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Wood Tips and Tricks – Shim Material


This post may seem pretty basic but I thought I would share it anyway.  There are times (many times in fact) that things just don’t fit as they should.  Something didn’t come out just right (because your measured wrong?) or the wood changed shape overnight (or was it you cut it wrong?) , or the hinges just didn’t do what you thought (or you chiseled them too deep?) or the doors you ordered were an eighth of an inch too small (because you ordered them the wrong size) or the material was a different size than you figured (this does happen!).  This is a time you need the lowly shim.

Shim material is usually considered to be a piece of wood.  I have shaved some pretty thin wood shims on the table saw to get things to fit right.  But that is not the easiest thing to do and there are alternatives that are just as good and easier to use.

Story:  I was alone in someone’s house installing some cabinets and I needed some shim material. I searched my van all over and couldn’t come up with anything.  So I sneaked into their pantry and tore a section off the top of one of their cereal boxes (true story!  Didn’t tell them…).  It worked perfect. After that experience, I stocked my van with all kinds of cardboard for shims.

Cereal box material is a pretty dense cardboard and works great for shim material.  You can also use manila folder paper which is thinner but also hard, and can be layered to get the desired thickness.  Hinges are usually the place where shims are needed and this paper/cardboard is perfect for this, as it’s easy to cut and form to shape and it will glue into place easily.

Formica can also be used, it’s very hard and comes in varied thicknesses and can take pressures that cardboard can’t take.  It doesn’t glue well so you might have to use epoxy if you use it.  I just shimmed a table leaf with some very thin aluminum, as I knew this would have to take some abuse of the leaf being taken in and out of the table.  You can get this from the dollar store. Buy a throw-away aluminum baking pan/dish (like for a turkey).  The aluminum is fairly thick and can be used for lots of things besides shims.  I used one for a guard on a custom grinder I built.

Tin-can material has been the universal shim material ever since they have been made.  Cut it up, hammer it flat and it can be cut up for all sorts of uses.

In the rack behind my bench, I have a lot of different thicknesses of cardboard and constantly am pulling them out for all sorts of shims.  The cardboard box you get nails or screws in are good for this.  Collect lots of different thicknesses and you won’t need to scrounge in your wife’s pantry for something that will work.


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