How to Use Shims

Written by nat fondell
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How to Use Shims
Shims are one of the most useful and simple tools. (clock with tools image by jimcox40 from

Shims are one of the most basic tools in the handyman's arsenal and are used by everyone from professional carpenters to the average Joe. Usually made out of cedar wood split into small wedges, their simplicity and low cost make them very efficient tools used in levelling. With shims, you can level the floor of a building during construction or a bookcase in a furnished apartment. The use of shims requires nothing more than a hammer and can be easily mastered by even the most inexperienced handyman.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Cedar shims
  • Hammer
  • Carpenter's level
  • Wood saw (optional)

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  1. 1

    Determine whether something you're working on is level. If you are levelling a piece of furniture, such as a bookcase, this will be fairly easy: Place a carpenter's level on one of the shelves of the bookcase to determine whether it needs to be shimmed. If the project is on a large scale, such as an entire floor during the construction of a home, you may need more complicated equipment. However, the basic shimming principle remains the same, merely repeated throughout the project.

  2. 2

    Determine which way the object you're working on is slanting. If the bubble in the carpenter's level is going to the right, this means that the object is leaning to the left and needs to be shimmed on the left side.

  3. 3

    Lift the object on the side that is slanting so that you can slide a shim underneath. If the object is very heavy, get the shim in partway and use the hammer to pound it in further. When the shim is partway in, consult the carpenter's level to see if the object has levelled out. Keep pounding the shim in further until the object is completely level. If the object does not become level after one shim, you will have to add shims on top of the first shim.

  4. 4

    If the object becomes level while the shim is only partway in, break off the rest of the shim using a upward pulling motion, or use a saw, if necessary. Be very careful not to damage the floor during this procedure. Once the object is level from left to right, rotate the carpenter's level 90 degrees to see if the object is level front to back. If necessary, shim the object on the front or back as well.

Tips and warnings

  • Shims can be broken off easily once the object is level. However, when levelling the floor of a home, it is often useful to leave the shims intact until the entire floor is pronounced level. Once everything has been securely fastened, you can break off the ends of the shims. In some cases, it may be better to leave the shims intact.
  • Shims can also be carried when travelling and used to level a coffee table or other item .
  • When using multiple shims, it's necessary to ensure that the entire side of the object is shimmed evenly. Otherwise, the object may become unbalanced, which would make it more likely to fall and cause damage.
  • Be careful to avoid damaging the object and other surfaces when hammering to force the shims in further. Accidental contact by the hammer can leave unsightly marks and damage surfaces.

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