other fields. From ensuring level foundations to precise machinery alignments, shims quietly champion many projects. 
Intrigued? Join us on this journey as we demystify shims, their various types, and their far-reaching applications. Prepare to view your construction toolkit in a whole new light. 

What Are Shims? 

When you think of tools in construction, big machines or power tools might first come to mind. But sometimes, the smaller tools carry the most weight. Shims are one such tool. 
At their core, shims are thin pieces of material used to fill small gaps or make objects level. They're like the unsung heroes of construction, quietly ensuring that structures stand tall and straight. 
Shims can be made from various materials. Metal and plastic are the most common and each has its unique strengths. Metal shims, for instance, are known for their durability and strength. They can bear more weight, making them perfect for heavy-duty tasks. 
On the other hand, plastic shims are more flexible and resistant to moisture. This makes them ideal for environments where they might come into contact with water or where slight adjustments are necessary. 
But the world of shims doesn't end with construction. These little spacers have a role in countless applications. From furniture making to machinery alignment, shims ensure everything is just right. 
If something isn't level or there's an unwanted space, shims come to the rescue. They help adjust the height, balance, or fit of an object and provide a quick solution to a potential problem. 

Types of Shims 

Though simple in concept, these tools come in a surprising number of types, each tailored for specific tasks. When choosing a shim, the material is often the most critical factor. Here, we focus on two widely used types: metal shims and plastic shims. 

Metal Shims 

Durability is the name of the game. Made to withstand high levels of pressure and stress, metal shims are the heavy lifters of the shim world. They're typically made from steel, aluminum, or brass. 
Because of their strength, you'll find them in places that need solid support, like bridges or large machines. The strength of metal means these shims won't compress easily, even under weight. 
But it's not just about strength. Metal shims can also resist corrosion, especially when treated or coated. This makes them last longer and ensures they remain effective over time. 

Plastic Shims 

If flexibility is what you're after, plastic shims might be your pick. These shims are versatile and can handle many tasks with ease. Being resistant to moisture, they're an excellent choice for outdoor projects or areas exposed to water. 
This moisture resistance means they won't rot or degrade quickly. Their flexibility also means they can fit into tight spots or adjust to uneven surfaces. While they might not bear as much weight as metal shims, they're perfect for tasks that need a gentle touch. 

Wood Shims

When it comes to a classic choice in construction, wood shims stand the test of time. Crafted from various types of wood, such as cedar, pine, or oak, these shims offer a natural and traditional solution. Wood shims are prized for their versatility and ease of use in various applications.

One of the key advantages of wood shims is their ability to be easily customized. They can be trimmed or shaped on-site, making them perfect for jobs that require precision fitting. Wood shims can absorb minor vibrations and shocks, making them ideal for installations where minimizing movement is crucial, such as in door and window installations. 

Shim Shapes 

Beyond the material, shims also differ in shape and size. The type you choose depends on your specific needs. 

  • Horseshoe shims are often used in window installations and masonry as the shape allows for easy insertion without the need to cut or trim
  • Precast shims offer stability and leveling capabilities for large, precast concrete panels and elements
  • Tilt-up shims play a vital role in aligning and leveling wall panels during the erection process
  • Stack shims can be stacked or combined to achieve your desired thickness
  • Composite shims are made from composite materials and boast durability and resistance to moisture to ensure longevity in applications where wood might deteriorate
  • Tapered shims narrow down at one end and are perfect for applications where a precise elevation change is needed over a certain distance 

Shims in Construction 

The world of construction is vast. From towering skyscrapers to cozy homes, every structure tells a story of precision, skill, and attention to detail. Behind these massive feats often lie small tools that make a significant impact

Leveling Foundations 

When we think about what we use shims for in construction, it's like peeling back the layers of an onion. Their primary role is to adjust, align, and fill. 
Firstly, consider a scenario where a construction team is setting up the foundation for a building. Foundations need to be solid, level, and ready to bear the weight of the structure above. 
If there's a slight discrepancy in the level, shims step in. They can be placed under beams or base structures to ensure everything is even and safe. 

Doors, Windows, and Precise Alignment 

Doors and windows also rely heavily on shims. Imagine installing a door only to find out it doesn't sit perfectly in its frame. This could be due to irregularities in the floor or frame. You can slip a shim into the gap to help the door sit level. 
The same goes for windows. Ensuring a window is perfectly aligned not only affects its look but also its function, like how it opens and closes. Shims ensure that these installations are smooth and gap-free. 

Machinery and Equipment Stability 

But shims aren't just about filling gaps. They also play a pivotal role in machinery alignment in construction sites. Large machines, like cranes or concrete mixers, need to operate at optimal levels. 
If there's an imbalance or a machine isn't sitting right, it can affect its operation or even pose safety risks. Shims help adjust these imbalances and allow machinery to work efficiently and safely. 

Masonry Adjustments 

Even in masonry, shims come to the rescue. When laying bricks or stones, sometimes the materials aren't uniform. One brick might be slightly thicker than the next. 
Instead of discarding it, shims can adjust the height, ensuring a smooth, uniform surface. 

Waterproofing and Insulation 

Shims also shine in tasks that demand waterproofing or insulation. Think about roofing or wall construction. Shims can create slight spaces or angles to allow water to run off or ensure better insulation. 
In areas prone to heavy rain or snow, these slight adjustments can be game-changers, preventing water damage and ensuring the longevity of the structure. 

What Are Shims Used for Beyond Construction? 

While shims have carved a significant niche in the construction world, their utility stretches far beyond building sites. These versatile tools have found their way into several everyday applications, proving their worth time and time again. 

Household Fixes 

It's not uncommon to find a wobbly table or chair in a home. Instead of resigning to that annoying wobble, a quick fix is often a shim. Slipping a small shim under the shorter leg can stabilize the furniture to make it safe and prevent any further damage to the floor or the item itself. 

Musical Adjustments 

Musicians, especially guitarists, are no strangers to shims. Guitars sometimes need neck adjustments to ensure optimal playability. 
A shim, usually made of wood or cardboard, is placed in the neck pocket of the guitar to adjust its angle. This slight adjustment can make a world of difference in how the instrument plays and sounds. 

Electronics and Appliance Stability 

Many of us have grappled with a washing machine that dances around during its spin cycle. While this might seem like a complex issue, the solution can be as simple as a shim. Placing shims under the appliance's feet can help stabilize it to ensure it remains in place during operation. 

Automotive Applications

In the world of cars and trucks, shims play a critical role. Whether it's aligning components during assembly or making adjustments during repairs, shims help achieve the precise fit needed for vehicles to operate safely and efficiently. For instance, brake shims are used to reduce noise by preventing vibrations between the brake pads and the brake calipers. 

Art and Framing

For artists and framers, ensuring artwork is displayed correctly is paramount. If a frame doesn't sit flush against a wall or if a piece of art doesn't sit right within its frame, shims can be the answer. By adjusting the angle or filling the gaps, shims ensure artworks look their best and remain securely in place. 

In Gardens and Landscaping 

Gardeners often turn to shims when setting up elements like fountains, statues, or planters. Outdoor spaces can be uneven, and a slightly tilted fountain or planter can disrupt the aesthetic. Here, shims help level these elements and ensure they stand tall and add to the beauty of the space. 

Craft and DIY Projects 

For hobbyists and DIY enthusiasts, shims are a treasure. They come in handy for countless projects, from creating level surfaces to adjusting the height of objects. Their versatility allows for a range of uses, and their simplicity means even those new to DIY can utilize them effectively. 

Harnessing Precision with The Power of Shims 

We've ventured deep into understanding what shims are and their indispensable role in various industries, predominantly construction. Shims, be it metal or plastic, may be simple in design but are mighty in function. 
At Deslauriers, our legacy of excellence ensures that when you think about quality shims, you think about us. Dive into our comprehensive collection of shims and enhance your projects with unmatched precision.