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Tools Then and Now: Shims0

Shims have been a useful tool since ancient times. Megalithic builders in prehistoric times used them for splitting quartz. They chipped a series of holes in the stone and then packed them with shims. When water was added, the shims expanded and the stone split in two. Evidence of their use has been found in the Incan capital of Cuzco, in pyramids in Cairo, and in Neolithic stone alignments in France. 

References to multiple uses of shims are found widely in Canadian literature. In the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, shims are defined as wooden implements, like spatulas, used to peel the bark off trees (1792). Other uses include stirring and eating fish stew served in a big pot on the gangplank of a ship, pushing moss into the chinks between logs in a log house, and wedging the space between the timbers and planks of a ship where the planks didn’t fit snugly (1897).

At our house, we frequently find ourselves using these handy wood wedges in any number of ways. They’re great for slipping under wobbly furniture legs. We place them between pieces of wood as spacers, or wedge them under old windows with broken sash cords to hold them open. When installing doors, a shim tapped in underneath can help make sure they’re level and square.

But my favorite use of shims is as fire starter in our outdoor fire pit.  It’s hands down more enjoyable to stoke  the fire with a shim in anticipation of grilled kebabs than, say, leveling toilets.

text by Ann D. Travers

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