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Making Shims

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With my last article split into two parts, I've actually had a month off! But traffic on the mailing list has been heavy, including lots of mail on the subject of safety regulations and insurance coverage at shows. The most stringent rules appear to be in Australia, but the way things are moving the experience from down under could serve as a warning to all of us. With insurance companies withdrawing coverage, clubs in Australia are spending vast amounts of money on safety fencing, resulting in visitors to shows being kept strictly separated from working exhibits.

We are all aware that these engines were manufactured in a time when health and safety issues were not of primary importance, and they DO have the potential for serious injury. But somewhere, common sense has to be given consideration. Admittedly, aluminum fencing and rules allowing only club-members and spouses in engine enclosures are, at present, only guidelines, but they are guidelines that are being so strictly adhered to that club membership, and therefore liability insurance coverage, are being withdrawn for those who do not abide by the rules. Take this as a warning not to let rules take over from common sense and ruin the hobby.

Other than safety and insurance issues, the list has been full of the usual identification requests, tales of acquisition and restoration, and plenty of 'how to' questions, including the following thread on shims, which I think GEM readers will find useful. As ever, the following comments reflect a variety of opinions that surfaced during this discussion.

When rebuilding engines, I have seen them come with both metal and paper bearing shims. For that reason, I also use both, and I reuse the metal and paper shims that come with the engines where possible. When I need to add shims or make my own, I use anything from metal, head gasket material, dense poster board, sheets of paper, and plastic shim stock.

The plastic shim stock in various thicknesses is easy to handle, but somewhat expensive. 1 have found the paper sheets (around 0.003) quick and easy for making final adjustments. Dense poster board will split easily to make various thicknesses.

My problem with using all metal is the need to have on hand a large selection of different thickness material, and also the time involved in cutting, filing or drilling it to the shape needed. This is especially true for the smaller thickness where it is hard to punch holes and cut to shape. When using paper, plastic or other gasket material, I can use my exacto knife and in a few moments have it cut to shape and installed.

I would be interested in what others do and what tricks they have learned over time that may be helpful to the rest of us.

I like to make mine out of copper sheet. It's easy to cut and easy on the mating cast parts. I use copper sheet for shims on all of our production equipment here at work, too. If things ever get loose then the shim stock wears, saving the parent/base metal surface.

I have used head gasket material and various types of cardboard for years to make shims, and I have been happy with the results. Bearing clearance on loafing show engines is not critical at all, nor is the tightness of the caps as long as there are lock nuts to keep them from loosening.

I use whatever I have on hand in the proper thickness, and I just naturally gravitate towards gasket paper in the correct thickness

And let's not forget that wood is a perfectly legit shim, at least for the oil field crowd. When 1 tore down the Reid to pour new con rod bearings, there were wood shims there as well as the mains. Did what the oil field guys would have done and used what I had. Didn't have any maple or beech on hand, so some walnut had to go in both the con rod and mains. So far, so good.

Mine had canvas belt in the rod, and it still does!

My college roommate's ancient Nash started knocking on a road trip. We dropped the pan and found leather shims in some of the rods big ends. We found the loose one, removed the shims, and it was too tight. Taking our cue from what was there, we cutoff the tongue of my shoe - it was quite a bit thinner (cheap shoes) - and made new shims from that. We nailed her back together and went on our way. We put the good, 15 cent oil in her, too. It was a nickel extra if you kept the bottle, another dime for the funnel/cap!

With a lock-nutted cap, rubber insertion gasket material gives a fine adjustment 'spring' (if you feel you need to be that exact!). I remember reading somewhere that as an advertising stunt an engine was run with the caps removed and standing on bottles (or something) to show how well balanced it was. Of course, I am not advocating that we emulate this feat!!

Both my 16 HP Galloway and the 9 HP Galloway I once owned have wooden shims in the mains, which seem to be original. There were/are also thinner metal shims in addition, but the wood would have given some 'adjustment spring' possibility. Many of the Hercules-built engines I've worked on had paper/cardboard shims, which seemed to be original. The best shim material, of course, continues to be drink cans cut to size!

A friend has a small supply of some neat stuff. It's a stack of shim stock glued together, making a peel away shim pack. He cuts them out and drills them, and it makes fitting rods easy. I usually make an aluminum shim and add some of these to finish the stack. As you're fitting in you can peel them away one at a time.

The 'stuff' you're talking about is available from MSC, and I would expect from other suppliers as well. It's called Laminated Shim Stock and comes in different materials and different sizes, from 0.006 to 0.126 (0.002 and 0.003 laminations), sheets range in size from 8-inch x 24-inch to 20-inch x 24-inch.

The most important thing to do when using shop-made metal shims is to stone the rough cut wire edges flat with a hard Arkansas stone. I use water and Ivory soap on my Arkansas stones, not oil, as it facilitates cleanup enormously. I have used paper for shimming machine parts, but never crankshaft bearing caps. I can see where it would work fine when the surfaces the paper fits between have a large area.

The paper I usually use for machinery shims is from the unused deposit slips from my checkbook. This paper is pretty high quality, having long fibers, a very slightly alkaline pH and high density. The alkaline nature is very important - cheap paper is acidic and turns to dust after a few years, and also causes moderate to severe metal corrosion.

Unless gasket cement or sealing compound is needed, I soak the shim paper in high-quality engine oil or high-temperature disc brake lithium-based wheel bearing grease to help preserve it. I have on occasion used dollar bills - the stuff U.S. money is printed on is actually a water-proof, high density felted cloth, and we all know how tough money has to be! Some shim/gasket paper costs more per square inch (or centimeter) than what U.S. dollar bills are printed on. I guess those of you in Australia would have a hard time using your own currency bills for shims since you guys now use plastic for your folding money?

Our show season here in the UK has just got underway as I write, and after so many shows being cancelled last year because of the Foot and Mouth epidemic, it seems this year everyone is making the most of things. Have an enjoyable, safe and sweet running season! We'll see you next month.

Engine enthusiast Helen French lives in Leicester, England. Contact her via e-mail at: You can join the Stationary Engine List on the Internet at:

'And let's not forget that wood is a perfectly legit shim, at least for the oil field crowd.'

Fairbanks-Morse 15-25: A Seldom Seen Tractor

Grant Chambers sent in this great photo of a threshing rig operating in the Boissevain, Manitoba, area. The tractor is a Fairbanks-Morse 15-25 that was owned and operated by Chris Musgrove (standing at the back of the tractor) some time before 1913.

Chris, Grant says, said the tractor was so heavy the governor would open climbing a hill, even with no load behind it.

The F-M 15-25 was built from 1910 to 1914, its engine essentially a modified 25 HP Type IS stationary unit.

Contact engine enthusiast Grant Chambers at: Box 1240, Boissevain, MB ROK 0E0, Canada.