Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Shim

Photo by SEan Adcock

In rock balancing, there seems to be an unspoken shunning of shims. Stones stacked in a clever balanced column look more impressive if there is no evidence of tiny stones wedged here and there to keep the thing from falling over. 

So too in a dry stone wall if one sees a lot of shims, there is a feeling that the wall is inferior. It's not just that the bigger stones look like they are not fitted properly - the whole wall generally looks too busy. The logical reason for our prejudice about visible shims is that they look like they could easily fall out in time or dislodge with the movement of the frost, and then the whole wall would begin to fall apart.

Inside the wall is a different matter. Shims placed strategically within the network of 'builder stones' are recognized to be invaluable. Here they can be wedged and pinned to increase the point of contact between stones without risk of falling out and more importantly they can align stones along the plane of the wall and keep them from slipping in too.

The hidden shim is a humble, modest, adaptable, yet worthy leveler and supporter of any particular area in the wall it is assigned to. Tapered, almost weightless in comparison to the rock it supports, the shim enables a magical adhesion between even unfriendly shapes. 

While a shim is both unassuming and unseen, it is interesting to note that, according to one dictionary, the antonym of the word shim, is 'emptiness'. 

I enjoy the idea of the shim being one of the most important  'jam packing' parts of my world and my work.


  1. From the wildife and nature points of view, with regard to the plant and animal life these walls can support, I have enjoyed seeing stone walls for a long time. But it's only since I found your blog that I have begun to gain a real appreciation of what it entails to build a good one. So thank you for this. You are obviously a happy and articulate Stone-Waller and it shows!

  2. I worked with a fellow some years ago who came up with a poem entitled "Ode to the mystic shim".
    All I can remember at this point is the first line; 'O mystic shim, how you level me...'. I'm going to have to track him down and see if we can find the rest of his composition.

  3. Thank you Joel. It's gratifying to know others enjoy reading about what it is that makes dry stone walling so interesting to me.

    Thanks too, John Flye. I would love to read that poem if you ever do find it.

  4. Shims...those tiny, almost unnoticed gestures that hold the entire piece together...oops I meant stones, or maybe it is the same in life? Your work usually ends up holding my dily "devotion." thanks for sharing.

  5. Your are a wonderful poet and educator, thank you!

  6. Balancing stones
    I'll never be seen.
    I've tried it before
    But lack the gene.

  7. stone on stone the waller coursed
    with shims into-it tively forced
    the levelled stone exposed best face
    sits proud up on the wall in place
    the shim brings boulders to a rest
    and keeps the rockers at their best
    it's smallish statures'not to chide
    but rather think it as a heart' inside
    the mighty wall the stands to be
    held quietly together by stones so wee

  8. such respect I have for your stone work, sir! I would love a stone wall in my back yard but there are no guys like you around where I live.